Shot Craft

Staying Creative in Quarantine with Lawrence Sher, ASC

Reverse engineering and re-staging iconic images from cinema history? Awesome. Doing it with your wife and kids at home with what’s around you? Exceptional.

Jay Holben

In this time of global crisis, when most of the world is quarantined in stay-at-home orders, how do creatives stay creative and keep flexing those muscles? Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Lawrence Sher, ASC (Joker) has found a way.

Larry is a big fan of movies (aren’t we all?) and for every project, he’s done, he’s always gone about creating a lookbook or a reference deck during preproduction, mostly made up of stills from other movies for inspiration of looks, lighting, composition, color, textures, etc. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and finding no suitable tool to aid in this endeavor, Larry created Shotdeck, a website that is a repository of thousands of movie stills with an extremely powerful cross-reference search tool where you can look for images by composition, color, subject in the image, period, number of people in the shot, and so much more.

A page from Shotdeck.

Need to find a shot with a bearded man in the center of the frame in the rain? Shotdeck can find it for you — and then tell you the film, director and cinematographer, shooting location, lenses and cameras, and a ton more.

So with this incredible tool and some time on his hands, Larry set about to choosing some frames from movies and recreating them at home. Part of the catch is that just before quarantine, Larry was renovating his garage studio where all his gear is typically kept and all his equipment was put into storage during construction. Then quarantine hit and left him empty-handed so he has no tools at his disposal at all. Instead, using his skills, ingenuity, the help and support of his family and household items, Larry is doing an incredible job recreating these images with tools that, literally, everyone has at their disposal.

Here are some examples from The Pianist, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Wizard of Oz and There Will Be Blood. In all cases the original frame is on top and Larry’s recreation is on the bottom, from his Instagram:

Allen Daviau, ASC

I caught up with Larry and asked him if I could join in — virtually, of course, because I’m quarantined at home, too — and watch as he recreated a moment from the photography of Allen Daviau, ASC on Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial utilizing his 2-year-old daughter, Matilda (“Tilly”), as a stand-in for a young Drew Barrymore. What transpired was nothing short of epic.

Daviau’s shot:

Barrymore in the original image.

And here’s the video with Larry and his family doing everything possible to recreate it:

After joining Larry on this adventure, I was inspired to take part in the fun myself and I recreated one of my favorite shots from Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC’s work on David Fincher’s Se7en. I also followed Larry’s format of the original frame is on top and my recreation is on the bottom:

The original and recreated image (click to make bigger).

Check out the American Cinematographer Instagram for some behind-the-scenes shots of my recreation.

So sit back and take in some inspiration from an extraordinary cinematographer as he works to recreate Daviau’s look in his bedroom with his wife and three kids in support.

Jay Holben is an ASC associate member and AC’s technical editor.

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