When director of photography Gabriel Beristain, ASC, BSC was tapped to shoot The Ring Two, he had some big shoes to fill. For The Ring, cinematographer Bojan Bazelli had infused every frame with a textured, cyan look that lent the story a unique aura of foreboding (see AC Nov. ’02). Many of the film’s admirers singled out Bazelli for praise, citing his cinematography for a flair and style that transcended the typical approach to a horror picture.
The Ring Two begins after the tale’s heroine, Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), and her son, Aidan (David Dorfman), have fled Seattle for Astoria, Oregon, to escape the monstrous ghost-child Samara and her terrifying path of destruction. Of course, they can’t hide for long, and Samara (Kelly Stables) soon picks up where she left off, singling out Aidan for her nerve-rattling brand of persecution. In her quest to save her son, Rachel seeks out a troubled psychiatric patient (Sissy Spacek), who reveals answers that send Rachel back to the horror of Samara’s dark, supernatural world.
Given The Ring’s success, it is perhaps understandable that DreamWorks and Ring Two’s producers initially wanted the sequel to have similar visuals. “Bojan gave The Ring a fabulous look, and people like to speculate about how he did it,” says Beristain. “When we began discussing Ring Two, the producers said, ‘The cinematography on The Ring was great, and now you have to repeat it.’ That was my first mandate for the project: blue and muted, with the tonalities of the first film. They wanted to preserve that look.”
However, Beristain decided to offer an alternative view, arguing that the sequel was a different story that unfolded in new environments. Although the look of the original picture suited a story set in and around Seattle during the darkest time of year, Beristain noted that the sequel picks up the following summer, in rustic Astoria. “Rachel and Aidan have left the metallic, high-rise buildings behind,” he says. “They are now surrounded by cottages of pretty oak and mahogany, by green trees and grass. In the first film, they were crossing Puget Sound by ferry in the dead of winter. We would be crossing Astoria Bridge in the middle of summer. I felt that if I gave our film the same blue texture, it would seem completely contrived. So I had to convince the studio that this story needed to find its own way.”
Fortunately, Gore Verbinski, who directed the original, had turned over the directing reins to one of the few filmmakers who had the authority to approve a new direction for the franchise: Hideo Nakata, who had directed Ringu (on which The Ring was based) and the lesser-known Ringu 2 in his native Japan. The matter was soon settled: the sequel would have a new look, one that was appropriate to the new settings. However, the two films would be tied together visually by the look of certain scenes late in the story that are set within the supernatural “well world” that Samara inhabits. This land of blue forest and brush was seen almost exclusively on television screens as part of the mysterious videotapes at the center of The Ring’s plot, but in the sequel, Rachel must actually enter the creepy, monochromatic environment. By giving these climactic scenes a look similar to that of The Ring, says Beristain, “the audience is reminded of The Ring, but in a different context. It was a good compromise that made everybody happy.”
Beristain decided to use the Arricam system to shoot the picture. “As a cinematographer, I feel it’s important to constantly try new and different equipment,” he notes. “Panavision is a great system that I’ve enjoyed using in the past, but I like to be acquainted with all the new technology available, and I enjoyed the Arricams immensely. I was familiar with the older Arri cameras and the Moviecam, and the Arricam system mixes the best features of both designs. It also has a great video tap, which is very important today. Even though you don’t want to rely too much on the monitor, people expect a great picture, so a good tap is very important.” Beristain equipped the cameras with Cooke S4 prime lenses, which were set between T2.8 and T4 throughout the shoot.
Beristain filmed Ring Two on two Kodak stocks, Vision 200T 5274 for most exteriors and Vision2 500T 5218 for all other material. He was particularly pleased with 5218: “I don’t think Kodak is being completely honest with the way they rate it; I think it’s really an 800-speed stock!” He says he continues to marvel at the technological progress Kodak and Fuji have made with their respective film stocks since he began his cinematography career, in the early 1980s. “When I started out, I was always spending time trying to reduce the contrast of the scene. Now I light to increase the contrast, which is a phenomenal thing. And no, that doesn’t take away from the artistry. Some people like to say that any moron can expose a negative today, but that attitude is completely wrong. You can illuminate easily for today’s film stocks, but lighting takes the same amount of effort and knowledge that it always has.”
This is not to say that Beristain won’t let Mother Nature handle the lighting if he feels he cannot improve upon her work. “Oregon has such beautiful light,” he enthuses. “I scouted a location and said, ‘Let’s wet it down, just in case it rains.’ As it happened, it did rain, and the resulting look was very attractive. The colors were red, green and lush, and we got beautiful rainbows. The natural lighting was perfect for some scenes.” Noting that he studied cinematography at England’s National Film and Television School, he jokes, “Thank God my European tradition stuck with me, and I was unashamed to use natural light!”
Expanding upon this comment, he notes that some cinematographers and producers get nervous if there aren’t a lot of lights around. In fact, on one recent occasion, he was shooting in Los Angeles and was pressured by studio executives to bring lights into locations that he felt would work better without them. He recalls, “I told them a particular location was beautiful the way it was, and they said, ‘You don’t like lighting.’ I replied that I love lighting after all, it’s what I do for a living! And they said, ‘But sometimes you don’t light things.’ Finally, I said, ‘I don’t light things if I don’t need to light them.’ Granted, that particular production was in Los Angeles, and it can be very difficult to go ‘natural’ in L.A. But on this picture, the light in Oregon was often perfect. Even if it’s a clear day, there are black, stormy clouds in the background. It’s really beautiful.”