Magazine article American Cinematographer

Short Takes

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Short Takes

Article excerpt

Britney Spears as Ringleader

In Britney Spears' music video "Circus," the singer performs in the titular setting among burlesque dancers, elephants and pyrotechnics, creating a kaleidoscope of visual and aural sensations. It's a typically dynamic milieu for director Francis Lawrence and cinematographer Thomas Kloss, whose ongoing partnership has yielded bold results on an array of music videos, including Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi," Aerosmith's "Jaded" (for which Kloss was nominated for an MTV award for Best Cinematography), and The Backstreet Boys' "The Call" WCJuIy '01 ). "I've worked with Francis since early in his career, and the relationship hasn't changed very much," says Kloss. "From the beginning, he never overburdened me with information or requests, but he always had good visual references that were essential to the project."

While prepping "Circus," Kloss and Lawrence looked at old circus photographs but didn't really find what they were looking for. "We didn't want the video to look like a period piece," explains Kloss. "We wanted to give it a contemporary look but also play with well-known images that people understand." Although Kloss didn't use other films as references, he found inspiration by chance at the local cinema. "I went to see the restored Lola Montés [1955], and it had exactly the kind of soft, organic look Francis and I wanted for the video."

To create that look for "Circus," Kloss tapped Otto Nemenz for some Arri Swing & Tilt lenses - "but we used them without the swing-and-tilt actually in place," he notes - and Cooke Panchros. (He shot Super 35mm with two Arri 435s.) "All modern lenses are so well-designed and sharp that even with flares, there's very little distortion or refraction," Kloss observes. "Francis and I didn't want to make the video pristine-looking; we wanted a softer, silkier look." The production's package also included a few Cooke S4 primes, which were used on the B camera.

"When we used filters, we applied grease or Vaseline in a very specific way, and we put a little more of it on the filter when we were using an S4, of course," continues the cinematographer. "We would look through the lens, see the highlights, and then paint onto the filter with our fingers to create certain abstractions and refractions, or to stretch lines in the frame." He used a Vi Tiffen Black Pro-Mist for diffusion. "I wanted to stay away from a completely crisp image, and because post is digital, you can go a little stronger on that diffusion because you can always bring it back in the transfer; you add a little bit of black, and the image becomes sharper again."

Kloss carried out the transfer with colorist David Hussey at Company 3. "Our goal on the shoot was to [create most of the look] in-camera, creating flares and shafts and beams of light that looked good coming through the lens," says Kloss. "In the last 10 years, we've seen so much electronic post work in films and music videos that I think it's good if the pendulum can swing back a little bit. It's nice to shoot something with classic beauty lighting and compositions and let the story play."

This sensibility extended to every aspect of the production. "Francis built a lot of practicáis into the art direction," notes Kloss. "There were hanging lights next to the circus banners with Britney and the dancers walking through, and lights on the burlesque stage, along with other old theater lights. …

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