The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents July 2009 Return to Table of Contents
Public Enemies
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
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Garber’s dispatch desk re-ceived extra treatment in line with the top-lit and bottom-lit look. Kino Flos, 4x2 and 2x2 units with 3200°K tubes to match the overheads, were flown above the desk, just below the ceiling. (Schliessler avoided pulling out sections of the ceiling in an effort to move efficiently between wider and tighter coverage.) Lighting Washington from below were custom LED panels that production designer Chris Seagers’ crew had built into the desk; these could be dimmed up or down. “Denzel looks better in slightly warm light,” notes Schliessler.   

Pelham’s other main setting, the subway tunnel where Ryder has parked the hijacked train, is the visual opposite of the control room. The practical tunnel, where all train exteriors were filmed, contained little practical lighting, so Seagers whipped up small, authentic-looking light boxes that were mounted on the tunnel walls every 50' or so. Each box held a 150-watt sodium-vapor bulb. “They’re a slight stretch, because those kinds of lights don’t exist down there,” notes Schliessler. O’Leary adds, “The real tunnels are almost pitch-black, with only the occasional incandescent lamp every 100 feet or so and various colored signal lamps and exit lamps. But this was the most logical idea we could think of; the lights were easy to wire and move, and we felt they looked like they belonged in the environment. This gets back to working in New York: play the hand you have!”   

The sodium-vapor fixtures bathe the foreground in warm, orange light, and Schliessler took the opposite tack in backlighting the train. “Tony wanted to play around with color separation, so we used a cool, green backlight and spread it around to silhouette the train,” he says. O’Leary explains, “We used Nine-light Maxis and Par lamps; the Maxis were a ways back from the train, and we squeezed the Pars in below for the rails or above for the ceiling to light the areas the Maxis didn’t reach. They were gelled with Lee 242 [Fluorescent 4300°K] to match the color of the tubes on the station platforms — the logic was that this backlight was coming from a station farther down the tunnel. We didn’t change any of the MTA tubes; we just matched what existed. So 4100°K was the standard look.”   

Overall, the lighting in the tunnel was very low. “I knew where the limits were, and we definitely played it on the borderline,” says Schliessler. “When you get to a level that low, you battle, because to your eye it looks like more light.”   

Inside the train, a heavy, slightly teal hue was used on the lights; this was motivated by emergency backup lights that kick in when Ryder’s crew kills the power. “Normally, you don’t want your actors to have a blue-green cast on their faces, but it works for this story,” says Schliessler. “We had some of that sodium-vapor light coming through the windows, and the colors all came together. It seemed like the tunnel could have that atmosphere.”   

The MTA had strict regulations about mounting lights inside the train. O’Leary recalls, “The real trains had a couple of 20-amp outlets, so we used fluorescents matched to the existing tubes and mounted them to the bars [the passengers hold] or taped them to the ceiling. Again, these were the MTA-standard 4100°K tube gelled with Lee 242. The gel added about 1000°K and some green, and although it was the same gel we used on the tungsten backlights in the tunnel, it appeared more extreme in the train because we put it on a 4100°K source instead of a 3200°K source. We tried to use common elements whenever possible because it was a logistical nightmare to get materials down there and move them around.”   

Shooting in the real tunnel presented significant challenges. “Between the noise, dirt, dust and darkness, the 600-volt live third rail, and the din when a train passed by on another track, there was no lack of distractions,” says O’Leary. Schliessler adds, “Even though the rail was sometimes off, we treated it like it was always live, because you never know when someone might make a mistake and turn it on. We protected everything with rubber mats and rubber feet. We could only shoot at night, and when we came out in the morning, it was like we’d been in a coal mine — our faces were black. The draft from trains going by would stir up so much dust that it affected the lighting, especially the backlight. To maintain continuity, we ended up adding smoke throughout the whole tunnel sequence.”   

All train interiors and shots from outside looking in were filmed on a soundstage at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens. The set was built to match the interior of the practical train, but the entry doors just behind the motorman’s cab were widened to accommodate 360-degree dolly track. “We’d shoot [the antagonists] in the motorman’s cab from outside, and then we’d come around inside the train and shoot through the window of the motorman’s cab door, and then we’d go around again,” says Schliessler. “Tony wanted a feeling of constant motion.”   

While that camera circled, the other three cameras captured close-ups, and to keep those cameras out of shot, they were positioned lower in the shadows, just below a TransLite of the tunnel. “They were also on dollies, so when the 360 camera came around shooting toward the close-up cameras, a close-up camera could pull back and then come in again,” explains Schliessler. “It was amazingly intricate, but it worked.”   

The lighting was virtually the same as the real train’s: fluorescents gelled with Lee 242 mounted near the ceiling. “Outside, we made the sodium tunnel lights a bit more orange to enhance the sodium feel,” notes O’Leary. Schliessler adds, “When we get into close-ups, we augmented the practical sodium-vapor fixtures with 2K Fresnels outside the windows and matched the color with Lee CID 237. We brought those vapor practicals to the stage and sometimes used them either bounced or direct, mainly to create continuity with our location work.”   

Scott also continued the passing-train effect onstage. “Tony doesn’t like greenscreen,” notes Schliessler, “so Chris [Seagers] came up with the idea of putting up a screen with train windows. We shot stills of actual trains going by using different shutter speeds. When you’re in the tunnels, everything feels like it’s strobing. We put those images of train windows on an otherwise black TransLite; behind every ‘window’ was a Vari-Lite on a strobing flicker system; and in front of and above each ‘window’ was another Vari-Lite aimed into the train so it would feel like a continuation of the same lighting. If Tony felt like a train should go by in a scene, he would call it out, and we’d get the Vari-Lites strobing. We had the TransLite rolling a little bit so the strobing wouldn’t be exact.”   

Did the metal interior and exterior of the train coupled with four moving cameras cause problems? “Yes,” Schliessler laughs. “Depending on kick angles, you could have one camera angle going 5 stops over and another camera angle with nothing there. I tried to keep the kicks down as much as possible, but that’s where the digital intermediate came in handy. A few times, when a camera came around and we got that kick in the upper part of the lens, [colorist] Stefan Sonnenfeld [at Company 3] had to knock it down. With the DI, we could cover up some of those things we couldn’t control.”  

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