Edie Sedgwick, an heiress who achieved iconic fame and notoriety as a “superstar” in Andy Warhol’s New York Factory scene, died at 28 of a drug overdose in 1971. Her troubled childhood, brief flirtation with celebrity, and rapid downfall have been chronicled in books and articles ever since. With the film Factory Girl, which stars Sienna Miller as Sedgwick and Guy Pearce as Warhol, director George Hickenlooper and cinematographer Michael Grady wanted to go beyond dramatizing Sedgwick’s life by using a wide variety of visuals to immerse viewers in both the period and her internal world.
Hickenlooper, whose credits include Mayor of the Sunset Strip (see AC March ’04) and The Man From Elysian Fields (AC Oct. ’02), wanted his film to have a collage-style, freeform feel, and he was impressed by Grady’s work on Wonderland (AC Oct. ’03), which combined different looks to tell different pieces of the story. Warhol’s factory was supposed to be about free artistic expression, and Hickenlooper wanted Factory Girl to reflect this ambience both literally, through faithful reproductions of images of the era, and figuratively, through a kind of free-form style.
“We talked about the style of JFK,” Grady says of his early discussions with Hickenlooper. “We thought we would shoot 16mm, 35mm, Super 8mm, every stock there is.” But as planning progressed, they decided to take 35mm off the table. “It’s really hard to destroy or degrade 35mm or to give it any grain,” explains Grady. “We definitely wanted this movie to have some grain because it was appropriate for the subject. The question was how raw the images could be. We wanted light leaks; we wanted scratches.”
To this end, the production tapped Pro8mm, a Burbank facility that caters to the Super 8 market. The company creates its own 8mm negative by stripping and re-perfing rolls of 35mm film stock; it has also created its own format, Max8, which allows more picture information and a 16:9 aspect ratio. Factory Girl is the first feature to use the format, which the filmmakers used to re-create scenes from Warhol films such as Beauty #2, Vinyl and Poor Little Rich Girl. “The Warhol films were usually shot in 16mm, but because we weren’t shooting anything in 35mm, I wanted to go one gauge smaller to give that material an archival feel,” says Hickenlooper.
Often, Hickenlooper, the actors and various crewmembers were handed one of the 8mm cameras to grab additional shots. Hickenlooper purchased a Max8 camera from Pro8mm, using it to shoot about 7,000 feet of both Ektachrome and a variety of Pro8mm custom loads. “I also brought along my Nizo Super8 camera, which my father bought for me when I was 15,” says the director. “It has a great lens made by Schneider, and I can get images that are almost as crisp as 16mm.”
“I’m not of the Hitchcockian school, where you storyboard meticulously and fall in love with shots you want to do,” Hickenlooper continues. “I like to have a lot of surprises in the editing room. [Editor Dana Glauberman] and I used footage that I wasn’t even aware we had until I saw it in the editing room — shots captured accidentally, things with unexpected flares. We shot a black-and-white-reversal camera test of Guy Pearce to see what the film would look like and to check his makeup, and he was so good in it we had to use some of it.”
Grady notes that the reason for using a specific film stock or gauge was based more on an understanding between him and Hickenlooper than on a particular plan. “I think George and I could say why we did what we did for a given shot, but I don’t think it would mean anything to anybody else,” says Grady.
In some cases, color-reversal film was used to suggest the color photography of the era. In others, black-and-white reversal suggests the look of the underground films that came out of Warhol’s Factory. A scene set near Sedgwick’s grave was shot on color reversal and then cross-processed. “It was an overcast day in a graveyard with lots of dead-looking trees, and we wanted the scene to have a heaviness and sadness,” says Grady. “We had this concept of early ’70s album covers, and the dead trees and tombstones just seemed perfect for cross-processed reversal.”
Over the course of the shoot, Grady used 16mm and 8mm stocks from Kodak’s Vision2 (200T and 500T), Vision (250D) and EXR (100D) lines, as well as 16mm in the Vision (200T) and EXR (50D) lines. In addition, he shot Ektachrome 100D color reversal, 20-40D Kodachrome, Eastman Plus-X and Tri-X black-and-white reversal, and Eastman Plus-X and Double-X black-and-white. Pro8mm processed and transferred the 8mm negative and processed the 16mm reversal stocks. FotoKem carried out all other negative processing, and Complete Post transferred all the 16mm dailies. (At press time, the production was doing reshoots in New York, and Technicolor’s local facility was handling the processing and dailies.)
Factory Girl was shot in a converted warehouse in Shreveport, Louisiana, where production designer Jeremy Reed created sets that included the Factory, interiors of the Chelsea Hotel, Vogue editor Diana Vreeland’s office, and one of Sedgwick’s apartments. Grady was able to light with a large package of mostly tungsten lights and tungsten-balanced Kino Flos. He also had 20K tungstens and 18K HMIs to cover big spaces and push light through windows.
Grady’s camera and lens package comprised Arri 16SR-3s; Cooke S4 primes; Cooke 9.5mm and 12mm lenses; Canon 8-64mm and 11-165mm zooms; and two fisheye lenses, a Century 3.5mm and an Optex 4mm. He also used a Zeiss 11-110mm zoom that Panavision Dallas stripped of its coating for the show. “I wanted the effect of an uncoated lens, essentially to help degrade the images of Edie’s childhood and then of her decline,” he explains.
Much of the film takes place inside the Factory, where Warhol made his films and entertained his acolytes. One scene that was designed to look like one of Warhol’s famous screen tests — he filmed just about every famous person that visited — involves Sedgwick’s new friend, Billy Quinn (Hayden Christensen), verbally sparring with Warhol. (The fictitious Quinn character is based on Sedgwick associate Bob Dylan.) “We thought of it as an all-handheld Western standoff,” says Grady, referring to the mano a mano nature of the scene. “It was some improv dialogue and mostly improv camerawork. We lit the room with a lot of softboxes overhead and some Pars aimed straight down to burn hot spots.” Some older Mole-Richardson lights served double duty as props and sources. “Those lights looked the same forever, so if you go just one generation back, it looks like lights of that period,” says Grady. “We used those to light Hayden.”
Although the camerawork includes Steadicam and dolly shots, much of Factory Girl was shot handheld, and Grady had to constantly challenge his instincts to get the desired effect. “We wanted it to be raw, but I wasn’t sure how raw I should go. I wanted things that were supposed to be home movies to look like home movies, but movies are supposed to look better than real life. So I constantly had to work that out.” For Hickenlooper, there is an element of documentary filmmaking in any narrative feature, a sense of capturing something unexpected and then making it work. “The documentary will always be the foundation of what I do, because it’s where I started,” says the director. “It’s pure cinema; it’s the only kind of filmmaking that isn’t built on another artistic tradition like theater or painting.”
Shooting a film in a freeform style, he continues, requires an ability to know just how to move the camera and frame the shot without a lot of planning. “Michael has an ability to capture a moment and know just where to go with the actor,” he says. “He has an incredible sense of composition. He can just go in with a long lens and get that body part or that little piece of something that captures the moment without having to have anything choreographed in advance.” Grady calls it “an improv-jazz look,” and he is quick to differentiate it from the shaky, handheld camerawork that is often described as “documentary style.” He notes, “I’ve shot documentaries, and when people start talking about that, I tell them a cameraman on any real documentary would be fired if he just shook the camera all the time. If you want that but also want it to feel like an attempt that’s real, you can go on a lens that’s too long for what you’re doing and then try like hell to make it smooth. That way, it’s at least believable.”
For the filmmakers, believability was the most important attribute Factory Girl’s images could have, and that’s why they never considered leaving the film’s many different looks to the digital-intermediate (DI) process. At press time, the picture was slated to go through a DI at a yet-to-be-determined facility, but Hickenlooper notes that work will simply be about assembling and finessing the disparate elements. “We probably could have relied on a DI for degrading the images and all that, but I think we would have lost the authentic feel,” says the director. “There’s a physicality to [the photochemical process] that’s real, and there’s an artifice to the digital process that the trained eye can see and the untrained eye can pick up on subconsciously.” Grady adds that he had no interest in trying to build the film’s look in post: “Why on earth wouldn’t you do the real thing?”