Magazine article American Cinematographer

3 Perspectives on Firearms

Magazine article American Cinematographer

3 Perspectives on Firearms

Article excerpt

Guns in America and a Doomed Romance

Directed by Aric Avelino and shot by Nancy Schreiber, ASC, American Gun takes on the contentious subject of guns in America and examines several characters whose disparate perspectives have been shaped by their environments and the impact guns have made on their lives. The movie, which recently premiered theatrically and as video-ondemand as part of IFC Films' First Take initiative, weaves together three stories about firearms and violence, each set in a different region of the United States.

In Virginia, a college student (Linda Cardellini) goes to work in the gun shop owned by her grandfather (Donald Sutherland) and becomes fascinated by the weapons they sell. In Oregon, a community marks the third anniversary of a Columbine-style massacre, a milestone that is particularly painful for the killer's mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and her surviving son (Chris Marquette), as well as a police officer (Tony Goldwyn) who is still haunted by the event. And in Chicago, a school principal (Forest Whitaker) fights to hold his school together in the midst of a violent community, a struggle that is made all the more difficult when one of his top students is caught hiding a handgun.

Schreiber, whose recent credits include the feature November (see AC May '04) and the HBO series The Comeback, says she was immediately impressed by American Gun's script, written by Avelino and Steven Bagatourian. When she met Avelino and producer Ted Kroeber at a Film Independent screening of one of her pictures, and then again at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, the director and producer impressed her further. "I was struck by Aric's passion and poise, and I became really excited about the prospect of working with him," says Schreiber.

Although she wondered whether the movie would actually happen - "When you're approached by a young, first-time filmmaker, you never know!" - it was in production just six months later, with Forest Whitaker producing. The budget was just under $3 million, but Schreiber was able to shoot on Super 16mm. Working in the standard 1.85:1 aspect ratio, she used two Aaton XTRprod cameras with Canon 7-63mm and 11-165mm zoom lenses. "The images blew up beautifully during our preproduction tests," she notes. "We occasionally used Zeiss Superspeed prime lenses, primarily on the Virginia storyline, but not as often as I thought we would before I saw the tests. We were able to move quickly using the zooms as variable primes." All of the camera equipment came from AbelCineTech, where "lan McCausland made it all happen for us," she adds.

The filmmakers decided to highlight the differences between the three stories by establishing three distinct styles through color palette, film stock, lenses and camera movement. Schreiber worked with production designer Deborah Herbert to limit the colors used in sets, props and costumes in each story. In Virginia, Schreiber used very long lenses, mostly on dollies, to give the footage a lyrical feel. "Aric wanted to depict the gun store as an ordinary family business that just happened to sell firearms," she says. To achieve a warm look, she used warm Schneider Classic Soft filters in strengths of ½ and 1 on the lens, and her gaffer, Ted Hayash, gelled the sources, usually Kino Flos and small tungsten units, with ¼ or ½ CTO. "We shot interiors on Kodak [Vision2 50OT] 7218, overexposing for rich blacks, saturated color and fine grain," she says. "We used [Vision2 100T] 7212 for day exteriors."

The Oregon story starts out dassically composed and then moves into a handheld, frenetic style. The shift mirrors the apparent calm at the beginning of this portrait of small-town life that transforms into disruption and turmoil as the story progresses. "The palette is muted, which parallels the colorless life being endured by Marcia's character," says Schreiber. "We emphasized greens, grays and browns, mainly through production and costume design. …

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