Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Sting of the '70S

Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Sting of the '70S

Article excerpt

American Hustle is a fictional drama inspired by a controversial FBI operation that nabbed crooked government officials at federal, state and municipal levels in the late 1970s. Code-named "Abscam," the initiative was run out of Long Island, N.Y., and used undercover methods and the help of convicted con man Melvin Weinberg. The film traces five characters and their respective schemes: Weinberg-like con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his equally duplicitous British mistress, Sidney (Amy Adams), are forced to work with FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) on the sting, which targets New Jersey politician Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), among others. Meanwhile, Rosenfeld's vengeful wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), threatens to blow down the whole house of cards.

The production is the first collaboration between director David O. Russell and cinematographer Linus Sandgren, FSF. Russell sees the film as the final installment in a loose trilogy that includes The Fighter (AC Jan. '11) and Silver Linings Playbook. "It's about people who are reinventing themselves from the start of the movie, when they are in a broken place," says Russell. "Ift about very specific characters with very specific worlds, and they're as dramatic and emotional as they are funny. They have their enchantments. The way they drink, eat, dance, make love and listen to music is as important to me as the story. "

Russell approached Sandgren because he found the cinematographer's last feature, Gus Van Sant's Promised Land (AC Jan. '13), "beautiful and lush," which is the visual tone he wanted for American Hustle. They moved forward together after a couple of Skype conversations. "I don't like pretense in filmmaking," Russell observes. "Linus is not a pretentious person, yet he is an artist. He's very collaborative, easygoing and passionate, and has strong opinions that come from his soul, and that's all stuff I want. Also, he's willing to throw down and run-and-gun the way we had to!"

Principal photography ran 42 days, and Sandgren estimates that it involved more than 100 locations. Although the story is set in New York and New Jersey, the production shot largely in Boston and surrounding cities, in part because entire blocks in those areas have changed little since the 1970s. Many interiors and exteriors were captured in Worcester, while Malden substituted for Camden, N.J., and Medford provided the Rosenfelds' Long Island home. Warehouse space in the area was used for set builds that induded hotel interiors and Sidney's Upper East Side apartment. Polito's office and a legal firm were shot in Salem. Sandgren says he and gaffer Patrick Murray had a "very happy and smooth" experience with New England lighting-equipment house High Output and its Charles River Studios location, where the crew shot poor-man's-process car scenes. The production wrapped with a few days' shooting in New York City, grabbing exteriors such as the Plaza Hotel.

Russell professes great affinity for 1970s American movies, and says he was inspired on American Hustle by Chinatown (AC May 75) and the films of Hal Ashby. Sandgren, meanwhile, avoided other movies in the course of two months of prep. Instead, for inspiration he "looked back on documentary photography from the period, mainly Fred Herzog's work," he says.

"We didn't use very precise [visual) references," Sandgren continues, "but as we were driving around in the van, scouting, David kept telling us the story of the film from the different perspectives-every day, all the time. He described a colorful and enchanting world, and an intimate and raw feel. He wanted to see the blood in the actors' faces.

"I wanted the actors to shine, so my main approach was to always add colors to the light, to make it juicy," he continues. "The actors' keylight was often shiny gold, which we created with warm practical shades, dimmed tungsten lights like pancakes, or Peppers gelled with Straw 103. As fill, I always brought in complementary colors - a lot of cyan, greens, pinks and reds in the interiors-to enhance the colorfulness of the scene. …

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