How "Bobby", the Best Student-Photographed Film, Was Made

By Ollstein, Martin | American Cinematographer, December 1977 | Go to article overview

How "Bobby", the Best Student-Photographed Film, Was Made

Ollstein, Martin, American Cinematographer

UCLA filmmaker, winner of the 1977 A.S.C. College Cinematography Award, writes about the challenges, frustrations and techniques involved in the shooting of his film on the streets of Paris

"BOBBY" tells the story of a thirteen-year-old boy's search for respect and maturity. On vacation in Paris with his protective family, he runs away into the exciting foreign city in pursuit of his fantasy of "manhood". After some discouraging and frightening experiences, he meets an older French girl who shows him her own personal view of Paris, and gently reveals to him her understanding of maturity, independence, and responsibility.

I decided to make a film about Paris several years ago when I was invited to present my first dramatic film, "ABRAHAM", at the Grenoble International Short Film Festival, and ended up living in Paris for several months. When I got the opportunity last year to study film production in France as part of my Masters Program at UCLA, I was able to realize my plans for the film.

I wanted to portray the beauty of the city, as well as some of the indifference and hostility I had encountered there. The story of a young boy coming of age and discovering his personal male identity seemed an appropriate story to produce in this setting. By taking the point of view of a young, relatively innocent and impressionable boy, I was able to explore a special romantic Paris. The film is an homage to Paris, a story of adolescent development, and a comparison of the American and French cultures.

I chose to shoot the film in the autumn, when the light is softer, the leaves turn, and the colors are warm and saturated. The autumn fulfilled my expectations, but we almost ran into trouble when winter began to come on very quickly toward the end of principal photography. On returning to a location surrounded by trees for some pick-up shots, we discovered that the colorful autumn leaves had all fallen, leaving bare branches instead. I compensated for this by selecting higher camera angles that would not reveal the bare trees in the background and cause a problem in continuity.

The story takes place during one sunny afternoon. Each sequence had to match the others so that a soft, warm quality would infuse the film from beginning to end, growing only slightly darker in the final scenes, as the afternoon draws to a close. To create this pastel vision of Paris, representative of Bobby's perspective, I selected the 7247 Eastmancolor film stock for its subtlety of color shading. I also used a Wratten #85B filter for daylight instead of the #85 because, in this part of Europe, the daylight is slightly more blue in color. This was a recommendation of UCLA Professor Frank Valert, a professional cinematographer, originally from Czechoslovakia.

I wanted to suggest a city of light, brilliance and rich colors typical of the old, traditional culture. I maintained careful control over the color from scene to scene. In the hotel room, a golden color was predominant; at the picnic by the canal, it was an autumn brown.

My preparation for shooting "BOBBY" included working on the crews of two short French films (as Director of Photography on one) which acquainted me with the practical specifics of French motion picture production. Instead of "Roll Sound, Speed, Mark It, Action", I heard "Moteur, Ça tourne, Annonce, Action." I was introduced to the rental house, Samuelson Alga-Cinema, and the laboratory, C.T.M., that I later used for "BOBBY". And I noticed that French crews were very well fed-meals were a major consideration on the production budget.

I met many actors and technicians on these productions whom I later asked to work with me. My crew was international-American, French, Canadian, and Austrian. The predominant language on the set was French, which everyone understood. Even Bill Williams, the young Bobby, spoke French fluently, and did his share of interpreting among the actors. In addition to writing a French and English version of the script, I prepared a detailed shooting script, or découpage, for the crew, detailing camera position, lens, and action covered in each set-up. …

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