Richardson's own explanation bears
this opinion out: "What I'm going after in [any genre] is what
that genre represents: the attitude toward the filmmaking, rather
than the filmmaking itself. Take Spaghetti Westerns, for example.
How would you describe the fundamental differences between a John
Ford film like Stagecoach and a Sergio Leone film like Once
Upon a Time in the West? It's in the angles, the characters,
the sensibility that the filmmaker has toward his subject. I consider
Leone a master, and his attitude is part of the Spaghetti Western
essence that Quentin was after for certain parts of Kill Bill.
When he wanted that particular kind of close-up, with a very specific
angle and a very specific size, he'd say, 'Give me a Leone,' and
I knew exactly what he meant."
Richardson did design a specifically "textural" look
for a sequence in which a wizened monk (Gordon Liu) helps The Bride
(Uma Thurman) sharpen her fighting skills. "Quentin wanted to
replicate the visual generation loss in these old kung fu films -
the scratches, the higher-than-normal contrast," he explains.
Instead of attempting to create the effect digitally, Richardson
employed a photochemical process. He began by capturing the action
on contrasty Kodachrome color-reversal stock. He processed that normally,
struck an internegative from the print and then struck an interpositive
from that, and so on. "We just kept making dupes and prints
back and forth until Quentin was happy with the look," he says.
He used six other Kodak stocks for the rest of the
film: EXR 5248 and 5293; Vision 320T 5277, 500T 5279 and 800T 5289;
and 5222 for black-and-white sequences.
March 27: Quentin's birthday. We are still circling
each other as we learn how to communicate. Patience.
April 1: At Technique to discuss digital intermediate
- very promising. No extraction issues from Super 35. What are
the benefits? What are the risks?
May 10: First test (only test) completed. Spent
the evening at Complete Post - pushed quickly and precisely through
visual tests but slammed to a halt on Uma's makeup. I have much
to learn about her face. Confidence shattered ... I need time.
Richardson says there was never any debate about
how to obtain Kill Bill's widescreen aspect ratio. The production
filmed in the Super 35mm format using Richardson's preferred Panavision
Platinum cameras, fitted with Primo lenses and configured for 3-perf
shooting. Nevertheless, both Richardson and Tarantino had lingering
reservations about maintaining visual fidelity in the oft-maligned
format, citing traumatic experiences on Casino and Reservoir
Unable to screen first-generation prints, Richardson
considered the next best thing: a digital intermediate (DI), executed
at Technique. "This is the best approach available right now,
and it'll only get better," he observes. "There's no reason
it shouldn't become the mainstream way of doing things."
But convincing Tarantino wasn't so simple. As leery
as the director was about Super 35, he was even more wary of anything
labeled "digital." "Quentin doesn't like that word," Richardson
says. "I'm still intimidated by [digital timing] in some ways
myself. It's like putting me in the cockpit of a 747: what the hell
am I going to do besides put it on autopilot? But as you learn, you
do become less intimidated, and you can do things that are simply
not possible photochemically. In this particular case, I saw the
DI as the best way of maintaining control over the imagery, which
is why Quentin finally decided to go with it."
However, shooting with a DI in mind was another
story, and Richardson soon encountered the limits of his director's
magnanimity. Simply put: Tarantino doesn't test. "Actually,
his words were 'Testing is for pussies,'" the cinematographer
reports. "He believes you should be willing to make errors and
enter into those errors on the day. And I believe there's a good
deal of truth to that. If you're willing to take a risk, there's
more to come from it.
"On the other hand," he continues, "we
were doing a lot of things none of us had ever done. I'd never rendered
something back out to film before, so I wanted to know how far the
texture of this world should go: the details, the subtlety of color,
what the quality level would be compared to something [printed] straight
onto film. But mostly, my great fear is faces. For any actor I'm
going to work with, I really want to know his or her face before
I put it on film."
After "begging, basically," Richardson
was granted two-thirds of a day for tests. "Even though I had
a wide array of images over the five-minute test I did, I still don't
know exactly what I can do when I get to the final [output]," he
says. "I essentially went off of the level of knowledge I'd
gained from shooting commercials, hoping that the majority of it
will apply. Where it doesn't, I know that my knowledge of film craft
will back me up."
May 28: Notice found on the floor to my apartment: "All
departments please note: as a brand-new department to the Chinese
production crew, grip dept. is involved in the work of camera,
lighting, set production and set construction. All departments
are supposed to cooperate and help so as to become accustomed to
each other as soon as possible and do better in this new work."
June 18: The difficulty of filming the martial-arts
sequences is beyond what most of us imagined. Quentin wants to
shoot shot by shot (editorial order), regardless of the number
of lighting shifts necessary. Difficult, needless to say, but if
the procedure leaves Quentin more comfortable, we should do it.
Critics surround. Let them psychoanalyze themselves.
Kincaid has worked everywhere from Thai swamplands
to Vegas casinos, but he admits he had no idea what to expect from
the Mao-built Beijing Film Studio. "We sort of thought that
it would all be put together with bamboo and who knows what," he
jokes. Though that was hardly the case, the filmmakers still had
to do plenty of what Richardson calls "assimilating" during
their three-month stay in China. "The idea is to accept another's
way of approach," he says. "All of [the Chinese] attitudes
are distinctly different from yours and mine, from what's important
in their lives to how they make their own films. You have to become
accustomed to how they move their gear, how they set up a stage,
what they believe functions and doesn't function, who's responsible
for what job. Shooting there brought [the film] a textural sensibility
that would have been extremely difficult to attain in Los Angeles."
The production's budget had a longer reach there
as well, especially in terms of manpower. "I've never been on
such a crowded set in my life," says key grip Herb Ault. "I
had at least twice as many grips in my crew than usual. Everybody's
supposed to be equal in a communist society, so they all kind of
swarm and get stuff done by sheer number. It got to the point where
I just couldn't get in the way. I would have to tell my translator
what I wanted done, and step back."
Cinematographers, however, take direct communication
with their crew for granted, and Richardson found the process especially
cumbersome. "I come with a high passion to make something, and
I expect everybody else to have that same passion. But you have to
enjoy a certain level of communication to get that across, and because
few spoke English and I didn't speak Mandarin, there was a constant
level of frustration."