The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents August 2009 Return to Table of Contents
Julie & Julia
Page 2
Page 3
Julie & Julia's DI
Short Takes
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up

Julie & Julia, shot by Stephen Goldblatt, ASC, BSC, illustrates how the legendary Julia Child impacted the life of an acolyte.



Unit photography by Jonathan Wenk


Based on real people and events, Julie & Julia tells the parallel stories of two women who lived 50 years apart but shared a passion for cooking: Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and Julie Powell (Amy Adams). In 1951, Child was living in Paris, where her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci), a career diplomat, had been assigned after the war. With little to occupy her, she decided to take a class at the Cordon Bleu Cooking School. In 2001, in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States, New Yorker Powell was searching for an activity that might lift her spirits. She decided to make every recipe in Child’s landmark cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and document her efforts online. Her daily blog became so popular that it was turned into a book, which served as the basis for the film.

Directed by Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia jumps back and forth between the two women’s stories, documenting not only their culinary endeavors but also their relationships with their respective husbands. “We shot the Julie story first, and only after we completed it did we start shooting the Julia story,” says Goldblatt. He wanted each section to have its own mood and look, which he describes as “harsh American sunlight and bold, contrasty colors for Julie’s life in Queens, and pastel tones and a soft, overcast light for Julia’s life in Paris.”

The cinematographer a-chieved both looks with the same film stocks, using Kodak Vision3 500T 5219 (rated at EI 320) for all interiors and Vision2 250D 5205 and 50D 5201 for exteriors. For the Paris sequences, he added a light Tiffen Black ProMist (1⁄4 or 1⁄8) to the lens “to give a little glow to the light and flatten things out a bit,” he says.

“I like shooting at T2.8, and today’s stocks make that easy to achieve,” continues Goldblatt. “My favorite stock at the moment is 5219; it has an extraordinary ability to dig into shadows and highlights, and it takes the digital intermediate so beautifully.”

With the exception of a small amount of Paris footage that was processed at Deluxe London, all of the production’s footage was processed at Technicolor New York, where Goldblatt has a long-standing relationship with Joey Violante and Martin Zeichner, who timed select print and high-definition dailies, respectively. (Julie & Julia was shot in Super 1.85:1, and the first few weeks of dailies were printed.) “Technicolor provided us with a beautiful HD projector,” notes Goldblatt. “Nora and I would watch projected dailies at lunchtime on a 12-foot-wide screen.”

Camera equipment was provided by Panavision, a team effort involving Phil Radin in Woodland Hills, Calif., and Scott Fleischer and Gail Savarese in New York. The production’s package comprised two Panaflex Platinums, a Lightweight for Steadicam work, Primo prime lenses, a low-angle prism and four zooms (Primo 4:1, 11:1, 3:1 and Macro). “I’m not as crazed about lenses as I used to be because we can make such radical changes in the DI,” says Goldblatt. “Certainly, the lenses need to be sharp, not too contrasty, and comfortable for the assistants, but I don’t see such a vast difference nowadays between Primos and Cookes. Production design, lighting and wardrobe have far more effect on the final image than the subtle differences between very good lenses. Those differences were much more of an issue in the days before the DI.”

The Paris and Queens apartment interiors were built onstage at Silvercup Studios in New York. Child’s residence, which was modeled on her real home, is L-shaped and spacious and boasts large, leaded-glass windows. Every wall in the set was wild, and all of the windows were specially built with real leaded glass. “In addition to looking more authentic than any kind of substitution, the leaded glass helps diffuse what we see outside the windows,” notes production designer Mark Ricker. “For winter scenes, we dabbed a kind of wax mixture onto the glass to give it a frosted look.”

Two sides of the set included exterior façades. Dolly shots made from an elevated platform could track past several sections of façade while following the actors from room to room. “That helped give real dimension to the set,” observes 1st AC Larry Huston. Gaffer Gene Engel was responsible for conjuring the soft light Goldblatt wanted for the Paris scenes on the New York stage. “We probably had 900 units operating on that set, and they were all on a dimmer system, right down to the outlets in the walls,” says Engels.

Two layers of bleached muslin covered every ceiling, and 20Ks were suspended at different angles above them to create directional light. For keylight, 5Ks and other Fresnel lights were set to rake across a 12'x25' frame of rippled bleached muslin. “Raking the light across rippled muslin is what produces that soft, shadowless effect,” explains Engel. “A camera can dolly to within 2 feet of an actor without the operator or assistant casting a shadow, and two actors can stand 6 or 8 inches apart and cast no shadows as they talk. Rippled muslin also takes every wrinkle out of every face; it makes actors look good, and it makes the set look good.

“I never bounce off anything flat,” adds the gaffer. “Sometimes I’d throw a 10-by-10 rag on the floor, kick it into a bunch and bounce into that.”

Goldblatt’s crew often had to pull walls to facilitate the best lighting for the actors. For shots of Streep in Child’s 10'x12' kitchen, for example, a wall would come down and a 12'x25' frame of rippled bleached muslin would go up, with a 5 or 10K gelled with 1⁄8 or ¼ straw behind it. “It looks as if the light is coming from a window,” says Goldblatt.

One concern was how to make Streep appear as tall as Child, who was 6'2". The actress wore platform shoes in every scene in which her feet weren’t visible. When standing still, she stood on ¼ apple boxes or pancakes. When she had to walk alongside another character, she walked on 4"-high walkways that snaked through the sets. Even when seated, Streep was elevated — she always sat on a pillow. To help sell the illusion, “we often filmed Meryl from a slightly lower angle than might have been entirely flattering, but she encouraged it,” says Goldblatt. “Julia Child was not a small woman, and Meryl wanted to be true to that. When we wanted her to look her best, we raised the camera.”

Whereas Child’s apartment is roomy, the studio apartment where Powell lives is a modest 43'x19'. The kitchen is 6'8"x6'3" — tight quarters in which to cook, much less to shoot. “It was like a closet!” recalls Goldblatt. “We tore every single wall out again and again just to get our coverage. On a 27mm lens, with one wall taken out and [the camera] back a couple of feet, we could just get everything into frame.” After a pause, he laughs, “Actually, at times it was rather a challenge to keep the small space from looking bigger than it was.”

Outside the kitchen’s sole window were three 5Ks shooting up at beadboards or rippled muslin. For the rest of the apartment, 5Ks and 10Ks were aimed through windows, replicating harsh sunlight.

Ceilings of the Queens set comprised bleached muslin, with lights positioned above them. Two small skylights, never seen on camera, serve as additional light sources. Smaller and darker than the Childs’ apartment, the Powells’ home relied more heavily on practicals.

 

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