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American Cinematographer Magazine
 
 
 
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How do you handle the showís day exteriors?

Charters: We silk when we can, but it becomes a question of how far the actors are moving. Vision Expression is great for this; it has enormous latitude in the shadows, and I basically donít need to fill. If I can see it with my eye, it will be there on film. I usually donít elect to keep it that way in the online color timing ó I want to crush it a bit. We tend to treat day exteriors with an Antique Suede #2. By degrees, the production was either comfortable or not too comfortable with that. During the first season, we went a lot further in that direction, but we pulled back a little in the second year. This year, for sequences set in Mexico, I left more Suede in the final timing, and I think that worked better.

With all the possibilities that digital color-correction affords, you still choose to put glass in front of the lens?

Charters: Yes, just to embed our intent in peopleís minds. They can easily get rid of it or they can easily add it, but at least with it there, people [who see the images later on] will say, ĎOh, thatís interestingí ó especially if I pull it out and put in a gray scale every now and again. Both Dan Boothe III, the dailies timer, and Larry are aware of what our looks are, and the looks are consistent for three or four episodes. They give me a DVCam copy at the end of the day, and Iím able to run it at home, where I have a broadcast monitor and a Final Cut Pro setup. I can make a very accurate assessment with that. I have an Epson Olympus printer on the set, and I can punch out a little frame. If Iím doing something radically different, Iíll just send the print in with the dailies to show them what I want.

Even with your tight schedule, you attend timing sessions?

Charters: Yes, but I say that broadly, because once I establish a look for an environment, I donít have to sit there for the timing of every shot. The timer and I will just do the bold strokes, timing one shot from one scene. I love blue-green fluorescents that are not appropriately color-temped, and weíll shift our own lights accordingly. Iím rather fond of full tungsten and a Full Blue fill. When we want tension in a certain area of a scene, tension in the lighting helps to sell that. Itís all intended to keep the audience on edge.

Since you have to keep track of two cameras, do you stay back and watch the monitors?

Charters: I have to be at the monitors to see whatís going on. Iím totally confident about what the operators will give me, but at the same time, I might not be sure they gave me something in that pass that they could do differently in the second. Weíre always changing it up. Collectively, we have an enormously successful team that does the photography. Guy and Jay have to be their own bosses, and the dolly grips have complete autonomy to move the frame; when they see the frame falling apart and they can physically move that dolly to make it better, theyíll do it. The focus pullers have to make adjustments without thinking. Rack speeds and frequency of racks are very critical to what we do.

By production standards, it seems unique to have so many contribute to the shot on the fly.

Charters: There are no circumstances where anyone gets to say Ďcutí because someone has taken it upon himself to do something instinctive. There are times when weíve got what we want, and [the camera and dolly crews] can change the shot. Sometimes thatís when the most exciting stuff happens. With my blessing, Guy will suddenly go 180 on me with a handheld camera. Thatís another set of eyes looking at the scene. David, key grip Mike Reyes and I and will put the scenario in place, knowing that there are better areas and angles, and weíll encourage those to be used, but itís all fair game. Our chief worry is getting a camera shadow.

How do you handle large night exteriors?

Charters: The Musco is an extraordinary light. We generally have a nice six-head on an 80-footer, and Iím able to paint by flooding and panning. We go clean on some heads, but on others weíll use Half CTS. Weíre increasingly putting diffusion and even NDs on some so we can deal with the foreground yet still punch through to the background. In the cityscapes, we use Condors with narrow-beam Par 64s, our favorite light. Weíll put six of them on a Condor to spot up little areas. I like the green-blue and mix in some tungsten and car headlights.

How do you approach the numerous driving and flying sequences?

Charters: Most people have no idea how we shoot those. One thing Iím particularly proud of implementing is digital playback for plate work. What weíve done from the beginning is shoot plates with four PAL Sony PD150 cameras mounted on a car. We overexpose the plates so that they already have that hot quality. All of our day and night driving stuff is shot on stage. We also have our own chopper mock-up. We have powerful 10,000-lumen Eiki XT 3 LCD projectors, so we donít have any sync problems and have ample light to project onto 20-foot screens.

Though the show is broadcast in the 4x3 aspect ratio, the DVDs of the first two seasons treat viewers to 16x9 [1.78:1] presentations. So we gather youíre shooting for 16x9?

Charters: Itís absolutely 16x9. In the U.S., Fox transmits the show in high-def using a blowup from the standard-definition digital master. Cable, however, only gets the 4x3. The rest of the worldwide audience gets 16x9, and I think that the format has contributed to 24ís success overseas, especially in Europe, Japan and Australasia, where 4x3 TV sets are no longer sold.

We are encountering more and more fans who prefer to wait until the season comes out on DVD, where they get better picture quality than what is available on cable or satellite, and get it in 16x9 with 5.1 surround sound. We pride ourselves on knowing that weíre making a 24-hour feature.

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© 2004 American Cinematographer.