The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents November 2012 Return to Table of Contents
The Master
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The Master Sidebar
Presidents Desk
Short Takes
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
 

At one point, Quell lands a job as a portrait photographer at a department store, a detail Malaimare found serendipitous. “A few months before I met Paul, I bought a Crown Graphic camera from the 1940s,” he recalls. “I brought it to my second meeting with Paul and suggested it would be a great camera for Freddie to use in the department store. Everything came together  — composing our shots as portraits on large-format film, and then tying that into our story.”   

The department-store scenes were shot in an old building in downtown Los Angeles, and these sets included the showroom, Quell’s portrait studio and his darkroom. Malaimare and Anderson wanted these various settings to have different qualities of color: daylight neutral in the showroom; tungsten yellow in the portrait studio, which is located within the showroom; and yellow-green in the darkroom. Dozens of daylight-balanced Kino Flo practicals were installed in the ceiling above the showroom floor. Even after aiming eight Condor-mounted 18K ArriMaxes through the windows and positioning several 18K HMI bounces around the room, the team had to switch to Kodak Vision3 250D 5207 to achieve proper daylight-balanced exposure.   

Malaimare styled Quell’s portrait lighting with a classical three-point setup, using a high keylight. “For scenes that depict still photography, I always like to be as accurate to the period as possible,” he notes. (For a later scene in which Quell shoots a portrait of Dodd for a book cover, Malaimare used his Crown Graphic to capture the photos on 4x5 negative.) Quell’s studio was lit with a mix of natural daylight, the daylight-balanced fluorescents in the ceiling, and 250-watt BCA incandescent bulbs in Quell’s fixtures. Darkroom scenes were shot on 5213 and lit with 4'x4' and 2'x4' Kinos tinted with yellow gels; these were used “only as toplight so the actors could have as much freedom as possible to move around,” Bauman explains.   

Quell is coarse with women and violent with men, and Phoenix conveys the character’s social discomfort with a range of physical tics. If he were the subject of an actual documentary, he would be difficult to keep in focus, but Brown says he “developed a gut feeling about how fast Joaquin was going to move, and how he was going to come at or go away from the camera.” He adds that pulling focus for Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC on The Tree of Life (AC Aug ’11) taught him the importance of sensing how an actor will move and behave. This “divining approach” was particularly helpful on The Master because every take tended to involve a variation on the previous attempt. Blocking rehearsals or focus marks were a rarity.   

As an example, Brown cites the 400' dolly shot in which Quell spots Dodd’s yacht in the harbor and then jumps aboard before it pulls away from the pier. A-camera operator Colin Anderson followed Phoenix with the 65HSSM on an Arri geared head, while Brown racked focus back-and-forth between the actor and the boat on a 75mm System 65 lens at T21⁄3. “The fundamentals of the shot never changed,” Brown explains. “The dolly always started at Point A and ended at Point B, but the timing by which it got from A to B, and the way Joaquin walked through the frame, were always different. As the focus puller, you don’t know which take will be the magic one, so every take needs to be perfect.”   

Brown pulled focus using a Cinematography Electronics Cinetape module linked to a Preston remote unit. Being free of the camera enabled him to find a more advantageous position from which to gauge distance, and spared the actors and the operator any distractions. “You play a zone defense,” he says. “Know how big the space is, and do the mental math.”   

To light the shot, Malaimare’s crew positioned an 80' Condor on land directly next to the boat, and hung a large softbox containing four 6-light HPL Maxi-Brutes through 12'x12' Light Grid. Also in play through the shipyard were 1K Pars, 9-Light Maxis, 10Ks and all eight of the production’s 20Ks. Bauman credits rigging gaffer James Kumarelas with figuring out cost-effective ways to light the boats and other details. “For the yacht, we used a bunch of hardware-store clip lights and 200-watt tungsten bulbs,” Bauman reveals. “The reflector on the clip light made for a nice, large source that looked great in the background.”   

Quell’s peculiar manner — and his talent for concocting head-spinning moonshines — compels Dodd to take him aboard as a crewmember. Most of the yacht scenes were shot over two weeks while the vessel was actually out on the water. “Even if you don’t necessarily see outside the windows, the real movement of a boat on the water is a lot different than it is when you’re docked and the grips are rocking it with big ropes,” notes Malaimare.   

During the tech scout, he and Bauman realized they wouldn’t be able to rig the boat with large sources, so they decided to shoot some of the day interiors and exteriors on 5207 and use 4K HMIs. The yacht’s steel ceilings were too low to accommodate the rigging of overhead sources, so Bauman asked Al DeMayo of LiteGear to create large panels of the company’s VHO 120 LiteRibbon LEDs with a magnetic backing. These could be placed almost anywhere on the vessel. A LiteGear Hybrid dimmer could pan the color temperature of the panels between 3,000° and 6,000°K. “We just covered the ceiling in LEDs,” Bauman says. “We considered other ways to light in there, but even a bare Kino tube would have been too thick, and the sheer number of foot-candles we needed dictated the kinds of lights we could get.”   

In short order, Quell becomes part of Dodd’s inner circle. The two men bond during their first “processing” session, when Dodd begins to chip away at the “negative impulses” controlling his protégé. Shot on a soundstage, this scene is one of the few filmed entirely on 35mm. Malaimare used two cameras (equipped with matching Zeiss Jena lenses), operating the B camera himself. “The lighting was simple,” he adds. “The scene starts in daytime, and we had 4K HMIs coming through the portholes for that, and as it transitions to night, we used a 1,000-watt Chimera pancake inside.”   

Quell accompanies Dodd and his family to New York and Philadelphia to raise awareness for Dodd’s next book about The Cause. Philadelphia group member Helen Sullivan (Laura Dern) opens her home to the travelers, and there Quell embarks upon the next phase of his processing: an exercise that requires him to close his eyes and move back and forth between the window and wall of Sullivan’s den, describing the sensation of each surface. One of Vallejo’s Colonial Revival mansions served as the setting. “That was a tough scene to shoot,” Bauman recalls. “All of the light was coming from outside, and we were trying to maintain some kind of consistency on Joaquin, who was moving from the dark wall at one end of the room to the bright window at the other.” A spotted 18K ArriMax was placed 50' from the window, and key grip Michael Kenner built a flag forest in front of the lamp to shade the areas where Phoenix would walk back and forth. Inside, skirted 400-watt HMI Chimera pancake lanterns provided a natural ambience.   

Malaimare admits that shooting 5203 inside the house was a tough call, “but it paid off. You can see the fine grain structure in the shadows and mid-tones, even on a 35mm reduction print.” Quell is ordered to continue this exercise deep into the night, and as the shadows lengthened, the filmmakers switched to 5213 and created warm interior lighting with a mix of practicals, 1,000-watt tungsten Chimera pancakes, 500-watt Rifas and the LED-based Kino Celeb.  
 

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