On our last day in D.C. we set up in the DAR's O'Byrne Gallery, a magnificent long room with huge French doors along one wall. I call it Versailles. When the DAR library was still a theatre, the O'Byrne was its grand foyer. The West Wing often uses the colonnaded portico just outside as a location resembling the White House. To take full advantage of this magnificent space, we set up the camera with our backs to the wall.

Our subject here is Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff under Reagan. He is rhetorical, dramatic, and riveting. His voice rises in power and intensity, then drops to an emotional whisper as we watch his performance, open-mouthed. We quickly fill two half-hour tapes. Duberstein seems inexhaustible, but he does have a plane to catch. A car whisks him off when we're done.

Days later in Manhattan, our interview with Gergen is at the House of the Redeemer, a former Vanderbilt mansion on East 95th, in a huge, library-like setting. New York gaffer Don Muchow, key grip John McElwain and I enjoy painting this rich environment with light, streaking and dappling dark wood, books, mezzanine, and a few bright sconce lights in a shadowy background. The 6'4" David Gergen has a spellbinding presence; he’s eloquent, professorial, articulate and polished. He tells tales of life under four presidents, stories that go on for five minutes – an entire century in the too-quick world of television.

The next day, we interview Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan and a young Clinton aide named Michelle Crisci at the Soldiers and Sailors Club on Lexington. This hotel for members of the armed forces, retirees, and veterans was founded in 1919 and has a living room with the right kind of elegance. Noonan tells us of her defiance of the request that she write speeches for Nancy Reagan, which stems from her worry that she would be seen as "the woman speechwriter." Now, however, she admits that "I couldn't have done anything dumber."

Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta and several young former Clinton aides are on our agenda the following week, in the Chairman's Suite at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, a lovely wood-paneled, book-lined location with a second floor of bedrooms, and an internal staircase and balcony. Panetta is warm and avuncular, with a gleam in his eye. When he hears me address gaffer Jon Fontana by name, he smiles at Jon and calls him "paisan." He tells us that when he heard that the chief of staff on The West Wing was named Leo, he just hoped he was a nice guy.

Here I break my rule on facing the subject into the key light. The closer the interviewer is to the lens, the harder it is to eliminate reflections in glasses. I always try to keep the key at least 45 degrees off axis to maximize ratio on the subject's face, but I usually cross-key people wearing glasses, facing them out of the key light. This way, I can often push the key far enough to the side to get good ratio and good light in their eyes, the "windows to the soul," without fighting reflection. Glasses have always been a problem, especially with the huge convex styles of the 1980s and early ’90s. Lately, more people wear small, flat lenses, some with effective anti-glare coatings like Lanny Davis’. But the closer the questioner is to the lens, the harder it is to eliminate glare in the lenses unless we cross-key.

By the end of the day with Panetta, Anne tells us that we finally have an appointment with Jimmy Carter on March 21st, a whole month away, and about four weeks before the airdate. After Panetta, we are done shooting for a couple of weeks.

Early in March we are back at the DAR, in the Pennsylvania Foyer, a marbled hall lined with flags, paintings, and busts of prominent American statesmen. We set up for Karl Rove, a political strategist in the current Bush Administration. Our 12x12 in the background brings down the level of a distant glowing window and softens the background pleasingly. We paint a combination of warm and cool light, in soft washes and patterns, on the marble sills and walls and statues and flags in the background. Rove is our only subject from the current White House.

In New York two days later, we meet former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Rodgers & Hammerstein Suite at the Omni Berkshire Place Hotel. A wrap-around terrace outside the suite enables Don Muchow to light an arched window in the background of Kissinger's shot and block the sun from blasting in.

We were told we would have Dr. Kissinger for 45 minutes, less if he decides to leave sooner. Kissinger, nearly 80, arrives in a jovial mood, accompanied by his aide and, for some reason, his brother. He looks older than I remember, but his deep, richly accented drone rings a familiar bell. I use my 30 seconds with him in the chair to inspect our lighting, and I am horrified to see that the fine design on Kissinger's tie causes a distracting moiré that dances and pulsates as he talks. This interference pattern is a common problem with tweedy or herringbone patterns on men's clothing, and we are grateful when the former Secretary of State readily agrees to switch ties with his brother.

As we did with Panetta, we face Kissinger out of the key light, though his glasses are not as thick and large as in his heyday. We find a good angle for the key light, with a bit more ratio than some of our subjects, and I am happy with the results

Dr. K peeks at his watch several times during our 22 minutes of videotape, but always during questions. He enjoys reminiscing about his days at the nexus of power in the Nixon and Ford administrations. Bill C. asks good questions, some prompted by the writers from The West Wing, about process and style, rather than issues and politics. This show is a memory piece, not a political forum, and that's why many of our subjects have agreed to participate.

In Atlanta two weeks later, we are offered a small study for our interview with former president Carter. Instead, we arrange to set up at the Carter Center in the Cecil B. Day Chapel, a large auditorium, where we bring in bookcases and lamps and furniture and create a presidential office set. Once again, our background net softens and distances the background. Gaffer Denny Mooradian sets an extra fill light to smooth out any facial imperfections, but we don’t need it for the interview.

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© 2003 American Cinematographer.