I have had the pleasure of collaborating and working with Jon Fauer for years, on promotional films as well as his popular series of instructional books, and we have often discussed the influence technology has on art. For example, we talked about the well-accepted effect of reusable metal tubes on painting; the impact of amplifiers and electric guitars on music; and, of course, how technology might have and continues to influence a cinematographer’s style.
As is often the case, there was no single instant or spark that triggered the decision to make Cinematographer Style. Rather, a series of events and conversations led to the concept. Throughout the process, we were in communication with ASC presidents Victor J. Kemper and Richard Crudo, as well as other officers and members of the ASC. They all offered and delivered their enthusiastic support, as it was our intent that any net proceeds from this production would be donated to the ASC Building or Education fund.
The subject of our film is the art and craft of cinematography. It is about how everything, including life experience and technology, influences and shapes an individual’s visual style. A film’s visual style can have a powerful impact, and we hope this documentary offers filmmakers and others valuable insights into the dramatic choices cinematographers make. We also think the material will have significant historic value.
Cinematographer Style took about three years to make, with all of the usual production challenges of coordinating schedules of people and equipment, and with the added challenge of getting it done without a separate, dedicated production staff. Of course, over time the project developed its own momentum, and everyone was driven by the commitment we’d made long before we realized its full implication.
Initially, the process was to simply interview as many cinematographers as we could get, always coordinating with Jon’s paying jobs as they took him around the world. Over the span of two years, this allowed Jon to film more than 100 interviews, resulting in a bounty of material that was nearly overwhelming both in volume and great content. During that time, the production was able to progress rather unnoticed, and I was concerned that might change dramatically after the initial rough cut unless we kept a tight lid on the project. With the multitude of potential “creative consultants” we had filmed, and with the ever-present marketing interests of the many sponsors and contributors, the production could have been inundated with suggestions and demands that would have been its creative doom. For that reason, we insisted that no one outside of the immediate creative circle was to see any images until we were finished. This was not always comfortable for Jon, who is a creative, collaborative and open individual by nature, but ultimately we all recognized the need for such a restriction.
By the time we had edited the material down to our target length, we were still trying to coordinate a mutually manageable location to film Vittorio Storaro, whom I had assured that “we will not wrap until you are in the can.” As fortune would have it, we were able to catch Vittorio in Boston, where he received the Coolidge Award. Once his interview was done and cut into the edit, I realized there was one more person missing from the ensemble: Gordon Willis, surely one of the most influential and brilliant cinematographers of our time. So I proposed one last interview to Jon, who outlined the project for Gordon and got him to agree to an interview. Jon made arrangements to take equipment and a small crew, including Tibor Sands, Gordon’s assistant on a number of movies and now a CSC employee, to the Willis home in Massachusetts. Clearly, Jon, Tibor and Gordon meshed well in those relaxed surroundings, and the resulting material greatly enhances the film’s intimate feeling.
The technical aspects of this film were an important component of the overall concept. The sponsors intended to use every advanced technology at their disposal to produce the best possible print that film and the DI process are capable of. All of the footage was shot with the latest Arricam 35mm camera systems, Zeiss Ultra Prime Lenses, and Kodak Vision2 negative (which we referred to as our “analog 4K user-interchangeable sensor”). Because of data-capacity and time limitations, we elected a 2K DI that was divided between New York and Los Angeles. The negative was scanned on an Arriscan at 3K, down-rezzed to 2K, conformed, dust-busted and graded by Tim Spitzer and John Dowdell at Goldcrest in New York, and then filmed out in 2K on two Arrilasers at our facility in Burbank. Technicolor Los Angeles gave us an outstanding release print on Kodak Vision Premier.
Altogether, we shot 200 rolls of color negative for this production. Assuming the equivalent of 4K digital resolution at approximately 65 megabytes per frame, there is a total of 206 terabytes of uncompressed, raw, analog 4K data archived and safely stored in tin cans for future use in whatever format may be required, be it analog or digital.
Aside from the compliments we’ve received on the film, the sentiment most often expressed is, “Too bad something like this was not done long ago.”