Posts Tagged ‘American Society of Cinematographers’

“He [Polanski] said, ‘Johnny, please no diffusion on the lens; I don’t want a Hollywood look.’ So I borrowed an idea that the great Jimmy Wong Howe had told me about. I used Chinese tracing paper to shift the light and color so that it turned beige and gold. Roman liked it.”
John Alonzo (Director of Photography on Chinatown)
LA Times article by Myrna Oliver

Faye Dunaway

Cinematographer John Alonzo  was born in Dallas, Texas but spent most of his early youth in Guadalajara, Mexico. His career in production started at WFAA-TV in Dallas. And before he died in 2001, he accumulated quite a resume that included doing camerawork for National Geographic Specials and The Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau, as well as being director of photography on Scarface, Star Trek Generations, Harold and Maude, Sounder, Steal Magnolias, and Norma Rae. (Two less remembered films in which he was DP on that are worth revisiting are Conrack and Cross Creek.)  Alonzo won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lighting Direction (Fail Safe) and an Oscar-nomination for Chinatown.

But it is his work on Chinatown that is his legacy. He took over shooting after the first week of production when the original DP, Stanley Cortez, had a falling out with director Roman Polanski on how to photograph Faye Dunaway. Cortez wanted to use defused lighting and long lens and Polanski wanted a harder, more realistic shot. According to Buzz magazine, before Alonzo officially replaced Cortez on the film he spent the weekend watching Polanski’s films Cul de Sac, Repulsion, Knife in the Water—with Polanski.

I can’t remember if it was on one of the Chinatown commentaries where Alonzo talked about sending the large grips trucks away and using a minimalistic approach to lighting the film. He often shot with a wider angle lens that sometimes on Dunaway’s close-up shots had the camera just two and a half feet from her face. The exact opposite of traditional Hollywood movie star glamour style. In many ways Chinatown is a complex movie, but it also a great example of simplicity. A simplicity on the other side of complexity.

Watch the following scene from Chinatown; Three actors, three minutes, all done in one take. (Spoiler alert. If you’ve never seen the film just turn the sound off and watch the photography.)

You can learn more about Alonzo in the documentary The Man Who Shot Chinatown.

P.S.—Much of Chinatown was shot with a 40mm lens, which legend has it that was the same focal lenght used to film the entire movie The Godfather (1972) . To learn more about cinematography check out the podcasts that the American Society of Cinematographers produces.

Scott W. Smith

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“I wanted my first film to be special… but I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to get made.”
Aaron Schneider, director of Get Low

A part of the 10 year journey of Get Low getting made is the writing of Aaron Schneider. He wasn’t the writer of the script, but the director of the movie. But Schneider did take a few days to craft a letter to actor Bill Murray to persuade him to join the cast. In an article by Danielle Hatch, Schneider said, “I decided to write a letter to let (Murray) know the movie was on its way and we wanted him on board. I put my heart on the page. You sit down and you write ‘Dear Bill,’ but that’s too casual. You write ‘Dear Mr. Murray,’ and that’s too formal. And in the business, Bill Murray is known for his bull-(expletive) meter. Not that I was trying to sell him a used car, but you get the sense from watching him and his work that the only way you can approach him is by being yourself and hoping that’s enough.”

Especially in this digital age never underestimate the power of a personal letter.  Murray signed on to be in the film which is in theaters now.

And while Get Low is Schneider’s feature film directorial debut he has actually two decades of cinematography credits, joined the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) in 1999, and won an Oscar for a short film he made in 2003 (Two Soldiers). According to the Chicago Tribune Schneider, now 40, was “born in Springfield and raised primarily in Peoria, Ill.” And Illinois plays a part in one of the more interesting twists and turns of Get Low getting made, as it has links to where a chunk of money came from to get the film produced.

Where do you think Schneider found a key investor— a German management company? “We found them through my high school prom date,” Schneider told Michael Phillips at the Tribune. “She found out I was trying to raise money for this movie. By this time she was in the financial world in New York and knew somebody who was interested in headhunting money for a movie.”

Think I can top that? Well, where do you think Scheider went to college? Yep, right here in Iowa. (Almost three years after starting this blog after discovering Diablo Cody graduated from the University of Iowa I’ve come to expect odd connections to Iowa.) Schneider studied engineering at Iowa State in Ames, but a chance meeting with Billy Crystal on a vacation in Florida led Schneider to go to film school at USC. Phillips points out that when Schneider won the Oscar for his short film, the host of the Oscars that year was Billy Crystal.

Don’t you love happy endings?

Scott W. Smith

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