Magazine article American Cinematographer

Immediate Family Visuals, Dialogue Balance

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Immediate Family Visuals, Dialogue Balance

Article excerpt

"There's nothing duller than pictures of people talking, no matter how good the talk is. There's also nothing worse than good talk being intruded upon by unnecessary camera moves, and strange, uncalled-for angles. So if s always a battle between what will be stylish and involving, and what might be intrusive and distancing," says director Jonathan Kaplan. That battle was mediated on Immediate Family by Kaplan and director of photography John Lindley.

Kaplan's credits include The Accused, Project X, Heart Like a Wheel, and Over the Edge. A graduate of New York University's film school, Kaplan has also directed music videos for Barbra Streisand, Rod Stewart and John Cougar Mellencamp.

A strong director/cinematographer collaboration is always considered essential on a "visual" film. However, in the case of Immediate Family, a story built on dialogue and characterization rather than car chases and gun battles, that union was critical for exactly the opposite reason: the engaging script was considered somewhat "non-visual." Perhaps good director/cinematographer rapport is even more important for a film that threatens to become a series of "talking heads."

Kaplan's general directorial approach focuses on character subjectivity. "The questions I ask are, 'How do I want this scene to affect the audience, what emotion am I trying to evoke?' and 'which character's point of view is the scene from?' By this I don't mean point of view in the literal camera sense, but rather 'Which character's experience am I trying to communicate to the audience?' I look for the most effective way to get the audience into the character's head, or heart, as the case may be," says Kaplan.

"The script is really about people, and you have to be able to watch the people behave and interact without feeling forced into some odd view," he continues. "As a feature film, it was critical that the presentation not be Over-the-shoulder, overthe-shoulder, close-up, close-up'. At the same time, it had to have a simplicity and an unobtrusiveness. So John and I both had the desire to do things that were cinematic, but not 'show-offy'. I think this was the challenge.

"Frankly, I was very surprised when John agreed to do Immediate Family, because there's not much on the face of it, in the script, that would be attractive to a cinematographer, particularly someone who had just done Field of Dreams, where he got to shoot Iowa like it was heaven. But it just worked out beautifully, and I think that John was the right guy to do this movie. The fact that there was so little on paper that was obviously photogenic became a challenge to John, and he rose to the occasion."

The collaboration between Kaplan and Lindley became most important when the script provided opportunities to coax a scene into something beyond a simple exchange of dialogue. "The portions of the film where the audience can turn off the parts of their brains that process dialogue, and turn on their feelings," explains Kaplan. "Because it is an extremely emotional movie, these non-verbal passages are crucial."

As an example, Kaplan describes a farewell scene which takes place in a Vancouver (doubling for Seattle) bus station. All four main characters take part in the scene, played by Glenn Close, James Woods, Mary Stuart Masterson and Kevin Dillon.

After an exterior establishing shot, the scene begins on a group of people seated on a bench, waiting for a bus. The camera picks up Masterson and dollies with her to the adults as they say their goodbyes to Dillon. The camera then moves into a master four shot and covers the dialogue in standard two-shot fashion.

"Basically that was the end of the scene in the script," says Kaplan. "After the dialogue, Kevin gets on the bus and leaves. At the location, though, we saw an opportunity-a way to create a moment, a visually interesting way to move the story along. As Kevin and Mary Stuart walk to the bus, camera pans off them and establishes Glenn and Jimmy in the window. …

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