On night exteriors, Beebe often lit as little as possible. “Michael coined a phrase early on: ‘Make the fill light the key light,’” recalls the cinematographer. “We wanted to avoid a sense of directional lighting. Also, we were cross-shooting a lot with two or more cameras and incorporating a lot of camera movement into shots, so we always had to allow for that within our lighting setups. That meant making use of a lot of practical lighting and keeping our film lights off the floor.”

Beebe tried working with helium lighting balloons, but abandoned them because they lit up the street surface beneath them too much. He and Rivera then found that Kino Flo Image80s did the job; the fixtures were wrapped in ND.6 with two or three layers of muslin, in addition to the color pack for mercury-vapor (1⁄4 CTS and 1⁄2 Plus Green on daylight-balanced tubes) or sodium-vapor (Light Amber and 1⁄2 Plus Green on tungsten tubes) fixtures. “We turned the Image80s into very low-level soft sources that could supplement the available light, match the color temp and create a non-directional source,” says Beebe. “Sometimes we added 1⁄4 or 1⁄8 CTB to the sodium-vapor gel pack if it was reading too warm. That’s another advantage to HD — you can fine-tune your color pack because you can see immediate results on the monitor. If there’s a shift in the color temperature, you can instantly make the correction and match it completely.”

The picture’s final sequence, set on the 14th floor of an office building in almost no light, pushed the HD cameras to their limits. “The offices were entirely made of glass — it was basically a hall of mirrors,” recalls Beebe. “We were seeing the cityscape reflected in each pane of glass and often playing the actors as silhouettes against the reflections. For that sequence, we used the Viper and F900 alternately and sometimes pushed them both to the max [+9dB and +12dB, respectively]. It was remarkable! We were literally shooting in levels you could barely see with the naked eye. It was a bold use of the cameras, and I break into cold sweat just thinking about it. Any time we tried to bring in a light, we’d see it reflected multiple times over in all that glass.”

To add some light on the actors, Beebe and Rivera created Kino Flo wands. Key grip Scott Robinson cut some black PVC tubing into which 4' and 2' Kino Flo tubes were placed and then covered in layers of bobbinet. The wands were laid on the floor or rigged into the ceiling to avoid creating reflections, and Rivera occasionally handheld a wand or two and walked next to the camera or hid behind a desk to help bring up the actors’ faces.

Collateral’s big interior scenes, which comprise about 20 percent of the picture, were shot on 35mm, according to Beebe. “It was decided early on that night-exterior scenes would be shot on HD and controlled interior scenes would be shot on film,” he says. “That made sense, as we were not relying upon available light levels to set our parameters. We did, however, need to create a look on film that worked seamlessly with the look of HD. I decided to switch from the Vision [500T] 5279 that had been used before I started to [Vision2 500T] 5218, which I found integrated with the HD footage a little more easily.

“Shooting film also allowed us to shoot at variable frame rates and expand our camera package to include things such as the Frazier lenses and modified Eyemos,” he continues. One such scene, set in a nightclub, is a shootout involving Vincent, the L.A.P.D. and members of the drug cartel that has hired Vincent to commit the murders. Beebe shot the sequence on 5218, which he pushed one and sometimes two stops.

“There’s another sequence in a Korean bar that was all lit with black lights,” says the cinematographer. “We tested HD and film cameras in that environment and found that although the HD cameras were more sensitive than the film, the overall image was far too saturated under the black lights. It was too crisp and colorful and the feeling was distracting, so we went with 5218.”

Additionally, the production used film cameras on all day-exterior scenes and on stunt sequences that called for slow motion and additional coverage. “For one stunt sequence, we were running 12 cameras simultaneously: eight film cameras, two Vipers and two F900s,” recalls Beebe. “Trying to maintain consistency in terms of look and exposure was an absolute nightmare. We had HD cameras with incredible sensitivity running alongside film cameras that were shooting at high speeds — one of the film cameras had an 11:1, which only opens to T2.8, and Michael wanted it running at 48 fps. This, alongside a Viper working at +6dB gain with a DigiPrime at T1.3, created a huge gap.

“The only way to close the gap was to push the film — up to three stops on some of the cameras. I was very careful about which camera was being pushed; it was often the crash cams or something I knew wouldn’t be used for very long. I tried to avoid pushing any camera too much if I thought the shot might last longer than five or 10 seconds onscreen. You want to make sure you capture the information and action, but because it is action, you can bury some things into the pace of the scene. I was very happy with how well 5218 held up in those tough conditions and how well it all matched up with the HD.

“Michael is an incredibly demanding director,” Beebe says in conclusion. “He’s very demanding of everyone, especially his camera crew, but it’s inspiring to work with him because he has such a clear vision of what he wants, and he’ll pursue that without compromise.” He adds with a chuckle, “Before I started working with him, he was described to me as ‘a director who prepares like Rembrandt and executes like Picasso,’ and I felt that was pretty insightful.”


High-Definition Video and 35mm

Sony/Panavision 24p HDW-F900; Thomson Viper
Zeiss DigiPrime lenses

Panaflex Millennium, Millennium XL, Pan/Arri 435
Primo lenses

Kodak Vision 500T 5279, Vision2 500T 5218

Digital Intermediate by Company 3 HD transferred to 35mm by Laser Pacific

Printed on Kodak Vision Premier 2393

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© 2004 American Cinematographer.