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While Fraisse assembled an array of cameras to handle Ronin's rigorous photographic demands, including Panaflexes for dialogue scenes and Arriflex 435s and 35-IIIs for the film's elaborate car-chase sequences, the cinematographer was surprised to learn just how much Frankenheimer loves to utilize the Steadicam. "Aside from the car chases, we used the Steadicam for half the shots in the movie," says Fraisse. "John uses the Steadicam the way others would use a normal camera. It's faster and more convenient than putting down rails and dollies as long as you have a really good camera operator. Fortunately, I had a great Steadicam operator in David Crone. This is the fourth movie he's done with John, who told me, 'After you meet this guy, you won't want to work with any other.' He was right; David was really amazing. Even when John asked him to do very difficult shots, and I was thinking, 'John is wrong, it's not possible, he won't be able to do it,' David did it. He's very strong and the camera was totally stable, so you can't guess that the shots were done with a Steadicam. David also understood the lighting problems, and he has an incredible sense of framing. Some Steadicam operators never frame properly they just get the actors in frame. But David composed frames very nicely."
The film's opening sequence, a lengthy setpiece in a typical Parisian bar in Montmartre, is a prime example of Frankenheimer's complex editing style. The scene introduces major characters Vincent and Deirdre waiting tensely inside as Sam prowls the street outside, casing the joint and hiding a gun in an alley. Because of the intricate staging inside and out, the bar was built as a practical interior/exterior set on a huge Paris soundstage. As Fraisse recalls, "There was a real bar in Montmartre which was much too small to shoot within, but we used the facade for certain shots, as well as the long flight of stairs coming down alongside it. All of the shots inside the bar were filmed on the stage. The bar itself was small, so the set had wild walls. It was built on a huge stage, because when we were inside the bar, we wanted to see the street. Also, there were shots where we appeared to be outside in the street, but were actually shooting inside the soundstage."
Frankenheimer's insistence on shooting the interior of the small bar with a Steadicam and short lenses created countless challenges in the cramped space, where the director's approach gave new definition to "in-your-face" cinematography. "When you shoot for John Frankenheimer, you get very close to the actors," says Fraisse. "He'll use a Steadicam and a 21mm lens to shoot almost a close-up, so you can imagine how close the camera is to the actors! We often shot with the 17.5mm, 21mm, 24mm and 32mm lenses, which made lighting the actors and sets very tricky. As soon as we started panning with the 21mm, the whole set was in the frame, so it was tough to hide the lights."
"There was only one way to light actors, which was to cross-light and top-light them. I used 1K lights with small Chimeras on them above the set, and a few side lights on scaffolds around the set. I knew that with a Steadicam I would have no opportunity to put lights on stands, so most of the light was actually coming through holes in the ceiling, which was very low and had a few wooden beams that I also hid lights behind. We also had practicals on the walls, which dictated the warm lighting inside the bar. The Chimeras were very convenient because their light was very soft; you need fewer flags to protect the walls against spill, which is always a problem when you work with diffused lighting in a small set. Normally, with the combination of a short focal-length lens and the Steadicam so close to the actors, you can forget about putting something behind the camera for fill, because you'll get camera shadows all the time. But David Crone was very experienced, and understood the lighting problems perfectly; he knew exactly what was possible and what was not."
Fraisse faced more challenges while shooting the exterior of the bar and its environs, which involved the real location in some shots and the massive stagebound re-creation in others. "We built the bar set up to the first floor, as well as the last few steps of the high stairwell that ran along the side of the bar," Fraisse explains. "At the beginning of the sequence, we wanted to see Robert De Niro coming down the real steps. We had to match the lighting of the night scenes shot in the real street with those that were done on stage. When we were shooting outside, I put lights on a Condor or asked the people living in the nearby buildings to let me put lights in their windows. Then, in the soundstage, I tried to put almost the same lights in the same places, so the audience would not be able to see the difference. Fortunately, it was an amazing set very well built, just incredible. In the Montmartre area of Paris, the walls have a very old patina. Our production design team [led by Gerard Viard] perfectly aged the walls and put real cobblestones in the stage street, and it worked. It looked real."
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