Magazine article American Cinematographer

Morton & Hayes: B & W Buddies Are "Back"

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Morton & Hayes: B & W Buddies Are "Back"

Article excerpt

Rob Reiner is at it again. Morion & Hayes, the new CBS sitcom from the director's Castle Rock Entertainment, is Reiner's latest attempt to rewrite the history of popular entertainment. The first, as many will recall, was his 1985 comedy hit This Is Spinal Tap, a bogus "rockumentary" that chronicled the death throes of a hilariously inept heavy metal band. The new show offers a similarly inspired deception: styled like the two-reeler comedy films of the '30s and '40s, Morion & Hayes presents the antics of a fictional comedy duo who, according to Reiner, surpassed even Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in popularity.

The setup is classic: when a studio vault is being bulldozed to make way for a fast food restaurant, a treasure trove of old films is unearthed. Each film, directed by the famous and completely fictitious Max King, features Chick Morton and Eddie Hayes (Kevin Pollack and Bob Amaral), a pair of clumsy chums who stumble from one slapstick predicament into another.

The series is introduced each week by Reiner himself, who feeds the audience made-up trivia and anecdotes about the bumbling comic pair and their prolific producer, Max King. As an added bonus, the "loving send-up" of the genre occasionally features the co-medic talents of Reiner cronies and Spinal Tap veterans Christopher Guest (who also directed several episodes) and Michael McKean, among others.

For tinematographer Jeff Jur, the series was a fun chance to rediscover the basics of the craft and play with an old style in a modern context. Jur is no stranger to parodies; his work on The Big Picture, another collaboration with Guest, called on him to deliver five distinct student film parodies for a fictitious award screening. In addition, he rendered successive stages of the winning director's filmic concept as he drags it through a Hollywood odyssey.

Jur began his career in Chicago. After attending Columbia College he worked as a camera assistant, eventually landing an hourlong film for PBS and following it up with three others. On the strength of this work he was hired to shoot the feature Static, followed by Soul Man and then the hit Dirty Dancing. He received an ACE nomination for the cable program Midnight Train to Moscow, starring Billy Crystal, and has shot several other television projects as well, including the premiere season of Equal Justice. He recently finished shooting Family Prayers, a period piece set in 1969 that stars Joe Mantegna.

The plan for Morton & Hayes was to replicate, in pains-taking production detail, the long-past, studio-produced feature look. All the day exteriors required painted backdrops which, Jur says, were designed to look "a little fake. (They) shouldn't look too real, although sometimes they did, either because they were painted so well or light-balanced so well."

Budget considerations determined that the show be filmed in 16mm and the style, of course, called for black & white. "We actually tested some black & white stocks; I wanted to see what they would look like," says Jur. "We decided to go for a pretty rich black & white look and found that the color negative stock 7248, the slower emulsion, had a greater range because of the T-grain built into it and all the other advancements that have been made in color films." The 16mm black & white emulsions he tested "just didn't quite have the range of tones I was looking for" and were "too contrasty." Having the shows on color negative will also prove versatile if, in the future, Rob Reiner decides to "colorize" one of Max King's films.

To complete the look, Jur added a low series Tiffen black dot filter. 'It didn't halo the highlights, which is really what I wanted, but it did soften the edges enough to give you that sense that it was shot in the '40s, that it had that old-style look." All six shows were photographed with Zeiss ultra speeds on an Arri SR.

The stages were constructed in a Culver City warehouse consisting of two long rooms with 30-foot-high arched ceilings spanned by tensors 18 feet apart. …

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