Magazine article American Cinematographer

Student Film-Makers Go All out to Produce "A Field of Honor"

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Student Film-Makers Go All out to Produce "A Field of Honor"

Article excerpt

Eager Beavers of the University of Southern California Department of Cinema pull out all the stops to shoot the most ambitious student film project of recent years


Vic Fury, a timid and fragile young man, is uneasily released from a mental hospital. Almost immediately, the world launches a series of coincidental attacks against him: he gets trampled in a riot, caught in police gunfire during a robbery, and stumbles into a private swimmming pool. He boards a bus to go home, but cannot escape trouble. In the midst of a brawl the bus is hijacked by a revolutionary, and an undercover FBI agent begins a shootout. At home. Vie relates his story to his father, who is totally paranoid. The old man decides his home is under attack and sends his son out to do battle. Vie, now pushed back completely into insanity, defeats the imaginary enemy before being returned to the mental institution. The chief psychiatrist, exasperated to the point of tears, welcomes Vie back for the start of another program of treatment.

From the very beginning "A FIELD OF HONOR" wasn't an ordinary student film. Writer-director Robert Zemeckis had conceived a large-scale action comedy that would capture the abundant energy of contemporary America, and celebrate the wild humor of an earlier age of film comedy. Faculty advisors, more accustomed to weighty tales of truth from student filmmakers, warned of the difficulties involved in an action film with a large cast, especially in light of the budget and time limitations of a student film.

But the director had already assembled an enthusiastic five-man crew and the film got underway. I had signed on as production manager and began struggling to solve the riddle of how to make a fifteen-minute color film for $1,400.00, when the script called for, among other things, a street demonstration with riot police, interiors and exteriors of a mental hospital, and a shootout on a moving city bus. The speaking parts numbered eleven and the total cast would exceed fifty persons.

Casting director and editor Mustafa Gursel arranged the three five-hour casting sessions that eventually tested some 75 actors. Cameraman Horace Jordan supervised the video taping of the trials. Using the Sony AV-3400 Videocorder system, we had the advantage of a visual reference when it came time to decide on the principal cast.

The director wanted to maintain professional image standards, and knew the film had to be in bright, high-key color to maintain the comedy. Cameraman Horace Jordan first ran an exposure test on a city bus, figuring this would be his toughest lighting situation. With a bright sun outside he could get exposure with ECO, but needed additional fill light. A cloudy day would mean trouble. Considering this, and the limited lighting equipment that would be available from the school, Jordan decided to shoot ECO pushed one stop, obtaining a more workable ASA rating of 50 (tungsten).

USC had purchased a new Arriflex 16BL with the APEC metering system and an Angenieux 12-120mm lens. Jordan decided to make this his numberone camera because, with the variable speed motor and the Crystal-Lock controller unit, he could use one outfit for both synchronous and undercranked shooting. Anticipating logistical problems during the bus sequence, soundman Don Scioli advised pairing the crystal-controlled BL with a new Nagra model 4.2 recorder. Everyone welcomed the freedom gained with the crystal system, so Jordan and Scioli used it almost exclusively. Multiple cameras would be required for several of the stunts and Jordan selected the Arriflex S for his second unit, since no sync capability was needed.

Shooting the psychiatrist's office the first day out, problems abounded. The quarters were cramped and the zoom lens, even at 1 2mm, wasn't wide enough to get the shots originally planned. The director had asked for sterile, institutional lighting and Jordan wanted to preserve at least the depth he could get at F/4. …

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