The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents October 2011 Return to Table of Contents
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Director Refn
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Sigel recalls that the floor used for the apartments was “way up, beyond where you can reach with Condors for exterior lighting. The challenge was balancing the light inside in a quick and efficient way, and that’s where the Alexa was great. We had a lot of plans about how to gel the windows, but once we got in there, I didn’t need to use all of those tricks because the camera had more dynamic range than I expected.”

To supplement the practicals inside the apartments, the crew regularly employed Kino Flo 4' two-bank fixtures fitted with K32 3,200°K tubes, as well as several varieties of small, homemade instruments that housed dimmable Photofloods. The common corridor was lit primarily with 250-watt Photofloods fitted inside sconces and “dimmed down as needed,” says Nako. Sigel adds, “We always go through a dimmer system. It’s faster and gives you more control.”

At one end of the corridor, the crew also constructed an elevator set. To sell the impression that the elevator was moving from one floor to another, the art department would redress the hallway just outside the elevator to appear as different floors. For shots in which the doors open to reveal the parking garage, the crew actually rebuilt the elevator set in a garage at Los Angeles Center Studios. There, Nako explains, “we changed out all the globes and replaced them with 4-foot Kino Flo 3200s. We also added kicks and sheens with some 10Ks, and we did some raking with Mole Baby 2Ks with Small Quartz Plus Chimeras; the Chimeras usually wore a Quarter Grid Front and a 40-degree Lighttools LCD [light-control device].”

The elevator is the setting for a crucial scene in which Driver and Irene find themselves sharing a ride with a hit man (Christian Cage) who’s been sent to kill them. Glimpsing the killer’s holstered gun, Driver gently pushes Irene toward the back corner; the lights dim, and, in slow motion, Driver turns and kisses Irene. Nako explains, “The units in the elevator were recessed can lights with 75-watt JDR Spot Globes. We also added what I call a ‘Mini Space Light,’ a variation on the covered wagon. All the lights in the elevator were controlled by a dimmer board.”

The lights come back up to their normal level, and then, with the camera again rolling at 24 fps, Driver spins and smashes the man’s face into the elevator’s controls. A brief struggle ensues, ending when Driver literally kicks in the man’s face. “It’s the ultimate irony, going into this act of violence from his one good moment of love,” Sigel muses. “When Irene walks out of the elevator and looks back at Driver, this wild animal, you realize it’s over between them.”

“There’s a scene in every one of my films that is the heart of the movie, and in Drive it’s the elevator scene,” says Refn. “It was a way to tip the viewer to Driver’s essential dilemma. You don’t know if it’s his fantasy or his reality, and he doesn’t quite know himself.”

The head smash “was very much inspired by Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible [AC April ’03],” adds Refn. “Gaspar talked me through how he did it.”

For Drive, visual-effects supervisor Jerry Spivack oversaw the digital compositing of the actor’s body with a prosthetic head. Similar work was also done for an earlier scene in which Driver and Blanche (Christina Hendricks), an accomplice in the ill-fated heist, hole up in a tiny motel room. When armed thugs break into the room, one shoots Blanche in the head. Sigel explains that the special-effects department “built a prosthetic head and blew it up, and we photographed it at high speed [using a Weisscam HS-2 recording at 250 fps]. We also photographed Christina at high speed, and then the visual-effects team combined the heads to create the effect of her head being blown off.

“Trying to light someone in a practical bathroom not big enough to fit two people was a challenge,” Sigel continues. “Fortunately, there was a window we could light from, but we needed to add 21⁄2 more stops to accommodate the high speed. To make matters worse, there was a tree right outside the window. Nonetheless, the judicious use of an 18K Arrimax did the trick.

“Nicolas wanted the moments of violence to be incredibly visceral,” the cinematographer continues. “He wanted to go for the gore. The bulk of the film is not violent, but when it does turn to violence, it really is horrific.”

Refn says his approach to the film’s violence was in keeping with the fairytale elements he saw in the story, with Gosling playing “the knight, and Carey as the innocent girl whose purity needs to be protected. When violence comes in a fairytale, it’s always very brutal, in very short sentences, and characters die very violently.”

“Nicolas talks metaphorically about character,” notes Sigel. “Even when he was describing the tone of the car sequences, it was as if the car was an extension of Driver, like he was part man, part machine.”

Finding the character within the driving sequences was crucial for Refn, who doesn’t have a driver’s license. “I have no interest in driving and no interest in cars,” says the director. “But this is a movie about a man who happens to drive a car, not a movie about cars.”

Sigel says Refn “wanted the film’s three main driving sequences to each have its own character and not be a traditional car chase. It wasn’t so much about being loud and noisy as it was about having a defined tonality.”

Those three sequences were all shot during the final two weeks of production. In the first sequence, Driver navigates a silver Chevy Impala through downtown L.A. at night, evading the police and delivering two thieves to the parking lot of the Staples Center, where they and Driver disappear into the crowd.

“That first chase is meant to be very subjective,” says Sigel. “For the bulk of it, [we] don’t even leave the car — the whole sequence is from Driver’s point of view.” To position cameras in and around the car, Klabukov and his crew rigged high hats inside and speed-rail rigs along the outside.

“As part of my test, I took Ryan out in a car, and Tony and I rigged the car with a rack overhead with all different kinds of tiny lights, such as LEDs and 150-watt [Arri Fresnels],” says Sigel. “We wired them all into dimmers in the trunk that could be wirelessly controlled, so we could turn lights off and on or dim them up and down. The lights were all so small and unobtrusive that they were never in shot, so Ryan could just drive around while Tony played the roof rack like a musical instrument. There were also times when we’d kill all of our lights — we’d pull up to a stoplight, and you could see the light on Ryan’s face go from red to green.”

For the shoot, the filmmakers refined the system they had utilized for the test and continued to light primarily from the roof-mounted speed-rail rig, which sat like a halo atop the car. Off of the rig, the crew positioned Arri 150-watt tungsten units, some gelled with Rosco Urban Color #3152 or Lee Fluorescent 5,700°K #241, to supplement the output of sodium-vapor and mercury-vapor practicals. Nako also employed what he calls “D-Lights. Josh Stern, my best boy, and I designed these housings that look like an iPhone and [fitted them with] LiteRibbon LEDs from LiteGear.” Some of the D-Lights contained hybrid LiteRibbons, which allowed Nako to switch between tungsten and daylight color temperatures, and others contained RGB strips, which allowed for a wider array of colors.


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