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American Cinematographer Magazine
 
 
 
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When do you go on the dollies?

Charters: If we go on dollies, itís because weíre on the 11:1 [24-275mm T2.8 Primo] or the 3:1 zooms, at which point the camera weighs 90 pounds and isnít feasible for handholding. Weíre totally on fluid heads, and weíre able to shake it up pretty well. There is always a bit of tension in the frame because itís never still. Having shot one direction, we then turn around 180 degrees to shoot one pass in the other direction. In the course of those 10 to 15 takes in each direction, weíll get 12 variants because of the way itís handed off. We sometimes might need a complete pass on an actor and not move from him. There is a lot of contribution by all players in the field. Theyíre totally on their own and making decisions all the time. Nobody has to wait around while I sit on the camera to light. Weíd never get through the day if that happened. Rather, Iíve begun using a digital still camera, a Canon 10D, extensively on set while my gaffer, David St. Onge, and I are lighting.

How does that facilitate your lighting?

Charters: Iím using a meter less and less, because when I set the 10D up at 1⁄50 of a second and at 2.8 at 400 ASA, I know what Iím going to get in the lab in terms of contrast ratios, which tend to be challenging with the African-American members of the cast, Dennis Haysbert and D.B. Woodside. Theyíre a challenge at times because we are often in fairly dark environments, [but] Vision Expression has wonderful latitude in the shadows. Our dailies look pretty flat, which is the way the digital still looks until I put it in Adobe Photoshop and start running curves on it. With that, I can immediately see our show, because we do the same thing with gamma controls in the da Vinci at Level 3.

When we gamma-correct and shift things, the show takes on a whole different visual tone. Senior colorist Larry Field, my timer, is totally tuned in to what works for us. All of the magic happens in the online timing to give the images an aggressive, rather grainy look. I think the grain helps with the nature of our show. It can be gritty, but when we need to have the glamour quality, richness and detail, those are there on the negative, so Iím really glad weíre on 35mm. I donít think we could do 24 in 24p [high-definition video]. My biggest problem with that format would be the physically aggressive nature of how we shoot and the restricted depth-of-field control. We use the shifting depth of field as a key storytelling tool. Fortunately, in prep, Stephen Hopkins was adamant about us being on 35mm. 24 thrives on its filmic quality.

Is there anything youíre doing differently this season compared to the previous two?

Charters: I think there has been a refinement over time of the operatorsí ability to acquire the timing and the information from the cast. Guy and Kiefer [Sutherland] have an amazing, organic relationship in terms of timing. Kiefer is a very precise actor. Heíll present you with a scenario for his physicality in the scene, and after that, he wonít vary from it. Guy can precisely tag things right when they happen. The operators never wait for something to happen in our frame. They arrive just in time to show it to you, and theyíre off it just as soon as it dies. Thatís something that has to be learned.

It seems as though the handheld agitation has mellowed somewhat, compared to your use of it in the first season.

Charters: We now have a different principal director, John Cassar, and I think you may be right; there is a little less of that. The first season had a lot of shock value, but now weíve settled into a sort of uneasy quiet.

In terms of coverage and framing, do you have to take into consideration the multiple paneling that is done during editing?

Charters: Weíve never been slaves to what the editors do. They feel let down if they donít have a little collection of oddities that would be discarded in normal edits. They love to try to box them and make them work in a mysterious way. With Avid, itís very easy to reposition the whole frame or a portion of it, and they do blow into our frames sometimes.

How would you describe your approach to lighting interiors?

Charters: Itís predicated on the need to film in practical locations. We even treat the sets as practical locations. We have a brilliant production designer in Joseph Hodges, and because he designs in a 3-D program, he can do an accurate render of how his built-in lighting will work. His set dressings will light situations in ways that maintain believability. There are existing practicals all over the place, and we use those to formulate the way weíre lighting. In the CTU set, David and I light with both hard and soft sources. High in the grid are a collection of theatrical Source Fours, which punch up the practicals that hang down and create pools of light for the actors to walk through. At operations desks, actors are lit by computer screens and by small Ikea desk lamps that are positioned all over the place, and we source off those. We are hot on small, illuminated 35mm slide viewers and a new LED unit made by Panel Lite. We use drop-down bars for our close work, using XL Chimeras with honeycomb grids, because weíre always doing at least a 180-degree pan at some point in the shot.

In reality, you have to light an overall environment.

Charters: Yeah, basically. I donít know what itís like to shoot a master and then cut and relight a close-up. [Laughs.] Occasionally things get a little muddy, and Iím not always totally thrilled with the lighting by any means, but the immediacy of being able to cut between two simultaneously shot cameras at quite divergent angles is compelling. There is an enormous amount of believability when you see characters walk into that location and stop, and theyíre still lit. I try to make that happen, but sometimes I canít, so thereís a tradeoff; I negotiate, and weíll stop and fix the close-up. Whatís important is that itís believable. What we do in the show is not beyond the realm of what goes on every day in some part of the world, so we want to treat it like that. If itís an office environment, we want it to feel that way.

We have a good complement of Kino Flos. Our favorite light is one my gaffer built for Chimeras several years ago. Itís a small plate that has four 200-watt Pepper bulbs with switchers so, we can use one to four bulbs. We use an XS Chimera with four different grades of grids, which creates a nice, quality of soft light that we can control when we change the grid. We can throw 20 or 30 feet to give a nice soft pickup. In CTU, there are usually three to four of those working in key points. The unhappy thing is that theyíre not easily cut and shaped, but they do wrap beautifully for the women. We also use a lot of Source Fours with patterns in them and Source Fours with shutters to create sharper edges.

Do you track the actors with light, even when they cover long distances during a take?

Charters: Iíve got the stage on a dimmer pack, but weíve never brought things up and down as we move, because you generally canít with two cameras. Even though it may work for A-camera, B-camera will still be holding back, doing something else. We occasionally need to be a little more careful with Dennis and follow him. The trickiest moments are when he shares scenes with his Secret Service guy, who is quite fair, and weíll often hide a 9-inch Kino Flo on his desk. We usually suggest the source of that by bouncing one of those Ikea lights harder into his papers. Iím always making sure thereís a white letter on top!

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© 2004 American Cinematographer.