Ordinary People (1980) / John Bailey, ASC

Episode #65

Ordinary People (1980) / John Bailey, ASC


Cinematographer John Bailey, ASC discusses his work on the acclaimed drama Ordinary People, which marked Robert Redford’s directing debut and was one of Bailey’s earliest feature credits. Bailey discusses how Redford, then at the peak of his acting career, came to choose him for the project, how the seemingly disparate styles of ASC greats Vittorio Storaro and Gordon Willis influenced his work on the picture, and how he approached scenes in the most important set — a strategy that led, many years later, to his landing the job shooting In the Line of Fire for Wolfgang Petersen.

  • Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton, right) meets with psychiatrist Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch).
  • The Jarrett family — Beth (Mary Tyler Moore, left), Calvin (Donald Sutherland, center) and Conrad (Timothy Hutton) — share an evening meal.
  • Conrad (Timothy Hutton, right) pays a late-night visit to Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch) at a critical moment. “The five scenes in this office are the heart of the movie,” notes cinematographer John Bailey.
  • Cinematographer John Bailey (left) with director Robert Redford and actress Mary Tyler Moore on the set.
  • Director Robert Redford and cinematographer John Bailey prepare a scene on an airplane.
  • The filmmakers prep a scene in which Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) greets some trick-or-treaters. Cinematographer John Bailey is at far left, and in the foreground, with backs to camera, are director Robert Redford (left) and camera operator and future ASC cine

About the Project

Adapted from the novel by Judith Guest, Ordinary People follows the Jarrett family — parents Calvin and Beth (Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore) and their son, Conrad (Timothy Hutton) — as they struggle to find their footing in the aftermath of a fatal accident. Ordinary People won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Hutton) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Alvin Sargent).

About the Cinematographer

Born in Moberly, Mo., John Bailey is known for his work on Groundhog Day, As Good As It Gets, In the Line of Fire, Living Out Loud, The Accidental Tourist, Silverado, The Big Chill, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters and American Gigolo. His documentary credits include The Kid Stays in the Picture, A Brief History of Time and Michael Jordan to the Max. He is the recipient of this year’s ASC Lifetime Achievement Award, a member of the ASC Board of Governors, and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Board of Governors. He also writes a blog, John’s Bailiwick, on the ASC website.

American Cinematographer interviews cinematographers, directors and other filmmakers to take you behind the scenes on major studio movies, independent films and popular television series.

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