Spinotti notes that with the contrast at such a high level, the relationship between the key light and the fill light became tricky. "I had to be very accurate and very critical, especially for fill on the faces," he says, noting that he used Kino Flos and Dedolights for this purpose. "I explored fluorescent lighting, and if the lights were too green, we’d use some light magenta [gels], or vice versa; however, we wound up altering that strategy, because as the lamps heat up they tend to change in color. While we were shooting one scene in a hospital, a color on the wall shifted from yellow to green. In many ways, though, I liked the idea that the movie would have a totally non-corrected feel.

"My approach did force me to accept some limitations," he admits. "One and a half stops [down on fill] was really the maximum I could go if I didn’t want to lose any detail in the faces. One and a half stops is a lot of light compared to the key light, but most of the time my key light was way overexposed."

Spinotti admits that he actually enjoys overexposing his key light, and he points to an unsettling sequence in Red Dragon as an extreme example. In the scene, Graham confronts a leashed Lecter within the steel-gray walls of the mental institution’s gymnasium. "We lit that in a way that’s slightly out of line with the rest of the movie, but it worked," Spinotti says. Adds Ratner, "Some of the scariest moments are not in the darkest scenes, and Dante’s interpretation of that is when Hannibal is in his exercise pen. It was the opposite of darkness, the bright side of evil."

"I had about six very hot spots coming from the top," the cinematographer details. "They were 1,200-watt Par HMIs hidden inside some units the production department built. Additional rays of ‘sun’ came through the windows. The two players were going from shadow to light to shadow. The hot light was probably overexposed five to six stops when they crossed under it, especially when Lecter was exactly in line with his lights. When Lecter crossed under those lights, he became like a ghost – his whole body and head glowed. All you could see in these tiny moments were his blue eyes. For some reason, the evil in his face had a very strong energy because of that hot white light. The fill light in wide shots was simply the reflection from the floor, using the proper amount of overexposure from the top so we could have the proper amount of underexposure coming from the bottom reflection. When we cut into some close-ups, I carried around some beadboard or foamcore to model the faces a bit more. I also used a tiny amount of smoke."

The fact that the actors’ faces inspired Spinotti did not predispose him to portraiture-style lighting. Rather, the light in the environment was allowed to interact with the actors’ faces as they played through the sets. "It was not so much our intent to illustrate the face of a person a certain way," Spinotti offers. "It was more [lighting] for a general feeling and atmosphere, and faces fell into this style in a very interesting manner. Brett wanted the movie to look real, and I wanted it to be a harsh reality with contrast. Any eyelight became very contrasty, so in many situations I had the eyes really burning, really becoming visible and important. The push-process we were doing occasionally changes some of the colors, so I was trying to work in very monochromatic sequences – toward the warm side or toward the blue and white or toward the green, like emotional blocks of visions and colors going from sequence to sequence." That factored in nicely with one of Ratner’s preferences: "One thing I stay away from is multiple colors in one scene," says the director.

The filmmakers confronted another difficult situation involving faces during one of the first scenes they shot. After a symphony concert, Lecter hosts a dinner for (or is that of?) some orchestra members he felt didn’t perform to his standards, and Graham crashes the culinary party. "I basically wanted to light the scene with big candlelights," Spinotti says. "It was very dark in the dining room, and the whole scene plays on the yellow side, which simplifies things on film because the look becomes a bit softer and the grain is less evident than when you’re printing in neutral or cold tones. Candles alone were not enough to give a glow on the eyes, though, so I had to enhance the illumination a bit. Dedo Weigert sent me his new Dedolight, a DLH650 650-watt tungsten halogen. It’s a bigger version of the old, tiny Dedolight, and it has an amazing capability for focusing; it can be extremely exact, especially on a dimmer. I used a combination of two or three of those instruments and Kinos."

At the core of Spinotti’s lighting stategy, however, is DNA. A refinement of the old-fashioned batten strip, the extremely versatile, low-profile DNA light was designed by Spinotti and his longtime chief lighting technician, Jeffrey Petersen, along with New York-based gaffer Jay Fortune. A row of 24 Par-16 bulbs is housed in an aluminum shell that’s just 4" or 5" high, complete with barndoors and a beam-focusing eggcrate, forming a 45-watt, single-source light. Typical diffusion and scrims can be used on the dimmable unit, which also comes in circular and semicircular configurations. "We called them DNA because they can almost be used in a helix shape, and they’re the source of all our lighting," Spinotti says. "Once they’re placed, they don’t need any flagging because they’re focused in a particular area. They’re especially good for location work. The light is very modeling, but it doesn’t quite resemble movie lighting. You can use them in different ways and at different angles, depending on how you want the shape of the light to fall on a face."

In discussing the unit’s technical specs, Petersen details, "It was a matter of trying different bulbs, and Jay [Fortune] hit on the right one. We tended to use the stainless-steel screens that are used for diffusion, but the diffusion was so close to the globes that it started to deteriorate in about an hour. Changing globe wattages was much more appropriate. We made them up in 45-, 60- and 75-watt units and would then pick and choose."

For a brief time in Red Dragon, Dolarhyde enjoys a period of "normalcy" as he dates the love of his life, a blind co-worker named Reba (Emily Watson). But his cruel grandmother’s voice soon overpowers him, and he slips back into his murderous ways as the FBI closes in on him. In the living room of the old nursing home, Dolarhyde clutches a gas can, one of five that he will use to torch what is both his safe haven and his source of painful memories.

The sequence was set up on a Universal Studios soundstage. In addition to Kino fill lights, numerous DNA units were hung from the set’s ceiling; many of these were boosting the illumination of wall sconces. All were on dimmers, and with the number of units present, one might think there would be a tremendous amount of light. However, the units hewed to Spinotti’s overall strategy for the film by casting a general, low-level ambience due to their extreme directivity. "These lights are very controllable," he details. "We also had some on the floor because of the table-lamp practicals; I thought it was interesting to have some crosslight coming from a low angle. We had some very complicated moves and Steadicam shots, and I found ways to hide the lights behind a couch or wherever. I was probably shooting around T2.8 or T2.8/4 split. There were a lot of shadows around, and as my friend Vittorio Storaro [ASC, AIC] would say, where you have a shadow, you have the subconscious. That seemed to explain the environment where a schizophrenic lives. The set was painted dark, and it was lit to be dark. The combination of those two factors made it moody."

The production actually burned the interior house set within the soundstage. Older DNA units were called upon for the fire duty because of the damaging effects of the fire gags. Firebars were also used for the scene. "I had to light the first part of the scene with some lighting units at very low levels," the cameraman relates. "At some point, the flames started coming up, and when we went for the full power of the fire inside the house, we had to take away the ceilings and lose most of those lights so the smoke and fumes could escape. After every take, we had to wait half an hour to clean the air in the stage again. The problem with that was that I was pushing two stops, so the ratio between the color of the flames and the faces was becoming a little critical. I didn’t want the fire to go white. I found out by testing that if I shot between T4.5 and T5.6 in the interior, I could control and see some detail in the flames. On a couple of occasions, I still had to keep some of my DNA lights burning on the faces so they wouldn’t go too dark."

As the FBI arrives, the house, whose exterior was built at Disney Ranch, explodes into flames. "Conrad Palmisano, the second-unit director and stunt coordinator, and Duane Manwiller set up eight to 10 cameras to photograph the big bang," Spinotti recalls. "I had to manage the T-stops on all the camera setups, depending upon how much fire they had in the frame, so I could still see the flames at that high exposure. Five or six police cars drive into the front garden of the house, and we had a very wide shot on a Titan crane that started on the cars and went with them. On the opening shot, which is looking down at a car driving down the road, I had a couple of narrow-spot Par bars out of frame on a swinging stand so we could flash them around to enhance the headlights of the police cars. I had the surroundings behind the house lit with a number of 24-light Dinos corrected with 1/2 CTS and set up to provide a flickering chase on a dimmer. We placed those lights as an arch behind the house. I didn’t want any moonlight or crosslight; the only other artificial lights were the headlights and the blue-and-red [police] lights."

Like Monet, who would view the Rouen Cathedral in the early morning light, commit it to canvas and then paint the same façade at dusk, Spinotti feels as if he has created a new palette for a familiar subject. "In my opinion, every movie speaks a different language," he rationalizes. "This language develops through all of the decisions made from the first word on the script to the answer print." With a laugh, he adds a sage piece of advice: "The trick is to find this language sooner rather than later."

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© 2002 American Society of Cinematographers.

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