Magazine article American Cinematographer

An Unusual Swan Song for Plus-X

Magazine article American Cinematographer

An Unusual Swan Song for Plus-X

Article excerpt

When one contemplates Paul Bunnellls retro sci-fi rock musical, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X1 the lyrics of Bob Dylan come to mind. The film has been "a long time comin'" - production started in 2004 and was completed in late 201 1 - and the medium with which it was photographed, Eastman Kodak Plus-X 5231 , is going to be "a long time gone." Kodak has stopped manufacturing the stock, and whatever the movies reception may be. The Ghastly Love of Johnny X will go down in history as the last feature to be shot on it.

The concept for Johnny X began to take shape in 1 997, when Bunnell saw Teenagers from Outer Space (1959), Tom Graeff's cult favorite. The script was developed over several years with input from Bunnetl and several other writers, including Steve Bingen, Mark D. Murphy and George Wagner. The idea to add songs came just as the film was about to go before the cameras, and Scott Martin was tapped to write lyrics and music while Ego Plum did the orchestrations.

From the inception of the project, Bunnell wanted to shoot the film in black-and-white and widescreen. This was partly an homage to the films that inspired him, but he also felt monochrome would work best for his tale of an outcast teenager from another planet whose ticket home is to commit one selfless good deed. Potential financiers did not share Bunnell enthusiasm for black-and-white, however, so he financed the first phase of production on his own. That meant tapping into his home equity, a move that seemed much less risky in the mid-2000s than it later proved to be. With faith in his vision, Bunnell produced and edited a 20-minute section of the movie that would show off the concept, music and talents of the cast and aew. He hired cinematographer Francisco Bulgarelli to shoot the film.

"Paul and I met when I was working at Clairmont Camera," recalls Bulgarelli. "He and his assodate producer, Joe Rios, who also worked at Clairmont, were renting a camera package to shoot some time-lapse scenes for their science-fiction movie. From the beginning, I was really fascinated by his ideas and his enthusiasm for movies."

Clairmont Camera served as Bulgarelli's film school. "Denny and Terry Clairmont were always willing to share their knowledge with me; they knew I wanted to shoot and always offered their support, either by answering technical questions or allowing me to take out equipment on the weekends. Having the opportunity to work in the lens department proved to be very valuable later on, when I decided to go freelance. Working with lenses for all those years came in handy when it was time to choose the right tools for the job."

When Bunnell and Bulgarelli were ready to shoot what turned out to be only the first round of footage on The Ghastíy Love of Johnny X, Clairmont supplied a full Moviecam package with Hawk C-Series anamorphic lenses.

"When I showed the early footage of Johnny X to Terry [Clairmont], he nodded his head in approval and said, ? want to watch this movie/ " recalls Bulgareili. "That left me with a great feeling because Terry was a very genuine person who meant what he said."

With dnematography experience mainly in short films and music videos, Bulgarelli saw Johnny Xas an opportunity and a challenge. "Few things can match the beauty of the anamorphic format" he observes. "It offers two things: more resolution, because it uses the full dimension of the Academy 35mm frame, and the shallower depth-of-field that is inherent in anamorphic optks. But Paul wanted to shoot in black-and-white on Plus-X, which meant an ASA of 80. My first thought was, 1We are going to need quite a bit of light/ and we sure did! Our lighting package at times required five 20Ks, several 1 0Ks and 5Ks and some smaller units. I have to say, we cheated a bit: we used [200-speed] Double-X 5222 for a few scenes, mainly night exteriors."

After getting 30 minutes of footage in the can, Bunnell had to suspend production when his resources thinned. …

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