An American Film Institute Seminar with Caleb Deschanel

By Schwartz, Howard | American Cinematographer, January 1981 | Go to article overview

An American Film Institute Seminar with Caleb Deschanel


Schwartz, Howard, American Cinematographer


A brilliant young cinematographer and new director shares his considerable expertise with student filmmakers of the A.F.I.

As perhaps the most important aspect of education for the Fellows in training as film-makers, historians and critics at its Center for Advanced Film Studies, located in Beverly Hills, California, the American Film Institute sponsors conferences and seminars with top technicians and talent of the Hollywood film industry. These men and women, outstanding professionals in their respective arts and crafts of the Cinema, donate generously of their time and expertise in order to pass on to the potential cinema professionals of tomorrow the benefits of their vast and valuable experience.

In keeping with this tradition, Cameraman's Local 659 (IATSE) sponsors a continuing series of seminars with ace cinematographers. These men - both contemporary working Directors of Photography and some of the nowretired "greats" of the past - meet informally with the Fellows at Greystone, the magnificent estate which is the headquarters of the AFI (West), to present valuable information on cinematographic techniques and answer questions posed to them. Very efficiently introducing and moderating each of the individual seminars is "Emmy" Award-winning Director of Photography Howard Schwartz, ASC.

Through a special arrangement with The American Film Institute and Local 659, American Cinematographer will, from time to time, publish excerpted transcripts from these seminars, so that readers of this publication may also receive the benefits of the information conveyed.

The dialogue which follows has been excerpted from the A.F.I. Seminar featuring the brilliant young Cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel, whose feature credits as Director of Photography include MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI, THE BLACK STALLION and BEING THERE. The seminar followed a screening of THE BLACK STALLION.

HOWARD SCHWARTZ: Now, here's Caleb who did that beautiful job. I'll read you his credits. It's a short list, but he's on his way now. He did APOCALYPSE NOW. He was the insert director of photography. And MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI (Universal, 1979). THE BLACK STALLION was United Artists (1979), and BEING THERE (United Artists, 1979). And he's scheduled to direct THE ESCAPE ARTIST for Zoetrope. He won awards for the best cinematography from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for THE BLACK STALLION. And the best cinematography, National Society of Film Critics, for THE BLACK STALLION and BEING THERE. Let me ask you, what kind of film stock did you use on THE BLACK STALLION?

CALEB DESCHANEL: Just regular 5247 stock.

SCHWARTZ: It had a really rich look to it. He didn't exaggerate it in any way.

DESCHANEL: No, just used regular 85 filters. Additionally, we would use sometimes double 85s and 85s with 81 EFs, and various other orange filters.

SCHWARTZ: You had a lot of gorgeous stuff. Late in the day, in the sunsets.

DESCHANEL: Because it took all day to get the horses where they were supposed to be.

SCHWARTZ: I was going to say, you must have had a long schedule, and a super animal trainer.

DESCHANEL: Yes, Corky Randall was the animal trainer. His father had trained all the horses for BEN HUR. When we shot in Rome, a lot of people who were working at Cinecitta knew his father from BEN HUR; which they had done 20 years before. A lot of the credit, though, in addition to Corky goes to Carroll Ballard, the director, because Carroll is one of these human beings who is more stubborn than any of the animals. And there were times when we were dealing with the horses, where the trainers would say, "But Carroll, they're horses, they're not actors. You can't make them do these things." And Carroll would say, "No, I want it this way." And he wants the horse to do a combination of actions within a shot that was very complicated and very difficult for the trainers to do. In part, because when you train a horse you train a horse to react to signals from the trainer. …

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