What philosophy about camera movement and framing did you work out to support the look you wanted?

Dubin: With Steven it tends to be a one-camera shoot. Even on Saving Private Ryan’s D-Day sequences, we used three cameras at most. Steven’s very clever about how he uses the camera to tell the story; it’s never just a passive observer, so it’s not usually necessary to do a lot of multiple-camera coverage. He always has in mind how he wants the film to evolve, but many of our framing decisions on this film also had to do with being on the location and watching what the actors did during rehearsal. As an operator, you respond to everything you see. When all of those elements were combined with Steven’s overall concept, it became fairly obvious where the camera needed to be.

Kaminski: In other movies, the camera moves from left to right or pushes in. On a Spielberg movie, we’ll do that but then whip around 270 degrees. We didn’t have a lot of handheld shots in this film, but we never have straight tripod shots, either. Still, like Gordon Willis [ASC] said, everything falls apart once the camera starts moving. You can only light well for one camera angle, maybe 15 degrees. The way Steven moves the camera leads to many compromises on my part, but I love it. That’s why I’m making films instead of taking stills. They may not be the most carefully lit movies, but they sure are good movies!

Did the film’s lighthearted tone affect your decisions about its visual style?

Dubin: You shoot a movie one scene at a time, one take at a time, and the overall effect and concept of that shot isn’t really present in your mind when you’re shooting it. In fact, when you read the script for Catch Me If You Can, you might see it as a movie that isn’t buoyant and upbeat. As the organic process of making the film began, it started to develop that way. That’s how Leo and Tom presented their characters, and that’s how Steven directed them. The general attitude on the set was that it was a lot of fun to make this movie. Part of that could have been the script, part of that could’ve been the fact that Steven was in such a good mood, and part of it could’ve been the fact that Leo and Tom are such great guys and such good actors. The gestalt was an upbeat film.

You had a lot of practical locations for a 53-day shoot. How did the speed at which you were working affect your decisions?

Kaminski: Every day we were doing a whole set of mini-moves, and almost every other day we were doing major company moves. I’d love to work on a movie with a 90-day schedule that allows me to light for three hours and make careful compositions. Well, maybe I’d like to do it once; after that, I think I’d be fed up because it’d be so boring! I’d rather allow the director more time to tell his story and support him as quickly as I can.

Devlin: The speed is largely about maintaining momentum. Steven would rather give up a great shot than not get the action he’s looking for right then and there. Sometimes when we say, ‘That take wasn’t good for us,’ he’ll reply, ‘Well, you missed your chance, because it was good for me and we’re moving on now.’ He’s a wonderful guy, but he’ll put the fear of God in you if you try to spend another 20 minutes lighting when he wants to go! So I’ll pre-light the set and have it ready to roll in a way that I hope will allow Janusz several directions to build off of spontaneously. The way Janusz works is rather like cooking: you can spend a lot of time over it, or you can just go with your gut and find that it tastes better than something you slaved over. Janusz isn’t a big schemer. He works with what’s in front of him, so he sees what he can actually get in each shot.

Maintaining lighting flexibility on location comes down to having a lot of amperage that’s reliable and available. The partnership that Evan Green from Paskal Lighting gave us was essential in getting us what we needed in order to light this movie the way Janusz wanted to. If he wanted to power 10 or 11 18Ks through some windows, Paskal supported us by being flexible. At the same time, you can’t just say, ‘We’ll pre-rig the hell out of it so we’re ready for anything,’ because that can spiral out of control very quickly. Usually we have two rigging crews, one laying down cable and one picking up, but if there’s a hiccup in the schedule – like when Leo got sick for two days – it’s all too easy to end up with six crews instead of two. I always have a detailed plan in place that allows us to track these hiccups when they occur. When we work with Janusz, Jim and I get the same amount of prep that he does, and we spend a lot of it on technical budgeting.

Dubin: Steven’s preference for working fast gives the camera crew a lot of responsibility. We’re often like one of the actors, in that when Steven says, ‘Action,’ we all have to perform on cue without any mistakes. On this film, we rarely rehearsed a shot. In fact, there was the unwritten 30-second rule: if someone asked for a rehearsal and it didn’t happen in the next 30 seconds, then inevitably someone would say, ‘Let’s just shoot the rehearsal.’ It was great fun, and fortunately first assistants Steve Meizler and Mark Spath and second assistant Tom Jordan were all up to the challenge.

How did the fact that you’d worked together so often affect the filmmaking process?

Devlin: We all feed off each other. This is also the tenth film I’ve done with Jim Kwiatkowski. When we go into a shot, we all have ideas about how Steven will want it covered. Jimmy will even have options ready for the camera that he hasn’t discussed with Steven or Janusz! What helps make this all work is that Jimmy and I have our own pre-rigging crews who are also supporting and anticipating us. Steven and Janusz went well out of their way to make sure that Brian Lukas, my rigging gaffer, and Charley Gilleran, Jim’s rigging grip, and best boys Larry Richardson and Kevin Erb were brought onto this show. Janusz knows that the quality of the cinematography starts with the crew.

Dubin: What’s great about having the same crew on all of these movies is that we all have a shorthand. When you go on the set of one of Steven’s movies, it seems like total chaos – it’s so loud because everyone’s screaming and everything’s happening at once. It can only happen that way because we all know each other so well. By now we all have a feel for Steven’s visual style and we’re able to implement it, but the great thing about him is that he always pulls something new out of his hat.

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© 2003 American Cinematographer.