Of course, the flipside of the lush exterior is the dark interior, and given that it’s a horror movie, Ring Two has its share of dark scenes. Beristain had to come up with his own answer to an age-old question: how do you light darkness? As an example, he cites a scene in which Rachel enters Aidan’s room at night and her mind plays tricks on her: Is he in bed? Is the bed empty? Is Samara in the room? “There are a lot of scenes where the audience has to believe there is little or no light,” says Beristain, “but obviously, we couldn’t stage those sequences in real darkness. I needed to create film darkness.” Pondering the range of creative options in such situations, he muses, “You could go the straight route and motivate some kind of light through windows, which is the only logical source in play. Or you could decide not to worry about motivation and create chiaroscuro lighting that simulates darkness.”
As an aside, Beristain notes that the film that put him on the map was Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio (1986): “The real Caravaggio was a great proponent of chiaroscuro, and I know a bit about Caravaggio!” So with little thought to the reality of what darkness looks like or to the concept of motivating light sources, the cinematographer created the illusion of darkness by using hard sources beam projectors, Xenons and cutting the light with gobos cut specifically for a setup. Beristain takes a moment to single out key grip Mikey Price, who crafted the gobos and set the flags to create the shadows he needed for the chiaroscuro effect. “I learned cinematography in Europe, and in the European tradition, grips don’t set flags or gobos or any of that. So when I came to the United States, I didn’t know how to appreciate some of the things the grips were doing. But now I think that if I ever get some kind of an award, I’m going to take the opportunity in my speech to apologize to the grips I worked with when I first came here. I will say, ‘I’m sorry, I could not understand what you were doing. Now that I do understand, I am doing my best work.’”
The majority of interiors in Ring Two were filmed at Universal Studios. Beristain’s approach to lighting most such scenes was to combine three sources, two positioned far from the actors and one hidden very close to the actors to fine-tune the look. To provide an overall level in a sizable space, he bounced a number of large tungsten sources into 20'x20' muslins placed all around the set. He notes that he and his gaffer, Danny Eccleston, learned this trick from David Watkin, BSC. “David called them ‘windbags,’” says Beristain. To shape and enhance the light, Beristain’s crew devised methods of cutting the light through windows, doors and props.
The cinematographer then used 7K Xenons to enhance the look and add some contrast to the scene. Those hard sources “could bounce off the floor or a wall and hit the character on the legs or body or even the face, adding a light that was maybe four stops over. That gave a nice texture to the scene.” Finally, to add a slight accent to part of the scene or to an actor’s face, Beristain used some homemade units called “razor lights” that Eccleston had brought to the show. The instrument comprises a stripped-down Kino Flo tube mounted inside a length of opaque white PVC pipe in which a small, lengthwise slit is cut and filled with translucent acrylic. The result is a razor-thin beam of light somewhat focused by the acrylic. The compact units can be affixed with Velcro to any wall or piece of furniture to enhance small details. “They’re very clever units, and I used them all the time,” says Beristain.
By positioning most of the lighting instruments outside the set, Beristain allowed the actors a great deal of freedom to move around without fears of catching lights and stands. “Hideo loved it,” says the cinematographer. “He had a fantastic playground to use when directing his actors.”
Most scenes in Ring Two were filmed with two or more cameras. “I always like to shoot with two or three cameras in fact, I fight for it,” says Beristain. “I love to get a camera into places you’d normally never think to put it. Often the shots you get aren’t perfect, but that can create an aesthetic of imperfection, if you will. It sounds like I’m joking, but I’m very serious. I learned from action pictures that when you use multiple cameras, you get wonderful shots that you would never, ever capture otherwise. And that works in dramatic scenes, too.
“There are shots that a director wouldn’t have staged that can be wonderful,” he continues. “We have a lot of preconceived rules about where the camera should go. One mantra is, ‘You have to see the actor’s eyes.’ Many cinematographers think, ‘How can I photograph the actor in profile if we don’t see the big moment register on his face?’ Yet when you see the scene on screen, you might realize that a profile can be more powerful than seeing both eyes. Suddenly, the visuals win over the preconception. Visuals have their own language, and I think we sometimes intellectually justify a particular camera position and close ourselves off to the possibility of allowing the visual language to express itself. Yes, you need to see the eyes and the face, but if you can get another camera in there in a way that isn’t intrusive, it can give you a lot of magic.”
As an example, he cites an intense scene in Ring Two that shows Rachel confronting Sissy Spacek’s character in a cell in the psychiatric hospital. Rachel tries to pry answers from the reticent patient, who compulsively cuts out newspaper clippings during the conversation. “It’s a beautiful scene in which two wonderful actresses give tremendous performances,” says Beristain. “We got normal coverage, but I told Hideo I wanted to use an additional camera. However, I didn’t want to set up the cameras in parallel, where one gets a wide shot and another gets a close-up from the same angle. Instead, I wanted one camera to cover the scene completely off axis. By being off axis, I got some fantastic profile shots of Sissy. I also got some great shots of Naomi, where the Xenon is hitting her in an odd way. If I were doing that scene from a conventional angle, I would have softened the light a bit because it might have seemed too strong. But as it turned out, those profile shots of the women facing each other are really powerful.”