Magazine article American Cinematographer

Murphy's Romance on Location in Arizona

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Murphy's Romance on Location in Arizona

Article excerpt

Laura Ziskin, producer

Martin Ritt, director

William A. f raker, ASC, director of photography

"I believe myself to be a romanticist," says William Fraker, ASC. "I think pictures and stars should be beautiful" - and beauty is Fraker's approach to Murphy's Romance, a romantic comedy directed by Martin Ritt, featuring James Garner and Sally Field.

The beauty was well-prepared because the entire company spent its first two weeks on location in rehearsal without shooting a single frame of film. "Something major in the picture, dramatically and visually, came out of the rehearsals every day," Fraker said. "It was a major experience to work with Ritt," he added, describing Ritt as one of the last of the "actors' directors."

Based on a novella by Max Schott, Murphy's Romance was written by the husband and wife team of Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. They have collaborated with Ritt on such films as The Sound and the Fury, Hud, The Long hot Summer and Norma Rae. The movie was made by Fogwood Films, which is headed by Sally Field, the film's executive producer, and Laura Ziskin, producer.

In Murphy's Romance, Field plays Emma Moriarity, a recently divorced woman who moves to an Arizona horse ranch with her iz-year-old son (Corey Haim). She gradually falls in love with the eccentric local pharmacist (Garner), whom she chooses over her ex-husband (Brian Kerwin).

The film was shot in the area of Florence, Ariz., from February through April 1985. Several sets were built for the film, including a dilapidated ranch and Murphy's drug store.

"The film is a romantic comedy with serious overtones," Fraker said. "It's relevant to today's society because women are out on their own. Emma must fight her selfish instincts to think of her son and to find a life for herself in a society that is not prone to accept women on their own - and she does it."

Fraker said he became involved with the film after the cancellation of Road Show, which he and Ritt had been working on. "I've always wanted to work with Martin," Fraker said. "He's very loyal to his cameramen, like James Wong Howe and John Alonzo."

Although his father was a noted Hollywood studio photographer of the 19205, Fraker said he actually learned photography from his grandmother, who also taught his father. It was she who made sure that Fraker, just back from World War II, took film classes at the University of Southern California. He added that the family is now in its fourth generation of photographers as his son, William Jr., served as second assistant on Murphy's Romance.

Fraker's career as a director of photography began with the 1967 film Games, after a stint with such television series as Outer Limits and Stoney Burke.

Fraker said working with Ritt was a unique experience, in part because of the extensive rehearsals. "It's the first time I've been brought in on all the rehearsals," Fraker said. "Few directors bring in everyone for dramatic rehearsals because most of them have an ego problem. They don't know where to go."

For the rehearsals, the cast and crew read through the script every day. Ritt set up each scene by describing it, and the descriptions helped Fraker visualize the shots.

"It gives you an idea of how to light the scene when he says 'OK, It's evening and the light is coming in through the window,'" Fraker said.

For Ritt, rehearsals are important because they allow the actors to work on a scene almost until they reach their peak, a point that Ritt said must occur on camera. Occasionally, he will stop rehearsing a scene because he is afraid the actor will peak before the scene is shot.

Ritt said that because of the advance preparation, he doesn't shoot many takes. His normal ratio of the amount of film shot to what is actually used is about 3:1. With Nortna Rae, the ratio was 1.5:1.

"The film isn't that complicated technically," Ritt added. …

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