Magazine article American Cinematographer

Fun Filled Fantasy for Delirious

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Fun Filled Fantasy for Delirious

Article excerpt

The scene is brief. Elevator doors open; a lone passenger, John Candy, emerges and looks around. End of scene.

After a couple of takes, Candy re-enters the elevator, and the doors close. Director Tom Mankiewicz signals to the crew and everyone tiptoes silently out of sight. When Mankiewicz yells "roll 'em," the elevator doors open and John Candy steps out to find no one there. He collapses in laughter but quickly gives them a taste of their own medicine: when next the elevator doors open, it is the crew who has no one to film-John has hidden from them.

The incident took no more than three minutes but illustrates the spirit of fun that existed on the set of Delirious even on the last days of shooting when often cast and crew are fairly tired of the movie and each other and humor is at low ebb.

The entire shoot was characterized by this sort of good-natured comraderie and humor, according to cinematographer Robert Stevens. "It starts at the top," he says. "For instance, Tom Mankiewicz has a brilliant mind and a wonderful sense of humor, and you feel that on the set. Then John Candy-everybody told me I'd find a sincere, lovable human being, and he's every bit of that. Sometimes after people spend 12 or 13 hours a day together for eleven weeks, they are ready to wring each other's necks. Such was not the case on this picture."

Enjoyment, of course, does not take away from the necessity of shooting creatively, and in Delirious Stevens' challenges came at two levels: one, comedy, and two, the particular requirements of fantasy.

With John Candy as star, no one has to be told the movie is a comedy. In Delirious he plays the writer of a daytime soap, which stars Emma Samms, Mariel Hemingway, and Raymond Burr. The soap is facing off-camera crises. Angry and disillusioned over the show's problems and his personal rejection by Samms, Candy drives out of New York and into a major automobile accident. When he wakes, he might as well be in the Twilight Zone: that is, he finds himself in his own soap opera, and the characters are playing their parts for real.

"You always fight the concept that comedy has to be bright, overlit, and cold," says Stevens. Instead, he prefers "to approach every scene and light it according to the demands of that scene. The lighting of each scene should have a character of its own and should further the mood and story. After saying that, I must also warn that you can't be too literal interpreting comedy in a low-key situation. If a comic situation is to occur in a dark or dimly lit area, one must be careful that the mood of the lighting doesn't imply menace and thereby distract from the comedy.

"A case in point in this picture was a scene in which Mariel Hemingway goes down into her father's basement laboratory and discovers that if s been ransacked. The lights are on, but we wanted to create a Iittle tension because there were two thugs hiding down there. We lit the basement with pools of light and let the other areas fall off. However, there was enough illumination so one could still see into the dark areas. Had this been a dramatic piece, I probably would not have concerned myself with the dark areas at all, preferring to let them go black and increase the menacing aspect based on the theory that we are afraid of the unknown.

"I approach lighting a comedy," says Stevens, "from the same standpoint as if I were lighting a drama except the contrast between key and fill would be much less. In a comedy I might use a key to fill ratio of 2 to 1,3 to 1, or even at some point maybe 4 to 1. In a drama those ratios could be much higher. I had a situation in Naked Gun where Leslie Nielsen breaks into a moonlit office. At one point I decided to play Leslie in silhouette against a moonlit window, total backlight. Needless to say, all hell broke loose in dailies the next day. We reshot it as a second moon rose in Stage 14 at Raleigh."

Although Stevens knows whereof he speaks when it comes to comedy, Naked Gun was his first feature as cinematographer. …

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