Magazine article American Cinematographer

Cain's Cameraman Is Able Ally

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Cain's Cameraman Is Able Ally

Article excerpt

The relationship between-director and cinematographer has been described as a marriage of two talented yet different souls, but in some respects this relationship is even more intimate and intense than a marriage. How many married people spend 14 hours a day together, making creative decisions under pressure day after day for months, often outdoors in bonechilling or blood-boiling weather?

In assessing the work of Stephen Burum, ASC, whose resume includes four Brian De Palma films (Body Double, Casualties of War, The Untouchables and Raising Cain), three Francis Ford Coppola films (Rumble Fish, The Outsiders and second unit on Apocalypse Now), as well as Danny DeVito's War of the Roses and upcoming Hoffa, no one could argue that Burum is, to say the least, a fan of Italian-American style.

Is it merely coincidence that the multi-award-winning director of photography, who has an Italian-American wife, has spent a large part of his career working with Italian-American directors?

A mysterious Mona Lisa smile creeps across Burum's face as he contemplates this question. "I guess I hike Italians and get along with them. They have a nice operatic sense of drama," he observes. "Francis, Danny and Brian all have a sense of what life is really about and they always tell a story in an interesting way. In their films, if someone is in love, they're really in love. I think that theatrical drama is what makes people pay money to go to see a movie. These directors are all able to distill a common experience down to its most theatrical elements."

In assessing the collaborative chemistry between a cinematographer and director, Burum chose to focus specifically on his work with De Palma. "Brian is just a great showman and, like Coppola or Spielberg, he's identifiable with a particular product," says Burum. "In Brian's pictures you will always have some sort of obsessive behavior that creates part of the drama. There's also a moral message in all of his films."

These two elements exist hand in hand in Raising Cain, De Palma's latest suspense thriller. "He didn't want the audience to know exactly what they were looking at until all the pieces of the puzzle were laid out, so we deliberately didn't rack focus or add funny music or fog in the dream sequences," explains Burum. "We didn't want the audience to start to form their own opinions about what the female lead (played by Lolita Davidovich) is thmking. We wanted them to experience what she was feeling and not automatically assign their own meaning to a scene."

Burum learned how to interpret a director's vision while studying film at UCLA in the 1950s. "In those days they trained everyone to be a director," recalls Burum. "People would graduate and go out to look for work as directors and not find any. My teacher Charlie Clarke [ASC] advised me to concentrate on being a production cameraman because there were more jobs in that area."

The foresight paid off. While other film students struggled to find jobs as production assistants or lab technicians, Burum was asked at the ripe old age of 22 to be the director of photography on Disney's My Family is a Menagerie.

Unfortunately, in the midst of his big break, Burum was drafted and spent two years stationed in New York, "wasting time" shooting training films for the Army. After his discharge, a film school friend got him a job as a camera assistant on musical television shows. Soon Burum was photographing a succession of glamorous leading ladies.

Working with the likes of Ann-Margret and Raquel Welch taught the young cinematographer how to empathize with a star's concerns and still get the shot the director needs. As he came to be perceived as a team player and problem solver, the work started to roll in.

Burum was working on his 21st feature, Man Trouble, when he got a call from De Palma asking if he wanted to come to Palo Alto to photograph Raising Cain. "I was attracted to the Cain script because it had to do with dreams and split personalities," says Burum. …

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