Can you give us an example?

Kaminski: This film has a complicated shot that covers a five-story apartment building at night. As the camera pushes toward the building, we see little dramatic vignettes happening in each of the building’s windows – we see people having dinner, people fighting, people making out, and finally we come to Leo sitting at a desk at his window. Of course, he’s forging checks.

Dubin: We didn’t have quite the right set of equipment to facilitate the move Steven wanted to do. The camera needed to be quite nimble and move all over the building’s exterior, but what we ended up using was a 60-foot crane and a Wescam XR remote head. A crane moves in an arc, and Steven wanted to move more in right angles. It was very difficult to do. You’re always trying your best to making everything perfect when you’re behind the camera, but there’s always something slightly out of place or something that’s not exactly how you want it. Steven knows that the trick to working behind the camera is the art of compromise; he knows when the compromise is acceptable and when it isn’t.

How did you light that shot?

Kaminski: You don’t want to light the façade of the building too much, especially if you have illuminated windows; you just want a little bounce light from the ground. I approached the windows the same way I would if I was lighting an individual apartment – I just did it for 20 of them.

Devlin: On the day of the shoot I didn’t have a clear idea of exactly what we’d be seeing, and when we started looking at it I got the creeping suspicion that I was far from ready! We ended up lighting 15 to 20 windows, and I only had five electricians, and two of them were in Condors. That’s when I usually get the fight-or-flight syndrome: I run around, grab whatever I can from our lighthead carts and start hustling them up to those rooms with whoever I can muster. We tried to give each room its own look – some were fluorescent-lit, others were lit by a tungsten table lamp, and others by a glowing TV set.

Once the actors rehearsed it, we made adjustments to fit the action, but because Steven shoots so quickly people tend to end up where they shouldn’t necessarily be when the cameras roll. It can be very nerve-wracking when someone’s got to get in there, make an adjustment and bolt out. Dan Windels, one of the electricians who’s been with me for years, has great patience for lighting and is a lot easier to hide than Marek Bojsza, who’s 6-foot-5! On A.I., we were doing a wide shot in a bedroom, and after each take Dan would come out from under the bed, tweak a light and then crawl back under. In the difficult tracking shot we’re talking about now, Dan’s crouching under the table that Leo is using, or he’s hidden in a bathtub! He’s a great sport, and this was one of those days where patience like his really paid off.

Dubin: There’s another complicated move we knew about well in advance – it’s actually the reason we had the 60-foot crane and Wescam XR head on set. The shot shows Frank walking down a New York street wearing his pilot’s uniform and white hat, and he’s amid a sea of people in dark suits. The camera starts very, very high and moves down the street with the whole mass of people, then it drops down and pushes into the back of Frank’s head until his white hat is filling the frame. The difficulty was that so many people had to be in perfect sync: five or six of us, including Jerry Bertolami on the crane arm and Stevie Meizler pulling focus, had to function together to do this one shot, and we had to work with the movement of Leo and all the extras. That’s where you see the payoff from all of us having worked together so much. We actually got the shot in just a few takes.

Given that Abagnale is a forger, several key scenes takes place in banks. How did you approach those scenes?

Kaminski: Steven and I came up with this idea that banks are the churches of the modern world, especially those banks built in the early Thirties – they literally look like temples, with huge windows and balconies. We wanted to create a sort of ‘divine’ lighting to support this parallel. We shot in an amazing bank in Brooklyn that we lit almost entirely with Muscos. The bank had huge, cathedral-like windows that hadn’t been washed in over 50 years, so we needed a lot of light. It was very expensive but it did the job. We didn’t have to bring any major lights inside.

Devlin: It was fun to walk into that huge bank and see five huge windows and say, ‘We’re going to need five Musco lights.’ The producers thought I was kidding at first, but it didn’t make sense to move lights like that around because we could easily see all the windows in one shot. On the day of the shoot, if we’re not ready to fulfill this story point for Steven, then why are we there? He really wanted to see the whole place.

We had some Seven-Minute Drills in there, but you can often lose the magic if you start filling it in too much. The Muscos lit the set, and the wide shots will look great because there’s a bit of atmosphere and you can see our ‘sun’ coming through it. But what really makes that scene is much subtler: there’s a shot of Abagnale coming up to the teller window to submit a forged check, and there’s a backlight on the bars of the teller window that Janusz rushed to add after the third take. It was probably a Tweenie gelled with full blue because we didn’t have an HMI handy; it perfectly highlighted the bars and the forged check.

Throughout the film, Abagnale travels around the world impersonating an airline pilot. How did you approach the filming of airplane interiors?

Dubin: It’s very difficult to get the camera in the right place in an airplane. Even if it’s a set, you’re dealing with one aisle, and the camera takes up a lot of space. When Leo was sitting in a window seat, it was almost impossible to get the camera in a place that approximated his point of view. We ended up using longer lenses in those scenes than Steven normally likes to use.

Devlin: We had a lot of plane scenes in Jerry Maguire, and Janusz and I used the same approach to lighting the plane scenes in this film. In order to create a good amount of soft, ambient light to crisscross through all the little apertures a flying plane gives through its windows, you have to use a lot of point sources. We lined up 44 16-light Fays on the ground on each side of the plane, as many as we could, end to end. This gave us a wash of diffused light coming through the windows that’s very even and rather bright. From above we suspended LumaPanels to create some blue toplight through the windows. LumaPanels are 4-by-7-foot fluorescent fixtures balanced to 3200°K, and we gelled them with quarter CTB.

Creating convincing hard sunlight coming into the cabin of a plane for a wide shot is rather difficult, because you can never place your source far enough away yet still have it be bright enough. We had three Dinos on dimmers, and Jim Kwiatkowski put them on a skateboard-dolly track so they’d move along the side of the frame. We used wide-beam 3200°K bulbs in them to get a bit more spread, and they’re less powerful. Even though it’s not logically correct to have multiple sources, it worked well because it created a creeping sunlight that moved along to simulate the movement of the airplane.

For scenes with Leo in the cockpit, we used a 20K beam projector on a Titan crane to act as the sunlight moving across the interior of the cockpit. If you need just a wash of ambient light, a 20K Fresnel works great; to make it harder and stronger, the beam projector is the way to go. To facilitate very specific movement, we had ours mounted on a head so we could pan and tilt the light. It’s really the best way to do it, because as the shot changes you can just move the Titan painlessly. It’s not even that expensive.



Panavision cameras

Zeiss lenses

Kodak Vision 320T 5277

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© 2003 American Cinematographer.