The American Society of Cinematographers

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Quantum of Solace
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Roberto Schaefer, ASC and director Marc Forster continue their filmmaking partnership with Quantum of Solace the 22nd James Bond feature.


Unit photography by Karen Ballard and Susie Allnut
James Bond needs no introduction. Conceived by his creator, Ian Fleming, as “an anonymous blunt instrument” wielded by the British government, the suave but ruthless secret agent is perhaps Britain’s best-known fictional character. Because it was based on the first Bond novel, the last Bond film, Casino Royale (AC Dec. ’06), presented an opportunity to not only usher in a new lead actor, Daniel Craig, but also start afresh with the character. Emotionally hardened by his first mission as a licensed-to-kill operative, Bond returns to the screen this month in Quantum of Solace, directed by Marc Forster and shot by Roberto Schaefer, ASC.

“When Marc told me he had been offered this movie, my response was, ‘How could you not do a Bond film?’” recalls Schaefer, who has shot all of Forster’s films. “He wasn’t sure because the script didn’t really exist at that time, but I told him that to be part of a Bond film is every boy’s dream. Our editor, Matt Chesse, said exactly the same thing. The dream of doing Bond sort of sucked us into the reality of it.”

Once onboard, Forster envisioned a stylistic approach that combined elements of early Bond films with a more contemporary look. “I loved the Bond films with Ken Adam’s production design,” says the director. “Those movies were so much about style, design and clothing. I wanted to go back to that and yet still make a modern Bond.”

Crucial to achieving this look was production designer Dennis Gassner (The Golden Compass, AC Dec. ’07), who was making his first foray into the world of 007. “Dennis is really collaborative, maybe more so than anyone I’ve ever worked with,” notes Schaefer. “So often on films, there are incredible sets, but [shots] end up being fairly close and you don’t really see them. When I see beautiful architecture, I want to show it off; without being gratuitous, I like to find a way to work good sets into a film.” In practical terms, this meant frequently using the wider end of the filmmakers’ set of Arri/Zeiss Master Primes. According to A-camera operator George Richmond, “Our hero sizes were between a 21mm and a 35mm. We would use them to show the sets and develop master shots, and then we might punch in and use longer lenses to bring the performances out for key moments in a scene.”

Another of the filmmakers’ ideas was to deliberately compose partially obscured frames, in the spirit of Roman Polanski’s famous shot of Ruth Gordon sitting half-concealed by a door in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). “I think those sorts of obscurities increase tension, because everything you don’t see is left to the imagination of the audience,” explains Forster. “It applies not just to framing, but also to characters and the things they reveal or don’t reveal. That’s what makes Bond so interesting: he is hidden from us.” Schaefer encouraged various departments to let things be obscured occasionally, but found “it sort of goes against everyone’s instincts, so we had to fight to let things stack up in the frame without people moving them out of the way. We probably didn’t get quite as much of that as we hoped to, but we also didn’t want the first-unit material to stand out from the second-unit footage.”

As is typical on a Bond film, the second unit’s work was extensive, and this influenced the filmmakers’ decision to shoot Super 35mm. (The second unit was led by director Dan Bradley and director of photography Shaun O’Dell, collaborators on The Bourne Ultimatum.) Schaefer initially considered 2-perf, which was ruled out because of the unforgiving lack of space between frames, and anamorphic, a favorite on previous Bond films. “Marc and I really wanted anamorphic, and the effects team could have worked with it, but in the end, we went with spherical because the post schedule was so tight we knew they’d be delivering effects up to the last day of my final grade,” says the cinematographer. “We didn’t want to be a week away from the film being shown and still getting effects shots delivered that we weren’t happy with yet.

“On the other hand, my difficulty with spherical and specifically the digital-intermediate [DI] process is that anybody can go in and change everything — editors can reframe to make an edit work without paying sufficient attention to composition,” he continues. “If you shoot anamorphic, you’ve got the top and bottom of the frame, and that’s it. Spherical was a double-edged sword; certain things worked to my advantage, but I was also fighting to protect my compositions.”

While the main unit shot 3-perf Super 35mm, the second unit shot 4-perf using a centered 2.40:1 ground glass. “I couldn’t be sure they would frame to my liking, and that gave me a lot of room to rack up and down,” explains Schaefer. “Also, there was a lot of action, so if a fast-moving object goes out of your frame and then comes back again, there’s something you can do about it later.”

An Arricam Studio served as the A camera, and an Arricam Lite was the B, which was used both for studio and handheld setups. A second Lite was dedicated to Steadicam work, while an Arri 235 was employed in particularly demanding handheld situations. In addition, several Arri 435s were used for high-speed filming. George Richmond and his brother, focus puller Jonathan “Chunky” Richmond, have a unique way of configuring the 235 to give them as much maneuverability as possible. “We use a bag strap that enables you to wear the camera almost like a banjo, with handles attached to each side,” says George. “We take the eyepiece off and use a monitor instead. If you’re nimble, you can get lens heights from just below the knees to just above the eyes all in one go. It’s basically a very stripped-down version of the camera, with a small lightweight battery and a transmitter that keep us free and untethered. Chunky was on remote focus, and we could dart around the actors to get interesting positions very quickly.”

Although many scenes required multiple cameras, the filmmakers shot one-camera setups whenever they could. “I like shooting single-camera,” notes Schaefer. “The idea of using two cameras often comes up for cross-dialogue shooting because it saves time and helps the actors, but it’s just awful for the lighting, and it’s a challenge to keep each camera out of the other’s shot. With two cameras, I’d rather shoot two different focal lengths from the same direction, but then the sound department says it can’t get a microphone in for the tight shot because you’re shooting wide as well. Of course, [sound] is the last thing you think about as a cinematographer, but I try to help them, and I have a good relationship with [production sound mixer] Chris Munro.”

Since Monster’s Ball (2001), Schaefer and Forster have made a habit of setting aside several weeks during prep to draw up detailed schematics of how they intend to shoot every single scene. “On the blueprint of a location, I’ll draw in the camera position and direction, specifying the lens and the shot number,” explains the cinematographer. “Next to that will be a list describing the shot from beginning to end; if there’s a dolly, I’ll mark the tracks, or if there’s a crane, I’ll show the movement. It’s like a storyboard that uses overhead schematics instead of pictures.”

These schematics become a guidebook for the entire shoot, and copies of the pages relevant to each day’s filming are circulated with the daily call sheets. “It’s a very good way of working because we communicate to the crew exactly what we want,” says Forster. “Our first assistant director can use the pages to do a lot of the logistical planning, and that gives me time to work with the actors.” Schaefer describes the preparation as “more mentally exhausting than the shoot, just because it’s such a feat of imagination and memory to sit in a room and map out every different angle and shot of every different location. But it pays off.

 

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