Magazine article American Cinematographer

Photographing "The Return of Frank Cannon"-A Unique Television Film

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Photographing "The Return of Frank Cannon"-A Unique Television Film

Article excerpt

The film to reintroduce a once-popular TV series was made on an unusually long schedule and involved challenges like lighting a six-acre set at night

A car drives up to a huge mansion with sprawling grounds. It is nighttime.

Frank Cannon steps out and ambles to the house.

A close-up of a face in the foreground establishes that the detective is being watched.

It takes around five seconds of screen time out of a two-hour made-for-TV motion picture produced by Quinn Martin, a subsidiary of Taft Broadcasting.

"We spent around 7 ½ hours preparing lighting for that night for night scene," says Director of Photography William Cronjager, ASC. "The director, Corey Alien, had a lot of things that he wanted to establish. There was a look and a mood that he wanted to get across, and a feeling of suspense that he wanted to create."

As Cronjager describes the procedure for lighting the scene, which covered six acres, required 6,000 feet of cable and pulled some 3,000 amps, we flashed back to a statement he made earlier during a long afternoon meeting at his home in Thousand Oaks, California. Like many people in the motion picture industry, Cronjager was sitting out a long summer waiting for the SAG strike to end so he could go back to work on the filming of HILL STREET BLUES, a new television series.

"You pay your dues by giving the director what he wants," he said, describing the role of cinematographers working in the TV film industry. "My job is to execute the plan prepared by the director. Some directors want you to make suggestions. Others don't. Either way, your first job is to figure out the most practical way to get what the director wants on film."

THE RETURN OF FRANK CANNON is an unusual television movie because of the time and budget that went into making it. A cast and crew of some 70 persons worked on location in San Diego for four weeks. That's about twice as long as the more typical television movie of this length. "We worked 12 hours and averaged shooting around 10,000 feet of film daily," says Cronjager. "Alien is that kind of a director. He likes a lot of movement and appreciates lighting. Even with all of the film that we shot, he still came up around five minutes short on the first cut."

THE RETURN OF FRANK CANNON is on the NBC Television Fall schedule. The movie will introduce (or reintroduce) Bill Conrad as an ex-cop turned private detective to a new generation of TV viewers. CANNON was a popular primetime series during the late 1960s and early 70s, and the network is currently rerunning his old hit shows.

The movie picks up where the old series left off. There are no explanations or flashbacks. It's just as though Cannon went on practicing the trade all the time he was off the air. The story involves Cannon's search for a missing CIA agent in an oceanside community. There are many principal locations used in the San Diego area, including Balboa Park, Tarantino's (a restaurant), a commercial fishing boat docking area, Vacation Village (a resort hotel), a "sleezy" border motel, a privately owned mansion and riding, stables.

We discussed the making of THE RETURN OF FRANK CANNON and other films with Cronjager:

QUESTION: The first obvious question is were you involved with the production of the original CANNON series, and if you weren't how did you come to be selected for this job?

CRONJAGER: The answer to the first part of your question is no. I might have worked on a sequence or two as a first assistant or an operator, however I don't specifically remember that. My understanding is that the producer (Mike Rhodes) saw the pilot that I shot for HILL STREET BLUES and he liked that.

QUESTION: Are these similar kinds of shows?

CRONJAGER: Other than the fact that they are both police stories, no. HILL STREET BLUES has much more of a documentary look. Approximately 90 percent of the pilot was shot handheld, some scenes with very long lenses. …

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