The cinematographer shot most interior scenes on Kodak Vision 320T 5277, which he rated at 200 ASA. "When you expose 5277 at 320 it’s pretty flat, but at 200 it gets more contrasty," he observes. "It makes the blacks a bit richer, and I think the gamma changes a little bit. I always expose that stock at 200, especially with Super 35, when it’s important to have a healthy negative because of the optical blowup."

He filmed day exteriors on Eastman EXR 50D 5245. "I never shot higher than T5.6 on day exteriors – I never shoot at high stops – and I always filtered down with ND.6 or ND.9," he says. "I also occasionally used colored grads to darken the sky."

Ballhaus filmed most of the show’s night scenes on Kodak Vision 500T 5279, but for one significant night scene, in which Vallon saves the life of another young Irishman (Henry Thomas) during a house fire, the cinematographer used a method that he and his gaffer, Jim Tynes, had read about in AC. "I wanted the flames to be really rich and red rather than white, " Ballhaus says. "We remembered the American Cinematographer story about Mikael Salomon’s work on Backdraft [May ’91] and decided to try his idea, which was to shoot fire on daylight stock and light it with HMIs."

"The HMIs were pretty large because we wanted to get the fill level up," Tynes explains. "The idea is to bring the base level up to a pretty high f-stop, allowing you to stop the lens down and prevent the fire tones from bleaching out into the white spectrum. We used as much firepower as we could get, several 18Ks and 12K Pars, which we positioned behind the camera and used as high bounces with 20-bys and 12-bys to create overall ambience. We also had some tungsten units motivated from the building illuminating the scene." Adds Ballhaus, "We shot the scene on 5245, and I used a fairly high stop, T5.6 or T8, to get strong colors. It worked wonderfully."

Throughout the shoot, a soft wash of ambient moonlight was provided by a giant softbox designed by Tynes and key grip J. Patrick Daily, who were among the few key crew members Ballhaus was able to take to Italy. (The others were camera operator Andrew Rowlands, SOC and first assistant Thomas Lappin.) "We had a lot of night exteriors, and when we started prepping the movie I asked Pat and Jim to come up with a large, movable light source that could give us a soft moonlight," Ballhaus says. "They came up with a wonderful device."

Daily and Tynes’ creation was a 25-square-foot softbox that held 12 to 15 12-light Maxi-Brutes aimed through light gridcloth; the entire box was wrapped with Ultrabounce to contain spill. The softbox was suspended from a 220-ton DiMag crane with a 93-meter reach. "The set was so enormous that we needed something to separate the rooftops, and by moving the giant softbox around the set we could maintain a consistent three-quarter backlight," Daily explains. "It weighed about 4,000 pounds, and we needed two cranes to move it – one would hop it over one row of buildings, and then the other would pick it up and hop it over the other row. We had to plan with military precision, because once it was in place the only flexibility we had was what we could get by swinging the crane arm around. Moving the softbox to the opposite side of the set – not to mention setting up the electrical service that had to go with it – took a lot of time. Fortunately, Michael and Marty have such a good relationship that Michael knows where the camera will be looking well in advance of the shooting day, so we always knew where the softbox needed to be."

Another source for night scenes were dozens of period streetlamps, which had been rigged for electricity and gas while the set was built. "All of the necessary cabling was run under the streets and sidewalks months before principal photography started," says Tynes, who joined Daily for one week of "preliminary prep" at Cinecittà in June of 2000. It was during that week that the two hired their Italian counterparts, gaffers Patrick and Alex Bramucci and key grip Tommaso Mele. "We weren’t sure that far in advance how we’d be approaching some situations, so all of the streetlamps were outfitted with electric and rigged with gas lines to a real gas burner," Tynes continues. "We put a 2K CYX bulb inside each lamp and put a 5K bulb on the backside of each lamp; each bulb was attached to its own dimmer. The 5Ks worked the large, expansive backgrounds – they could slash the buildings and slash the people – and they were flagged and isolated so you couldn’t see the light from the front. We usually dimmed the 2K bulbs down to 30 or 40 percent so they’d have a rich orange glow, which was very close to the feeling of gaslight. We actually only used gas in the lamps a couple of times, notably after the riot sequences, when cannon fire from the harbor has broken some of the lamps. We had open flame coming out of a few lamps, like a gas-fire explosion, which we played scenes against."

In keeping with the period, interior lighting had to suggest firelight, torchlight and candlelight. "Interior light was always soft and warm, and by attaching the lights to flickerboxes we could keep the light moving, which is an effect I like a lot," Ballhaus says. Tynes often lit interiors by bouncing 10Ks and 5Ks that were on flickerboxes and gelled with full CTO. "We went for the higher-wattage units because I’ve found that the filaments of 10K and 5K lamps behave differently on the flickerbox than the filaments of smaller units," says the gaffer, who first teamed larger units with flickerboxes while working with Ballhaus on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (AC Nov. ’92). "With a larger light, the flickerbox has a slower attack and slower decay as the filament is turned on and off; it takes a while to come up and cool down, so you can shape the firelight effect a certain way. You can shape a Par light or something else with a relatively fast filament, too, but it requires a lot more finessing to make it believable. If you have room in your set to deal with a larger unit, you’ll end up with more believable firelight."

One of the show’s largest interiors was a Chinese pagoda that, true to the style of the times, functioned as a live-entertainment theater, brothel, bar and gaming house. The three-story set was shaped like a pentagon, and hanging over the atrium at the center was a massive candle chandelier, which was the set’s key light source. To mimic the soft overhead light, Ballhaus’ crew used sources they had created while working with the cinematographer on Air Force One. Tynes explains, "On Air Force One, there was a large, formal dinner in a practical location where we couldn’t do much rigging. Michael didn’t like any of the standard solutions for lighting the space, so Pat Daily designed – and Charles Norcross and my best boy, John Sandau, created – some 10K China balls about 4 feet in diameter, and envelopes of full and light grid to go around them. We’ve used them a number of times since Air Force One, and we had two or three of them hanging in the Chinese pagoda, each on its own dimmer. Because Italy is on the 220-volt system, we could actually put 20K bulbs in them and simply change the connector; that gave us a lot of flexibility and a lot of light."

Fight and Flight

Throughout Gangs of New York, Scorsese and Ballhaus use a highly mobile camera and a variety of in-camera effects to visually underscore the instability and excitement of the period. "Every shot is moving," Ballhaus confirms. "Sometimes they’re just little sideways moves with a handheld camera, but the camera is always in motion. We also varied our frame rate, which we’ve done a lot in the past. We shot some battle scenes at eight frames per second; sometimes we step-printed them four times to create a strobing effect, and other times we didn’t print them up. We often used speed changes – going from 24 fps to 30 or 32 fps – to underscore significant moments. Marty created a similar effect with editing patterns as well."

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© 2003 American Cinematographer.