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American Cinematographer Magazine
 
 
 
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Outside the windows in such scenes, 6K or 12K HMI Pars would create hot spots that Prieto would overexpose by up to six stops to enhance the blooming effect. "I had to be careful, because when you overexpose something by two stops, the bleach-bypass process immediately blows away the detail," he cautions. "Sometimes I'd put up a light that was good and bright to my eye, but then I'd have to tone it down a bit to make the result more realistic." Though the cinematographer is "not a big fan" of diffusion on the lens, Inarritu 's filming preferences often necessitated it. "One of the things that was very important for Alejandro was to have shallow depth of field; we were trying to maintain wide apertures because he likes the sense of danger created by things going out of focus - it's in focus, you lose it for a second, and then it's back." For day exteriors in the New Mexico desert, Prieto was rating the 800-speed 5289 at 1,000 ISO to underexpose for the bleach bypass. "Because we were shooting at 1,000 ISO at noon in the desert, I had to use heavy, heavy [ND] filtration and Polarizers on the lens. Of course, we ended up shooting until the last moments of light, so even with the high rating, there were shots where I was working wide open without any filtration. Matching became a little tricky!"

Prieto notes that he and Inarritu used still photos by Laura Letinsky, Sebasteao Salgado, Nan Goldin and William Eggleston as reference points for their images. "We emulated all of the defects that occur when you're shooting still photography with available light," he explains. "The difference is that in still photography, you don't have issues of continuity. We had to do entire scenes in whatever time it took to shoot them, so obviously I had to light as well. That was another reason I used diffusion. CCE canceled out the effects of diffusion on the overall scene, but it still made highlights bloom."

The film's most colorful sequence shows Cristina going to a nightclub to buy drugs. The garish look of the scene poses a dramatic contrast to the neutral tones used to depict her life with her family. "The bar was totally redesigned by Brigitte Broch, our production designer, to incorporate the color of lighting we were going for," Prieto says. "I gave it a general wash with Rosco Light Red, punctuated with Par cans containing 1.2K Firestarter bulbs; those units were dimmed down for a sort of amber color and overexposed by three stops. I contrasted that with blue-green fluorescents that were placed here and there."

Cristina makes her drug buy in the club's tiny bathroom. "Only the two actresses and I could fit in there," the cinematographer recalls. "There was a little gap on top of one of the mirrors that led to an air hole for another bathroom, and that's where the focus puller was, looking at the scene through a remote focus. I played two colors of light in there; the woman selling the drugs is in front of the mirror, in a fluorescent blue-green light, and I put Cristina against a bulb that gave off a yellow-amber color. Later, when she's snorting coke in a motel room, we see her in that same light."

One of the film's biggest night exteriors was outside this bar. The location was rigged with 24Ks and overhead Blanket-Lites, 6'x6' Kino Flos gelled to match the metal-halide color of the scene. "We filmed the establishing shot and then went inside the bar, and then it started pouring," Prieto recalls. "That was our last day in Memphis, so we wound up recreating that exterior in Albuquerque, New Mexico! After Cristina comes out of the bar, everything you see was shot in Albuquerque."

Another important night exterior shows the aftermath of the car accident, as seen from inside a car that's passing by. "That was a big lighting job," says Prieto. "The [residential] street we chose was really, really dark, and with the bleach bypass there was no way I could go with the available lighting. I had all sorts of small units such as Dedolights hidden in the grass, uplighting the facades along three blocks. At the accident scene, we put Maxi-Brutes and 24Ks on Condors way in the distance, and in the foreground - where Jack's story was happening - I used sodium-vapor bulbs that we rigged on some of the streetlights."

The other source used in this sequence - and in other nighttime car interiors - was a moving light rig on the vehicle itself. "Robby, the gaffer, attached the bare bulbs of streetlights to two poles moving around the car, which created the sense of the moving light and shadows," says Prieto. "We also had some units on dimmers, but the effect of dimmers on lights in cars sometimes looks fake, so we opted to use the moving lights as key lights." The moving-light rigs included either metal-halide or sodium-vapor lamps, depending on which character was involved in the shot. "What I find exciting about this type of lighting is that your source of inspiration is reality," says Prieto. "I was trying to make all of the night exteriors look as real as possible, but I was incorporating colors and surprises that sometimes happen in urban night lighting.

21 Grams' 11-week shooting schedule and $20 million budget was light years from Amores Perros' lean production, but Prieto observes that the shoots felt similar. "Our budget on 21 Grams was 10 times what we had for Amores Perros, but a certain budget definitely takes you further in Mexico than it does in the U.S. It was tight, but Alejandro was allowed to do exactly what he wanted on 21 Grams, and we shot it the way we wanted to. I felt a great creative freedom."

TECHNICAL SPECS

1.85:1

Moviecam SL, Zeiss Ultra Primes

Kodak Vision 250D 5246, Vision 500T 5279, Vision 800T 5289

CCE Process by Deluxe Labs, Digital Intermediate (select scenes) by EFilm

Printed on Kodak Vision Premier 2393


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