The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents July 2009 Return to Table of Contents
Public Enemies
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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up

Re-creating the famous battle at the actual location posed a number of logistical challenges for Spinotti and his crew. Most of the gun battle takes place outside at night, and it is followed by a car chase that covers nearly 2 miles of forested road. “It was a very challenging scene,” says Spinotti. “For the lighting along the main stretch of the road, Bob Krattiger, my gaffer, suggested the Bebee Night Light, which I hadn’t used before; it’s very versatile and has a huge amount of power. We put it on a nearby hilltop and allowed the light to filter through the trees to cover 200-300 yards of road. When we initially scouted the location, in late February or early March, the foliage was pretty sparse, but when we arrived a couple of weeks later to shoot, it was shocking to see how much the trees had grown in! I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough light to punch through the leaves, but the Bebee has a lot of flexibility. We turned the camera shutter to 360 degrees and increased the gain to +3dB, and it worked fantastically. You really don’t need a lot of light to get the right density on your waveform with these cameras.” 

Spinotti’s crew positioned a second Bebee Night Light about half a mile down the road, but instead of aiming the fixtures at the ground, they pointed them at the night sky. The existing cloud cover and humidity enabled them to achieve a soft, ambient glow over the entire area. “We actually didn’t do much lighting of the road — I called it ‘black-hole lighting,’” laughs Spinotti. “To light the actors, I really wanted the muzzle flashes and car headlights to do most of the work.” 

The escape sequence required coverage both inside and outside the cars, as several of Dillinger’s gang members stood on the car’s sideboards, firing back at the federal agents as they made their escape. Taking a page from the playbook ASC members Paul Cameron and Dion Beebe used on Mann’s Collateral, which features many scenes inside a taxicab, Spinotti used Rosco LitePads, thin squares and rectangles of plastic with hundreds of dimmable, color-corrected LED lights, inside the car. “The ELD panels they used on Collateral created really beautiful light, but they required a lot of equipment, converters and extra car batteries,” notes Spinotti. “The Rosco LitePads did the job in a very interesting way with precise dimmers, and they were easy to gel and didn’t require additional power sources. We could tape them up anywhere.” 

For shots looking back at the drivers of the cars or the men riding on the sideboards, Krattiger mounted Kino Flo Diva-Lites to the car bumpers as a bit of augmentation. “We mounted the Divas horizontally to just lift the levels enough to get details in the actors’ faces and eyes,” says Spinotti. “We kept them low to play them as the car headlights reflecting off the road.” Krattiger replaced the headlights on many of the cars with stronger, dimmable lamps that were controlled from inside the vehicles; most of the main cars were rigged with these stronger lamps, and when the camera was inside the car and shooting through the windshield, the electricians ramped the headlamps up to full to light the road ahead. When the camera was looking at the headlights directly, the crew dialed them way down so they would read realistically.  

Spinotti used some less-orthodox lighting techniques as well. He recalls, “Our prop master, Kris Peck, found a 1933 newsreel about Dillinger’s gang and broke it down frame-by-frame, and we discovered that they lit some of the news scenes with large flares — road flares, basically. Our special-effects coordinator, Bruno Van Zeebroeck, tracked down some very bright military flares that created a light that was quite beautiful. They threw off a lot of smoke, and we had to stop down quite a bit so you could actually see the flare, but the look is really beautiful. We used them for the scene when Dillinger lands at an airport and runs into a large group of journalists waiting for him. It’s a spectacular scene; the flare light is dynamic and very dramatic, which really adds energy to the story.” 

Spinotti and Krattiger worked with production designer Nathan Crowley and set decorator Rosemary Brandenburg to select practical lighting fixtures for each location that could serve double-duty as decoration and principal lighting. “Rosemary did an incredible amount of research on period lighting fixtures, and we collaborated to see what worked best,” recalls Spinotti. “Bob and I did a lot of work on the practicals to make sure they had the ideal intensity, shape and control. We used them as keylights on main players and for filling in the darker areas [of the scene]. We wanted to massage the practicals so that we could keep our Hollywood lighting absolutely minimal. We designed some practicals to have open tops that would spill a certain amount of light onto the ceiling; that light would then bounce into the room and add just the right detail in the shadow areas. We did as much as we could with practicals and then added a little extra to make the scene, but not so much that we were overpowering the real atmosphere.” 

The cinematographer used a number of classic sources at each location, and for fill light, he repeated a technique he devised on Deception: stringing tiny Christmas lights across empty 8'x8' and 12'x12' frames. “We might have bought out all the Christmas lights in town, but the result is an amazing, golden fill light — sometimes even a key — that has a wonderful energy to it,” he says. “It’s not just a soft light because there are hundreds of tiny, sparkling bulbs, and it has an organic feel. I tried using them for some of our night exteriors, but the cars gave us so many reflective surfaces we couldn’t keep the reflections out of the cars! They are really wonderful, lightweight sources that you can tuck in a corner or even shoot through for a great effect.” 

For a scene in which Dillinger’s girlfriend, Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), visits him in jail, Spinotti’s initial plan was to use a soft toplight. To keep up with the demanding schedule, the production was leap-frogging sets, with a pre-lighting crew working ahead of the principal unit and then striking the previous location when the production moved forward. Spinotti and Krattiger often led the pre-lighting crew, and when they arrived at the jail-scene location, Spinotti realized that soft toplight wasn’t the right choice. “It just didn’t work — the scene is very emotional, and the toplight felt boring to me,” he recalls. “The location was very small and had blue tiles on the walls, and it was difficult to come up with an alternative lighting scenario.” 

After some experimenting, Spinotti pulled out a Source Four HMI ERS and bounced it into the tiled wall. “Suddenly, the light was very interesting. It bounced off the tiles and felt like light coming through the door; it was crisp but also somehow soft. It played great on the actors’ faces and was extremely effective. Michael really loved it, and we ended up shooting the scene with that single source. As we moved around for coverage, Bob [Krattiger] would adjust the light right and left, according to the angles.” 

The scene in which Dillinger and Frechette meet was shot at Chicago’s historic Steuben Club. “Unfortunately, the location is so historic we couldn’t mount anything to the walls or alter the existing lighting, and the camera was looking everywhere,” laments Spinotti. “It was a very tricky situation, but Bob and I came up with a solution.” They hid an 8'x8' frame of full gridcloth and an LCD crate behind a pillar in the location, then placed a Source Four (warmed up to match the practicals) behind another pillar, projecting the light across the room into the diffusion. “That gave us a very thin piece of equipment that could be hidden, and by using the Source Four from a distance, we could keep all the hardware out of the shots,” says Spinotti.

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