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Spielberg additionally wanted the camera itself to feel the impact of the explosions. Key grip Jim Kwiatkowski reports, "During the tests on the backlot at Universal, Steven was talking about this one shot in Empire of the Sun in which he shook the camera to get the effect he wanted. With that in mind, the best boy, Bob Anderson, attached an electric drill to the pan handle of a fluid head and locked an oblong bolt with an eccentric washer in the chuck. When activated, it created a wobbling movement and the camera shake we wanted."

"It’s a great effect," attests Kaminski, "but you certainly can’t handhold the camera with a drill attached to it. Plus, your eye is constantly bopping against the viewfinder. So for handheld work, we used Clairmont Camera’s Image Shaker, which is an ingenious device. You can dial in the degree of vibration you want with vertical and horizontal settings, and mount it to a handheld camera, a crane, whatever. It’s heavy, but my camera operator, Mitch Dubin, did some amazing handheld work with it. At first we used it very conservatively, like when there was an explosion or a tank rolling by, but after seeing dailies, we just dialed it in and out as Mitch ran with the camera.

"I also used another technique that Doug Milsome [BSC] utilized on Full Metal Jacket [see AC Sept. 1987] where you throw the camera’s shutter out of sync to create a streaking effect from the top to the bottom of the frame. It’s a very interesting effect, but it’s also scary because there’s no way back [once you shoot with it]. It looked great when there were highlights on the soldier’s helmets or epaulets because they streaked just a little bit. The amount of streaking depended on the lighting contrast. If it was really sunny, for instance, the streaking became too much. However, if it was overcast with some little highlights, it looked really beautiful. The streaking also looks fantastic with fire, and that’s what Milsome primarily used it for in Full Metal Jacket."

Kaminski employed Panavision Platinum and Panastar cameras throughout the Private Ryan shoot, and had Samuelson Film Services in London prepare one unit with a purposely mistimed shutter in order to create the described streaking effect. Used in combination with a narrow shutter, however, the effect was negated as the shortened shutter interval fell within the moment that the film was in its stationary position. Due to this anomaly, however, the "streaking" camera could also be used for normal shooting provided that the shutter was set between 45 and 90 degrees.

Storming the beach

With a visual approach locked in, the Private Ryan production was fully geared up for battle. While scouting the actual Omaha Beach in France, which is now a historical landmark, the filmmakers found the area to be too developed to suit their needs. The company then found a stretch of coastline in Ireland that featured an uncanny similarity to Normandy’s gold-sanded beaches and sheer cliffs. Production designer Tom Sanders transformed the Irish coast into a war-torn battleground by strategically dressing the landscape with Teller mines, iron hedgehogs and barbed wire, as well as concrete pillboxes and bunkers.

Kaminski shot Private Ryan in the 1.85:1 format entirely with Eastman Kodak EXR 5293 stock, which he pushed one stop to a 400 ASA rating. He also utilized a 1/2 Coral filter in place of normal 85 correction to lend a slight bluish tint to the imagery. "Pushing the film shifts the contrast and makes it easier to burn the highlights out," the cinematographer explains, "but you also get a bit more detail in the shadows. Occasionally, I pushed the film two stops to 800 ASA and it was still fine. I’d take 93 pushed two stops over using Vision 500T pushed one stop.

"Additionally, I again used a Panaflasher in conjunction with the ENR process, as I had on Amistad. Because of the contrast that you get with the ENR, I was flashing at about 15 percent so that I didn’t get totally sharp blacks. I was looking for a slightly flatter look. The Panaflasher also contributed greatly to the color being more desaturated. You gain the contrast back with the ENR, but you’ve desaturated the color already with the Panaflasher."

In re-creating the infamous D-Day invasion, the production located many of the original "Higgins boats" landing craft — in Palm Springs, California — that were used in the real-life 1944 assault. The film company also employed 750 extras provided by the Irish Army, who were then dressed in uniforms painstakingly re-created by costume designer Joanna Johnston and equipped by armorer Simon Atherton with authentic period weaponry. The beach was intricately rigged with squibs and mortars by special effects supervisor Neil Corbould, while the "war" itself was meticulously planned and rehearsed by stunt coordinator Simon Crane.

"We started Saving Private Ryan with the invasion scenes, which we shot for three weeks," recounts Kaminski. "The physical and technical challenges of just getting the shots were daunting. Steven wanted to block huge day exterior scenes with hundreds of extras and do them in just one or two takes with two or three cameras. But there was a reason for that as well. If you have a huge field that takes a day and a half to pre-rig with squibs and explosives, you only have one take!

"Amazingly, Steven would often just cover a scene with one continuous shot. There were a couple in which blood or water splattered on the lens, but we kept shooting because that’s what I assumed would happen in reality. Combat cameramen would not have time to clean the lens. They’d just have to keep on going. What we got really had a documentary feel to it.

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