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QUESTION: When you were working with the VistaVision camera, did the fact that the lens focal length of this equipment is twice that of normal anamorphic give you a depth of field problem?
SUSCHITZKY: It did really, because we had a lot of scenes which involved a pilot in a spacecraft against a blue screen. In order to get a good matte line, one would have to hold not only the pilot and the foreground sharp, but also the distant wings and tail, which meant working up to f/12.5 or f/16 on occasion.
QUESTION: To what extent was a second unit involved in the filming of The Empire Strikes Back?
SUSCHITZKY: We had two units working on the film continuously. I had a second unit which was designed to work alongside the main unit and pick up little bits and pieces that were left behind. It then developed into a unit to pick up quite big chunks which we had to leave behind, and also the matte work. I coped with the two units on different stages for the first 12 weeks of the picture, with the aid of a bicycle which I used to commute, and carrying a radio to call me back to the main stage. I then decided, after 12 weeks, that I needed another cameraman to help me out with the second unit and the matte work. I got Chris Menges (and for a short period I had to have somebody else when he had to go away for a bit), but the cooperation was always very satisfactory. I must say that he matched what I wanted perfectly and never resented the fact that I would cycle onto the stage with no notice at all and ask him to change things. But it meant that I was stretched on the film and I used to have people ribbing me about my bicycle, which must have done quite a few hundred miles between the stages and the different units.
QUESTION: You said earlier on that you hadn't had a great deal of experience with special effects. What differences did you have to make in your shooting techniques in order to accommodate special effects on this picture?
SUSCHITZKY: When you use the term "special effects", the only thing I was relatively unfamiliar with was matte work, although I had done some, and I now feel quite confident about it. That mystical term, "special effects", didn't involve anything else that I hadn't experienced before, and I don't think I had to alter my lighting technique at all, apart from the fact that occasionally we needed a very high light level in order to cope with the depth of field required for the matte shots. The other special effects were the normal sort of things, such as explosions and practical lights in machinery and my lighting was governed by that sort of thing on a technical level. Whenever we had the character R2-D2 on the set, which was very frequently, I had a special problem. I had to discover early on what was the right light level for him, so that he would look good photographically, yet his practical lights would shine through, but I don't think this is a very unusual or particularly interesting technical point, and I don't think I had to change my lighting style at all because of any special effects.
QUESTION: How do you define your normal lighting techniques?
SUSCHITZKY: Well, I like to think that I change the lighting according to the demands of a scene and the set. In my work the lighting generally always evolves out of how the scene is played and how the set looks. Thus, I am never 100 percent sure of what I am going to do before we shoot. Naturally, I have to know approximately what I am going to do, because I have to plan what's going to be rigged. I think that when you see The Empire Strikes Back, you will see that there are scenes which have hard light and are extremely contrasty, stretching the limits of the emulsion, and some have soft light. Some are lit from underneath, some from overhead, and some from behind. I hope that this apparent disparity of styles will actually bring its own sort of unity to the film and won't create a fractured effect. I actually feel that there is an internal unity to the lighting style, but there wasn't one imposed from the outside that said that we were going to light everything from the right or the left, or that it all had to be soft light or hard, all on a wide-angle or a telephoto. The style varies from sequence to sequence, but I really think that it has its own unity.
QUESTION; Were there any lighting set-ups of a particularly unique character?
SUSCHITZKY: There were some very tricky set-ups indeed. We had one set with a glass tube in the middle of it, with Luke Skywalker suspended in a kind of liquid. I don't know whether the scene survives in its entirety in the finished film, but I had to devise a method of lighting this tube so that it would be very bright and the rest of the scene would be extremely low keythe tube would be the main source of light in the setand I hit upon the idea of suspending a large mirror halfway up the studio above the set and a searchlight down below. The light from the searchlight would bounce off the mirror, which worked marvelously well until the mirror shattered once or twice, I believe, from the heat of the searchlight. There were other sets which presented their own difficulties.
QUESTION: What were some of your other challenges?
SUSCHITZKY: There was another set in which a sword fight was to take place between two of the characters. When I looked at that set it struck me as being rather like a model for a stage set. In other words, it looked unfinished. It certainly had no walls at all; it was a series of ramps and discs and blackness. I was extremely concerned about that set and I thought about it a lot, about how I was going to make it work and look believable and look dramatic. Then I decided to light the whole thing from underneath, as the floors had been made translucent. In the black areas I placed Brutes and had shafts of light penetrating the darkness. Then the whole set was filled with steam, which made it photographically very impressive, but physically very uncomfortable, since it was like working in a Turkish bath. We were quite high up in the stage and we all suffered for quite a number of weeks, but it was one of those sets which made me fell uneasy before I entered into the shooting of it because it looked so unreal, so unworldly and unlike anything I had ever done before. I was concerned about it looking dull, in fact, because although there seemed to be plenty of material in the set, it was all either on the floor or on the ceiling. The fact is that unless one goes for extreme angles (and you usually can't do that right through a long sequence), the camera is pointing straight ahead and not up or down. There was nothing for the eye to look at straight ahead except blackness, because all the set elements were on the floor or the ceiling. I was concerned about the scene looking interesting and about the eye having something to look atbut, in the end, I think we succeeded in overcoming those problemsall of us working together.
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