Magazine article American Cinematographer

Marked Man

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Marked Man

Article excerpt

Peter Sova, ASC lends a stylized look to Lucky Number Slevin, a gangster tale with plenty of plot twists.

Lucky Number Slevin is a thriller/comedy hybrid whose unexpected acts of brutality and moments of comic relief keep the audience guessing. The picture was shot by Peter Sova, ASC and directed by Paul McGuigan, who previously collaborated on Gangster No. 1 (see AC June '02), The Reckoning and Wicker Park. Slevin echoes Gangster No. 1 in a handful of ways: it concerns a decades-long rivalry between two gang leaders (played by Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley), and it's peopled with sociopaths who think nothing of killing each other. But Skvin unfolds on a larger canvas and offers a broader range of tones.

Set in present-day New York, the film concerns a mysterious young man, Slevin (Josh Hartnett), who finds himself caught in the middle of a war between the two gangsters, The Boss (Freeman) and Schlomo (Kingsley). The rivals live in sprawling penthouse apartments that face each other. Other characters include Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis), a hit man of questionable loyalties, and Slevin's neighbor Lindsey (Lucy Liu), who gets caught up in the danger. The film flashes back to the 1970s to depict an event that has bearing on Slevin's circumstances: a gambler's devastating loss at the racetrack.

Sova says he finds it inspiring to work with McGuigan because the director is thoroughly involved in designing the look of the project at hand. "Paul has tremendous knowledge about filmmaking and a terrific visual sense," says the cinematographer. "He did a lot of fashion photography before he started directing, and he has strong ideas about cameras, costumes and production design. When we first met, we established that we had similar thoughts about the way a camera should move to complement a scene, and by now we have a shorthand; each of us knows what the other will think of an idea."

Although the filmmakers planned from the outset to finish Slevin with a digital intermediate (DI), Sova worked carefully to create as much of the look in camera as possible. This was partly because of his own preference, but also because he was concerned about how much time the modestly budgeted production would allot for the DI suite. His caution proved beneficial in ways the filmmakers could not have predicted; Sova and McGuigan were so dissatisfied with the look of their first DI that they moved to another facility, Technicolor Digital Intermediates (TDI) in Burbank, and started from scratch - with just six of the 20 allotted days left to do the work.

Slevin was shot in 3-perf Super 35mm. "Paul and I had made our previous two movies in Super 35, and we liked the visual excitement and dynamic of the widescreen frame," says Sova. "Also, I knew the DI meant we wouldn't have to deal with an optical blowup." The filmmakers wanted to achieve visuals that were very rich and low in grain, and they wanted the 1970s sequences to have a slightly warm, more saturated feel. To minimize grain, Sova shot most of the picture on two emulsions in Kodak's Vision2 family, 200T 5217 and 500T 5218; he overexposed both by a stop. He used two Fuji Super-F emulsions, 250T 8552 and 250D 8562, for the flashbacks. "I didn't want to create the '70s look with colored falters because I knew there was a chance some of that material might end up somewhere else in the story than where it was originally scripted, and I was afraid the transition might be too much. We also worked with the period costumes in a different way; they were more colorful than the present-day wardrobe. We achieved a different look, but it is fairly subtle."

Sova also considered using period lenses, Super Baltars, on the production's Panaflex Millennium and XL bodies to distinguish the flashbacks from the contemporary material. "Baltars were used on The Godfather, and I thought they might help give the '70s scenes a certain feel, but the visual differences weren't what Paul and I intended. …

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