Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Honesty of Twice in a Lifetime

Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Honesty of Twice in a Lifetime

Article excerpt

Bud Yorkin's inspiration to produce and direct Twice in a Lifetime: "It was the first script I had ever read that truly dealt with the American family of the 8o'svery honestly, very poignantly. I was deeply touched by the story." After securing $8 million for the production budget and Gene Hackman to star as the central character, the production began to breathe life. Shortly thereafter Yorkin signed Ann-Margret, Ellen Burstyn, Amy Madigan, Ally Sheedy, and Brian Dennehy in the film's starring roles.

Yorkin hired all of the players, both on and off the screen, bringing together an extraordinary cast and crew. He also had a preconceived notion of how the film should be photographed. He felt that the paintings of the American artist, Edward Hopper, best exemplified the quality of light, color and style that he wanted to portray in Twice in a Lifetime. Hopper is famous for his unforgettable images of the ordinary aspects of modern America while dramatizing strong personal emotion in the everyday world.

Anxious to fulfill his vision of the Hopper look, Yorkin searched for a director of photography to create the different moods of the film. He hired Nick McLean.

"The final element that influenced my decision to hire Nick," said Yorkin, "was that he had been an operator for some really talented cinematographers like Vilmos Zsigmond and Caleb Deschanel. His background was very helpful because he could give me ideas from the operating point of view since he had certainly lived through some great experiences."

Great experiences indeed. Besides Zsigmond and Deschanel, McLean had operated for Conrad Hall, William Fraker and Don Peterman before becoming a director of photography. His credits include Goonies, City Heat, Stick, Cannonball II, and Staying Alive.

McLean recalls how he got into the business by starting out as a second assistant. "This is unbelievable, but in 1969 I was trying to get my 30 days to get into the union. A friend of mine had a show going in Stockton (California) for six weeks. He said Tm taking McLean as my second assistant.' At the time there was another McLean in the union. The union didn't check whether it was Nick or Gerald McLean. After I completed my 3oth day I wrote to the union and they accepted me."

McLean got his big break when he joined Zsigmond's crew on Red Sky at Morning. "Vilmos was just a Hungarian cameraman that nobody knew," said McLean. "That was his first big job as a director of photography. We became good friends. Right after that he did McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Deliverance, and he was on his way. Within about two years he was this giant cameraman."

Establishing the look on Twice in a Lifetime was a collaboration of research which included help from veteran production designer Bill Creber. Keeping Yorkin's vision of the Hopper style in mind, McLean, Yorkin and Creber met to study a book of Hopper paintings that provided a basis for setting colors, architectural style, the quality of light, and the interplay between production design and the characters.

Yorkin insisted that no major colors be displayed. "All of the Hopper colors have a very subtle, very soft look," he reminded. The colors are blues, dark greens, pale reds, stark whites, and deep, black shadows. Paying attention to the last detail, Creber had the house where the central characters of Harry (Gene Hackman) and Kate (Ellen Burstyn) live painted both inside and out. The inside consisted of blue walls in the living room, dining room, and bedroom. The outside of the house was even painted with red trim around the base.

Before principal photography began, McLean ran a series of camera tests to insure the colors Yorkin and Creber selected would hold their true values on film.

Using the Panaflex Gold, McLean rated 52.47 at 12.5 ASA. "I felt the 52.47 was a little faster than what Eastman Kodak recommended (ioo ASA)," commented McLean. He rated 5194 at Kodak's recommended ASA of 400, allowing for fairly consistent printer lights. …

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