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Although Frankenheimer required a lot of setups, Fraisse paradoxically found the director to be very economical in his shooting. "John doesn't really do establishing shots like most directors," Fraisse explains. "He knows what he wants and what he's actually going to put in the movie. He used to be an editor, so he never shoots something he knows he won't use. But John does make a lot of shots; I did more setups on this film than any other that I've done."
Most of those setups were for Ronin's three extraordinary car-chase scenes, which recall the glories of Bullitt, The French Connection and Frankenheimer's own unique variation on the genre, the boat chase in Black Sunday. But the director was thinking of another of his films when he mapped out his approach for Ronin. "I did the whole thing in the style of Grand Prix [see AC June '67], with the camera mounts in about the same places," the director says. "We had great drivers, and we did some shots with the actors in the real cars during the scenes," Frankenheimer says. "I got the English right-hand-drive versions of the cars we were going to shoot. That way, we could have the stunt driver on the right, driving the car, and a phony steering wheel on the left for the actors, so we could photograph the actors ådriving' the cars in a lot of cases. We picked Jean-Claude Lagniez as the stunt coordinator and driver, and he brought in two colleagues, Michel Neugarten and Jean-Pierre Jarrier. Together, Lagniez and Neugarten had won their category at Le Mans the year before, and Jarrier was a Formula-One driver. Those guys were really fabulous. I'd tell Lagniez what I wanted to do, and he'd figure out how to do it."
Once again, Frankenheimer was very specific with Fraisse about how he wanted the car chases handled photographically. Since the shots were to be "live"(with no process or computer-graphics work), multiple cameras would be used to simultaneously capture the action with short lenses. "Most of the time, we used three or four normal cameras, plus one or two remote crash-box cameras, which were cheap cameras with cheap lenses inside very heavy and resistant metal blimp. With that kind of camera, we got very brief but incredible shots," Fraisse reports. "When you shoot car chases with long focal lengths, you can shoot for 20 seconds, because you see the car far into the depth and you can let it come toward camera. But with very short focal lengths, the cars cross the frame very fast, which I think is a very strong effect. We also shot in Nice, which is an old city in the South of France with very narrow streets, so the shots automatically didn't last a long time. We needed to shoot many setups to have the continuity of the cars going from one street to another."
Another variable dictating the quickness of the cutting was the speed of the cars themselves. Says Frankenheimer with a grin, "If I'm going to do a car chase, I'm going to do a car chase that's going to make somebody think about whether or not they want to do another one!"
To ensure that Ronin's chases would keep audiences on the edge of their seats, Frankenheimer insisted that the cars travel at full speed. "It was the first time in my career I worked with cars going so fast," Fraisse admits. "John said, 'When I shot Grand Prix, I never cheated on the speed, so I don't want to cheat the speed now.' Sometimes, but not very often, we did shoot at 22 frames per second, or 21. The secret was using very good race-car drivers, who were used to driving at 300 kilometers [186 miles] per hour. It was amazing how fast those cars went sometimes 160 kilometers [roughly 100 miles] per hour, even though the roads were narrow with a lot of curves."
Since the actors were "driving" the cars in some shots, lighting for the chase sequences became an especially critical consideration. "Generally, there are devices you use when actors are supposed to be driving," Fraisse explains. "For instance, you might have a moving car, with the camera and a small generator to feed your lights, towing the car with the actors. When John told me, 'I don't want to tow the cars; I want the actors to really drive the cars,' I said, 'Oh my God, how am I going to light them?' The cars were going very fast, so I couldn't put any gear on the roof, and it would've been a nightmare to put a generator in the hood. Instead, I decided to go with small 200-watt HMIs, which were fed by batteries in the trunk and fixed onto the hood or in different places outside the [actors'] car. Inside the car, I used small 2' or 1 1/2' Kino Flo daylight fluorescent lights, which now run very well on batteries."
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