The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents December 2011 Return to Table of Contents
J. Edgar
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Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Sunlight is a near-constant feature in Hoover’s office. Depending on the scene, it sometimes brightens the room, but more often it is tamped down by closed blinds. Stern therefore had Dunkerley design the room’s lighting for maximum flexibility.

“We hung a track system outside all the windows so that we could shuffle 12K tungsten lights and put them everywhere we wanted while also keeping the backing visible outside the windows,” says Dunkerley. “That said, we had even more lights, primarily Arri T-24s and T-12s, available on stands so that if the camera wasn’t seeing out the window, we could more easily adjust the light in the room. When the camera was looking out the window, we relied on the hanging lights.”

Campanelli’s Steadicam was the main method of filming on the Dept. of Justice set. “We’ve always used a lot of Steadicam because Clint likes to keep the camera and actors free,” says Campanelli. “But on this movie, we also did much longer Steadicam shots than we normally do. I’d run down the hallway, following the actors as they went from room to room.”

Indeed, a single Steadicam move actually captures two sequences at one point. The move follows Hoover and his partner, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), as they leave Hoover’s inner office and walk through his outer office. The camera tracks backwards with them into a waiting room, through a couple of doors, and then makes a 90-degree turn into the hallway, still tracking backwards ahead of the actors. The camera continues following them down the hallway as they stop in a doorway and then enter another room, Hoover’s crime lab. At that point, Campanelli is behind the actors, so he pivots and tracks to that door as the actors walk down past a set of desks to the spot where the drama of the scene takes place.

“That was pretty cool,” Campanelli recalls. “Basically, it was one Steadicam shot for two scenes with lots of dialogue. That’s what you call a high-energy shot.”

Of course, such shots make Coe’s job more complicated, but he says he is well used to it. “Steadicam presents problems for a focus puller because generally, the actor and camera will be moving in places we’re not aware of because we don’t use marks,” says Coe. “You have to go by instinct. Clint tells me to ‘use the Force,’ and that’s pretty much how I do it. It’s freeform, but at a high level. If I think something isn’t sharp enough, I’ll tell them I think I can do better.”

One of the challenges involved in scenes depicting key characters as old men and women was the makeup they wore. DiCaprio’s aging makeup, which took six-and-a-half hours to apply and two hours to remove, was handled by his longtime makeup artist, Sian Grigg, while Hammer and Naomi Watts (who plays Hoover’s assistant, Helen Gandy) were aged by Eastwood’s regular makeup team, led by Tania McComas.

The schedule allowed only a single day of makeup tests for DiCaprio, but Eastwood was so pleased with Grigg’s work that he didn’t shy away from close-ups of Hoover as an old man. Stern was likewise confident. “With special-effects makeup, there’s always a tension between the makeup artist and the cinematographer,” Stern observes. “But in this case, I found fantastic collaborators in Sian Grigg and [DiCaprio hairstylist] Kathy Blondell. When we first met, Sian pulled out a monocle that she uses, and it was the same one I use, so we hit it off right away.

“In the DI, I only found a single flaw on Leo’s makeup, and we softened it up easily enough,” continues the cinematographer. “It’s important to avoid thermal problems on set for actors who are heavily made up, but with Clint we never have a real hot set. The way I tended to light this film was also friendly to the makeup.”

Two scenes in J. Edgar are crucial to understanding Hoover’s emotional and psychological state and, therefore, the larger story. The first comes as he mourns the death of his beloved mother (played by Judi Dench); weeping, he dons some of her jewelry and clothing in front of a mirror. It was a tricky scene to capture, primarily because DiCaprio was left to improvise in front of the mirror, and the crew couldn’t know precisely what he would do in the highly emotional moment.

“Clint, being an actor, didn’t want Leo to torment himself too much, so we got the wide shot on the first take,” Campanelli recalls. “Clint told me, ‘Just see what happens,’ and we got it all in a couple of takes.

Because the acting was improvised, the lighting had to be, too, and that meant adopting what Dunkerley describes as “an unorthodox way to light for a Clint Eastwood movie.

“That’s the first time I can recall things getting that loose — Clint didn’t want to limit what Leo could do in any way,” continues Dunkerley. “I actually put the key light, a 650-watt Tweenie, on a pole and danced the light around Leo while Campy filmed him. Wherever I sensed the lens was, I tried to keep the light at an interesting angle. I actually used a C-stand arm and operated the way a microphone boom man would hold a mic.

“If we’d done it with multiple cameras or different lenses, we would have had to light with broader strokes to make it softer and, therefore, less dramatic,” he adds. “But because it’s an Eastwood film, it was all single-camera.”

The other key sequence reveals Hoover and Tolson’s relationship as something more than professional. While traveling together, the two men come to blows in their hotel room over Hoover’s pretense of being interested in women. Their confrontation culminates with a kiss as they roll on the floor. Once again, the scene was largely improvised. “Clint never choreographs those things because he trusts the actors he has cast,” says Stern. “So we went handheld. The scene starts out kind of warm and friendly, and then it changes when Hoover mentions ‘Mrs. Hoover’ and Tolson goes berserk. Basically, we just followed their fight and stayed on them as it culminated in the kiss.”

“I was on a 3-foot slider with the camera on a sandbag to do a push-in as they fell in front of me in silhouette and profile, face-to-face,” Campanelli recalls. “Armie was on top and Leo was on the bottom, and we basically wanted to do a push-in as their lips locked. Again, we got it on the first take. We shot some additional coverage between the two guys, but really, we got the main part in one or two takes.”

Despite J. Edgar’s short filming schedule, Bogdanowicz was able to get a head start on the final timing because, for the first time, Eastwood’s team relied on Technicolor for HD dailies. (These were timed by dailies colorist Mark Sachen, with Bogdanowicz supervising.) This meant that much of the negative was scanned at an early stage, and so, as the cut evolved, Bogdanowicz was able to experiment with the look both with and without Stern, who was commuting from another shoot while J. Edgar was in post.

“Clint liked what we’d done, but, of course, he said he wanted even more desaturation and blacker blacks,” Bogdanowicz says with a chuckle. “He wanted a very strong differentiation between the 1920s and the 1960s. He kept telling me, ‘Go for Iwo Jima,’ referring to Letters from Iwo Jima [AC March ’07], which meant a pretty extreme look.”


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