Magazine article American Cinematographer

Photographing "Of Time, Tombs and Treasure"

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Photographing "Of Time, Tombs and Treasure"

Article excerpt

A dream assignment: to apply the art of the motion picture to some of the most breathtaking art treasures in existence

There's no question that every cameraman keeps his hopes up for a Grade A project to come along and brighten his day. Well, when director Jim Messenger came to my office one day and said, "We got it-now let's get to work. I just grinned-one of those grins.

So, off we went to the National Gallery of Art for our scouting and pre-production arrangements of "OF TIME, TOMBS AND TREASURE". Everybody was extremely cooperative. Mike Gillespie, the house electrician, ran a couple of miles of cable for me. Bill Summit and his still photography crew offered their able assistance, as well as any of their grip equipment.

Everything seemed to be rolling along fine until I was informed of the lighting restrictions-no more than 1500 watts of light on a single piece, no light could be placed closer than 10 feet and the temperature in the cases containing the treasures could not rise more than 5 degrees. The pharoah's curse had struck again. The HMI's were unavailable and I was locked into quartz lighting. Talk about paranoia. I used to be concerned with pulling paint off with gaffer tape. Now I would have the dubious honor of having my thousand-degree quartz lights shining down on the cases and waiting for the 3000-year-old gems to start exploding like Jiffy popcorn. I knew it wasn't every day that a cameraman had the opportunity to possibly ruin some of the world's greatest art treasures. And it was a bit of bizarre humor to watch the curators' faces as I told my gaffer to "heat 'em up". Of course, I am pleased to say that not even a close call occurred-thanks to a tight knit crew who worked efficiently and responsibly.

I was told that we could and should expose a good amount of footage in case a theatrical short were to be cut, as well as for general archives, for this important tour. In this set-up, much of the shooting involved intricately designed still life, which would require the use of diopters, thus making film registration a primary concern. And since the decision was made to shoot in 16mm,. pin registration seemed the way to go. The only hitch was that I was taking a liking to the CP-16 reflex camera. So I sent the camera back to the factory for a check-up. Then, after running a steady test following its return, I was confident of the CP's performance. I ended up using the CP-16/R, 10-150 Angenieux and the J-4 zoom motor.

The actual nitty-gritty of filming was a potful of challenges. The first was staying awake-we were to shoot from 7 PM to 3 AM for nine nights. The next proved to be the protective lucite cases. Since we were unable to remove the treasures from the sealed cases, the director requested "the no case look", i.e., lose the glare and reflections. So we all showed up in black or were draped when it came time to shoot. It must have been a weird sight to see a six-foot length of black cloth enshrouding a three-man crew on a dolly rolling along the afterlife treasures of a deceased pharoah in the middle of the night. Also, in order to mitigate the glare problems, my gaffer Rowdy Herrington and I experimented with the lights until we found a formula which generally was a downward angle of 45-60 degrees to the case, without casting a shadow of the case's mitre joint. …

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