Chocks, Camera, Action

By Heuring, David | American Cinematographer, July 1992 | Go to article overview

Chocks, Camera, Action


Heuring, David, American Cinematographer


Television commercials, like the products and services they are designed to sell, come in aU shapes and sizes. Several months ago, Steven Poster, ASC photographed a commercial on a slightly larger scale. The star of the spot was a 130-ton McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 jet.

Most fans of quality cinematography are familiar with Poster's feature credits, which include Life Stinks, Rocky V, Next of Kin, Big Top Pee- Wee and Someone to Watch Over Me. Less well-known, however, is that his camerawork appears in dozens of television commercials as well as in second-unit shots for Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the influential Blade Runner. Poster relishes his ability to work in both the feature and commercial realms. "I have a tremendous amount of fun working in both worlds. I can try things you wouldn't see done in a feature. On the other hand, you don't get the sense of continuity of telling a long story over a long period of time; that's one of the advantages of working in features. I am very lucky to be able to move between both worlds. I get the best of everything."

Poster's latest commercial venture began when American Airlines' agency, Bozell, Inc., came to Ian McDonald Productions and director Jiacomo Angelmi with a desire to promote American's upgraded New York-to-Los Angeles business-class service. The visual approach was to emulate the elegant, "liquid" lighting style seen in many of today's exquisitely photographed automobile commercials.

Both Poster and Angelini had previous experience with that particular lighting style and knew which elements were necessary to accomplish the shots. The technique's key lighting tool is usually a large silk, used to diffuse and reflect the light before it caresses the buffed curves of the auto industry's latest luxury liner. The question was whether or not those elements, reproduced on a huge scale and implemented outdoors, could be controlled.

The first step was to procure a silk large enough to reproduce the effect. The task fell to key grip Michael Krevitt. "Luckily we're in Hollywood," smiled Krevitt. "We thought we'd be able to sew a couple of large silks, but it was just as expensive to have it custom-made. We went to a company called Four Peaks, which provides most of the big overhead silks for car commercials."

Krevitf s design for the silk specified dimensions of 230'X50'. The huge sailcloth was hoisted 86 feet in the air by a pair of construction cranes steadied by beef ed-up anchoring. As far as anyone knows, it was the biggest silk ever used in a free-standing rig. "If this was done in an industrial situation, there would've been months and months of testing and computer models," said Krevitt. "A lot of making it work was experience, knowing how certain materials have acted in the past."

Poster agreed. "Christo took a year and a half to design one of his large fabric projects, and we had a week and a half," he said wryly.

Lighting for the shot was provided by two Musco trucks, along with a Mini Musco used for bounce fill. Pods of 36 Par cans were mounted on Condors and operated by gaffer Mike Marlett with an electrical control box. These lights were to appear in the frame as stadium-style light standards, flashing through the background were Xenotech "ballyhoo" lights, for an effect similar to a Hollywood opening.

Poster and Angelini wanted a warm glow emanating from inside the plane. …

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