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American Cinematographer Magazine
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The cinematographer's lens choices tend toward the wider end of the spectrum, in the 21mm to 27mm range. His favorite is the 24mm. "That lens gives you the ability to go from a master to a close-up in a single camera move. It gives you the dynamics of a camera move, yet you can still move that lens in very close to somebody with an acceptable amount of distortion. The 21mm tends to distort a little too much for my taste. I always try to move the camera in such a way that it progresses the story and shows the audience what it needs to see in each scene. The 24mm lens also gives a very realistic reproduction of people in space, their relationship to the environment and to each other. I like to play the camera closer to the action because I believe that keeps the audience more connected to what's happening onscreen."

He adds that one tricky aspect of shooting with a wider lens is that the lens must be razor-sharp in its focus reproduction. "It's critical that these lenses are tack-sharp, because when everything is pretty much at the same focal plane, if the lens is just a little bit off, nothing in the frame will be sharp. You don't have the dramatic focal fall-off that a 75mm lens has; with a wider lens, that focal plane is much subtler, and the lens has to be razor-sharp to bring contrast and snap to the frame."

Burgess says that he and his crew are "constantly checking these lenses every day in dailies. We're always moving equipment from one place to another - the circus is rarely in the same place twice - so we always have to make sure the lenses are performing correctly. We send them back to get worked on all the time. You really have to stay on top of it, which is one of the reasons why I push for seeing projected film dailies every day." To review T3 dailies, the production built a special trailer that housed a 35mm projector and screen. Because the anamorphic squeeze would be done during the DI, the dailies were screened through a standard spherical lens with a custom mask in the gate to project only the intended 2.40:1 image area.

The production used the former Boeing aircraft hangars at the Downey site as soundstages and constructed a monolithic, 1960s-era bomb shelter. The entrance to the shelter is a long tunnel that has been out of use for decades. In one sequence, after Connor and his companion, Kate (Claire Danes), have made their way through the tunnel to the blast door, a helicopter crashes through the tunnel and explodes in a fiery ball. To create the firelight, Burgess and his gaffer, Steve McGee, turned to their custom-built "BodaLights" (named for the man who machined them), which they had first used on Cast Away. "The special-effects guys can only put so much practical fire in a set, so we had to augment that a bit with our little BodaLights," says McGee. "We had so much firelight in Cast Away that we had to come up with a source that could create a fire-flicker pattern, repeat it for continuity and give us enough punch to work with."

The instruments, like small DecaSource fixtures, are made with MR-11 and MR-16 globes. The smallest fixture has four MR-11s and the largest has 16 MR-16s. The lamps are wired in independent circuits that can be run back to a dimmer board and are set to flicker through a programmed repeatable chase sequence. "With these sources, you can pick a flicker pattern and stick with it for the whole scene," says Burgess. "We chose MR fixtures because they're small and have a very quick response time; we can get a controlled flicker effect and have much more effective brightness and darkness combinations. The fixtures are small enough that we can put them anywhere."

Lighting the tunnel, which was several hundred yards long, was more of a challenge for Burgess and his crew. As Connor and Kate enter, there is no electrical power, and they must reach the end of the tunnel before they can initiate a sequence to turn the lights on. Burgess and McGee had the construction department cut rectangular holes at even intervals along the roof of the structure to let "daylight" in. McGee mounted a pair of 10K Fresnels over each hole, with each light facing in opposite directions. "Once we hooked all the lights into our dimmer board, we were able to backlight the scene no matter which direction we were facing," the gaffer explains. "We put almost everything on a dimmer board nowadays because it makes things so much simpler. We end up hanging more fixtures in the air during the rigging, but when it's time to shoot, we just bring up those lights on the dimmer board and we're ready." A record of each dimmer, channel and submaster used to shoot a scene was given to the second unit, who could call up those settings and match the first unit's work in that set exactly.

"One significant problem with that set was that it wasn't built on a soundstage; it was built inside a hangar, so there was no existing grid to work from," notes Burgess. "That meant that key grip Michael Coo and his crew had to create a whole superstructure and grid system around the set just so we could start to light, and Scott had to bring in every cable and all the power just so we could start to turn the lights on. It's creating a soundstage from scratch, and in the end, I don't think the production saves a lot of money by using those sites. It becomes very expensive to actually get them ready to light, and it's always a big rig."

"We run into that every time we go into a warehouse to shoot," concurs Coo. "Production saves money on the warehouse itself, but then they want to know why the rigging costs so much. They don't seem to understand that instead of each hanging point being a single drop, each point requires a man in a Condor to go up and create that drop. Instead of grid points being 4 feet apart, they're 30 feet apart, so you have to bring in truss for everything. And for every point, you've got to create three points to triangulate it and give it proper strength, so you're doing three times the work just to get a single hanging point. Producers always want to know why [rigging a space like that] costs so much, and it's really hard to explain."

Burgess says that working with his regular crew - McGee, Coo, camera operator Robert Presley and first AC Zoran Veselic - continues to provide him with a critical advantage. "When you work with the same crew on picture after picture, everything becomes shorthand, and you become more and more efficient as you go along. Each time you may try new things, but you're often reinventing the wheel, and because you've all done it together before, you can work better and faster. In this business, you're always battling time. No matter how much money is in the budget, you only have so much time to do a shot. The more efficient you are as a team, the better your work is going to be."

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© 2003 American Cinematographer.