The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents October 2011 Return to Table of Contents
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Director Refn
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Nako and his crew also placed D-Lights inside the car, along with what the gaffer calls “LED Sticks,” strips of Hybrid or RGB LiteRibbon fitted inside 3", 6" or 12" lengths of aluminum channel. “We used the 12-inch on the windshield [to supplement] the red-light/green-light effect, and we used a 3-inch LED Stick in the instrument-panel area to provide some glow,” says Nako.

To power all the lights in and around the car, the crew placed a 12-volt 150AH MF Truck battery in the Impala’s trunk. “They put a bigger alternator in the motor, so the battery was being charged by the engine of the car as we drove,” explains Nako. “The battery pushed 32 channels of 12-volt. Each D-Light was either two or three channels — the RGB had three channels and the hybrids had two channels. I also had two 6-by-1.2K Lightronics dimmer packs on top of the car for the Arri 150s, and the whole system was being controlled by wireless DMX, so we could chase the car with the follow van, where I had the ETC Smart Fade ML dimmer board.”

The second car chase takes place during the day and begins with the heist gone wrong, which leaves Standard dead at the scene. As Driver and Blanche speed away in a black Ford Mustang, a Chrysler 300 sedan with tinted windows begins its pursuit. “I loved the idea of this strange extra car,” says Refn. “My reference was when Cary Grant runs in the crop field in North by Northwest. The plane comes, and you don’t really know why it’s there; it’s a dreamlike situation.” The director was equally inspired by Claude Lelouch’s short film Rendezvous, in which a car tears through the streets of Paris while the revving engine fills the soundtrack. Refn recalls, “I said, ‘What if I did a chase that’s all about the sound of the cars?’”

In terms of coverage, says Sigel, “the second car chase is meant to be the most traditional. The twist at the end is that Driver’s ability to overcome the car that’s chasing him is done by a bit of trickery: spinning his car around and driving backwards. It’s almost like a tongue-in-cheek play on the climactic moment of a traditional car chase.”

The sequence was shot over two days around the Templin Highway exit off of Interstate 5. AC visited the location on the second day and found the crew busy prepping the climax of the chase, when Driver puts his Mustang through a 270-degree spin to separate himself from the Chrysler, which then caroms off a guardrail. The Chrysler’s crash is seen through the rear windshield of the Mustang as Hendricks “freaks out in the foreground,” says Sigel; the shot was captured with an Alexa locked down where the front passenger seat would normally be, next to the precision driver who took the wheel for the stunt.

Despite the heat, Refn was again wearing a blanket around his waist as he oversaw the proceedings on location. In addition to the Alexa in the Mustang, the crew was prepping a number of other cameras to ensure the crash would not require more than one take; the other cameras included an Alexa on a remote head positioned along the side of the road, another on a Mercedes SUV-mounted Ultimate Arm, and an Iconix HD-RH1 on the Mustang’s dashboard.

Sigel notes that he also “set up my [Canon EOS] 5D in a fixed-camera position to get more coverage. Every time I pulled out my 5D, it ended up being used, just because you can put that camera where you wouldn’t dare put an Alexa.” However, the cinematographer adds, “in prep, focus puller Nino Neuboeck and I tested the 5D, 7D and Iconix cameras, thinking they would come in handy for the car work, but the quality of the Alexa outdistanced the other cameras by so far, we kept them to an absolute minimum.”

Sigel describes Drive’s third and final chase sequence as “the most predatory.” Having traced his problems since the heist back to crime boss Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his associate, Nino (Ron Perlman), Driver hunts Nino at night and runs the gangster’s car off the road. Driver then drives straight into the side of Nino’s car with enough force to send it toppling over a cliff.

The sequence was filmed at Malibu’s Point Mugu, where the production occupied a parking lot that overlooked the stretch of beach where Nino’s car lands. To backlight the crash, Sigel and Nako employed a 16-head and a 9-head Bebee Night Light, and for fill they utilized 4' tungsten spheres rented from Skylight Lighting Balloons. Additionally, the crew brought in “cobra head” sodium-vapor streetlamps, which play in frame behind Driver as he walks onto the beach and chases Nino into the crashing surf. The streetlamps’ warm backlight was further supplemented by “what I call Light Grenades, bare sodium-vapor globes that we could easily move around and flag off, depending on what effect was needed,” says Nako.

“Another big effect we had on the beach was a searchlight, which was actually a 7K Xenon bounced into a spinning 4-by-4 mirror,” the gaffer continues. “Then, when the camera looks at the ocean, we turned the 16-head Bebee toward the water and lit the atmosphere above it, so we could actually see the ocean.”

Throughout the shoot, the filmmakers recorded out from the Alexa to HDCam-SR tape. The camera was also monitored through a FilmLight Trulight On-Set system, which was overseen by digital-imaging technician Ryan Nguyen. Sigel explains that the Trulight system allowed the filmmakers to do “real-time color correction on the set. We didn’t do anything radical, but we’d add some contrast and a little bit of saturation. All of the [metadata] would be recorded on a Flash drive that would go to FotoKem, where [colorist/ASC associate member] Mark Van Horne, whom I’ve known for many years, was kind enough to sit in during the transfer. Mark knew the look I was going for, and if he saw something going in the wrong direction, he’d make some corrections and give me a call. It was a very simple and easy system.

“Because of all the work we did with the Trulight, the DI was pretty simple,” continues Sigel. The final digital grade was carried out at Company 3’s New York facility with colorist Tom Poole; Sigel also did some preliminary work with colorist Stephen Nakamura.

Drive had its premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where Refn received the award for Best Director. In a conversation with the director a few months later, AC at last asked the pressing question: What’s the deal with that blanket he wears
on set?

“It’s a ritual I’ve had since my first movie,” says Refn. “On all my films, I find a blanket in the costume department, and I wrap it around my stomach to keep the energy within me. I only take it off if I’m very, very angry or very, very hot. It keeps my stomach warm, which centers me and gives me peace. Filmmaking is a stressful


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