Magazine article American Cinematographer

Reflections 1: Cronenweth

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Reflections 1: Cronenweth

Article excerpt

Nota Bene: This article introduces a new series based on lighting seminars ("Aesthetics of Cinematography") held recently at the University of Southern California. The seminars were originally organized by two students, Kate Hall and David Hartwell. Benjamin Bergery of Panavision was coordinator and Hartwell was instructor, and the seminars were supported by Eastman Kodak, Panavision, Technicolor, and Mole-Richardson. For each seminar, a cinematographer recreated a scene from one of his recent films, with the students acting as cast and crew. Cinematographers discussing their particular approaches to lighting problems in upcoming issues will include Stephen Poster, ASC, James Crabe, ASC, Allen Daviau, ASC, John Hora, ASC, and others.

Jordan Cronenweth, ASC, has gathered a long list of accolades for his cinematography, including the first ASC award for excellence for his work in Francis Ford Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married. Cronenweth chose to build his lighting seminar around his favorite scene from that film. In the middle of the night, Peggy has come down to the basement of her house for a smoke; her boyfriend-cum-husband has joined her there and they are deeply involved in discussion. Together they move in and out of the shadows, lit only by the moonlight from a single small window.

"I chose that scene because it is a graphic representation of what can be done with one light," said Cronenweth in an interview after the seminar. "The choice to use one light was the result of the location. There was only one window in the basement and if I had brought the light inside, I would have had to use a bunch of little tiny units and hide them somewhere. It would have been spotty and I wanted to have one source. I always like to have a source. The window was the answer. At least it was worth a test."

The most intriguing aspect of this simple lighting set-up is that the actors provide the fill light for the scene. As they move into and out of the key, the light is reflected off their clothing and their faces, filling in the shadows in a very subtle way.

Other elements that affect the image that appears on the film are lenses, camera and filmstock, along with camera angles. Cronenweth explained that these choices (a Panavision 35mm Primo lens, the Panavision Platinum, and Eastman 5247 in this case) are often the result of experience. "You are always working under changing conditions. Every location has its own set of problems. As you learn your craft you find more and more solutions to problems solutions that allow you to work with the style that you have chosen. What you have to take into consideration when you choose the lens and other things, is 'What do I have to do to this room to give it my look or the look?'"

In one part of the seminar footage, the camera begins tightly on the torsos of the two actors. The girl moves back under the window and slides down to a bench. Using this scene as an example, Cronenweth described his choice of lens.

"Specifically we wanted a lens that would give us a really close shot on her in the beginning. Then as she goes back to the window and slumps down the wall, we wanted it to become a two shot. You could do that with a dolly or a lens change and a dolly. I personally don't care to take her to the window and have the camera pulling back. She winds up going one way and the camera goes the other. …

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