While giving AC a tour of the Snicket sets at Downey Studios, Lubezki noted that his plan to use EFilm’s digital-intermediate (DI) process helped him simplify his lighting and saved the production significant amounts of time. “What I’ve found with the digital process is that if the lighting is bad, you can’t fix it, but if the lighting is good, you can enhance it and work with it. Part of this involves cutting the light, and what I like about the DI process is that if the light is coming from the right angle, the texture is right and the contrast is close to what you want, you can just use Power Windows to darken certain areas of the frame, areas that might otherwise demand a lot of time [to finesse] on set — you might have to properly cut the light with dozens of flags while the entire production waits.”

Lubezki notes that Snicket’s color scheme excludes primary colors in favor of blacks and grays, “but in order to not make a black-and-white movie and go completely stylized, Colleen added dark colors, greens and browns, to her costumes. The story is very episodic, so we picked a different color scheme for each section. For example, Count Olaf’s house has a lot of greens, blacks and grays; the house of Uncle Monty [Billy Connolly] has a lot of greens and browns and a bit of yellow; and the house of Aunt Josephine [Meryl Streep] has blues and blacks. We wanted very dark colors to surround the actors’ faces. I always love it when a face is shining from within, and it helps when you have very dark sets and costumes — the first thing that catches the light will be the actor’s face.”

These changes in color also applied to Lubezki’s lighting. “In fact, this was the first time I ever gelled my lights,” he admits with a laugh. “I usually do any temperature changes at the lab, or my use of gels is so minor that it’s not worth mentioning, but I finally used some colors on this film.” So while straight tungsten became his overall “cool” light — and Snicket was an all-tungsten show — the cinematographer experimented with “a bit of CTB on a few lamps for Josephine’s house, and some CTS to warm up Uncle Monty’s place. It was nothing out of the ordinary, although it was out of the ordinary for me. I did this in part because I wanted the dailies to look exactly the way I wanted the picture to look after the DI was finished. Specifically, I wanted the faces to look exactly the way I wanted them to look in the end.” Much of the warming of the light was also accomplished through dimming, as the entire production was board-controlled.

Uncle Monty’s house, a greenhouse-like structure featuring panels of colored glass, allowed the filmmakers “to use some color in the lighting as well,” says chief lighting technician John Buckley, who teamed with Lubezki on Ali and The Cat in the Hat and worked closely with him throughout preproduction for Snicket. “We’re basically in sun tones for most of the film, but Monty’s place let us play a bit.”

As is his tradition, Lubezki used just one film stock on Snicket: Kodak Vision2 500T 5218. “This marks the first time I’ve done a whole movie with a 500-ASA stock,” he says. “I thought I would use the 200-ASA stock, but we’d never get the light — our sets were just too big. Unless I’m trying to create an effect of some kind, I always try to use just one stock. I overexposed it by at least one-third of a stop, sometimes more.”

Lab work for the film was handled at Deluxe Laboratories in Hollywood, under the guidance of timer Jim Passon. Lubezki suggested using Deluxe’s Adjustable Color Contrast (ACE) positive processing method on his dailies — after souping the camera negative normally — in order to fine-tune the visual tenor of the film; keep the projected film dailies looking very close to the desired final effect; and create a rock-solid visual reference that could be followed during the DI. “I used Deluxe’s CCE [Color Contrast Enhancement] process on Sleepy Hollow to desaturate colors, but the ACE process is more controllable,” he notes. “We used it to desaturate colors, but not all the colors.” Lubezki was assisted by ASC associate member Beverly Wood, Deluxe’s vice president of technical engineering and client services, who helped him orchestrate an elaborate series of camera tests involving his lighting and the production’s design work.

Kodak Vision 2383 print stock was used for all of the ACE trials, which began with Lubezki telling Wood, “‘Let’s do something different — I’ll know it when I see it!’” she recalls. “Chivo has a wonderful eye and a great sense of the right contrast and depth of the blacks for a project. He hates magenta and ‘jelly bean’ colors, and getting the right skin tones is always key for him. Because ACE increases the contrast of the image in the print to get the better black, the toe, or flesh-to-neutral area of the curve, also increases. Sometimes it’s nice to have a lower-contrast negative like 5218 to keep the faces from becoming too hard. The silver-retention processes are great creative alternatives. Put them in the hands of a genius like Chivo, and you really have something!”

The duo ultimately settled on using a 50-percent ACE process on the film dailies. To aid Lubezki and EFilm supervising colorist Steven J. Scott (The Cat in the Hat) in replicating the ACE look digitally, Wood supplied them with “curves from the process of the print look from dailies,” she says. 

“During the tests,” adds Lubezki, “we also debated using ACE or CCE, but a week before we started shooting, I decided to go with ACE, in part because I’d done CCE before and didn’t like the amount of contrast the actors’ faces picked up. It was too harsh, and this movie didn’t call for that. However, the move to ACE did require the repainting of some major sets, because they looked totally wrong. ”

Because of the special process, Lubezki says, he “had to use a little more fill to see in the shadows, which was unusual for me, because I prefer not to use any fill at all.” In addition to the ACE-treated dailies, he sometimes requested an untreated second print. “I knew our final look would be somewhere between normal and our ACE look, so we also had to know what ‘normal’ looked like,” he explains. “The difference was quite striking: the ACE print’s colors are so saturated and the blacks look so rich [that] after you get used to it, it becomes hard to go back to normal.”

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© 2004 American Cinematographer.