Jurassic Park 3 – Pteranodon Canyon

For JP3, we had a complicated Pteranodon chase that transpires across 5 different stages and set-pieces, and concludes in a large space at the base of a deep valley. The sequence begins on a suspension bridge shrouded in fog, where one of our characters is plucked-off and carried away by a mysterious flying beast. Chase is given by way of cantilevered walkway and parasail and eventually lands at water level on a silked-over set built in 5 feet of water. This is a very large negative-fill silk rig erected over that set on Falls Lake on the Universal Lot. We constructed this rig since the set to be built consisted of some steep cliff faces with water beneath that contained much of the action during and after our Pteranodon flight sequence. Because the sequence is carried out in fog and soft skylight, and because Falls Lake has a south face and was largely front lit during the day, it necessitated the construction of a large silk overhead. We considered many options such as traditional crane mounted rigs and other crazier ideas than this. We ultimately landed on this plan because it provided some structure overhead for flying stunt rigs and SFX rig points. There were a few hurdles to get over.

JP 6

Our rig consisted of very large scaffold walls that were erected by the legendary Key Grip Bob Babin. He devised a way to have silks overhead manufactured in strips and layers as wind-loads were a huge concern for this giant structure. Because the Lake faces south, it was my desire to rig solids to the southern elevation of the rig, but horizontal wind loads negated that idea and a net was used to cut 70% of the southern sun and still allow air to pass through the wall, thus allowing the engineer to hit his number for wind on that hilltop. We were well into winter months so the sun was low to the south for much of the day… And daylight hours were short. This was a problem that ended being an enormous asset.

jp 5

Bob and I pitched this plan to the Producers who were not entirely open to it at first… mainly due to the immense manpower and expense related to the plan. I remember sitting with Producer, Larry Franco, who called me into his office and said, “Shelly I’m about to pull the trigger in this rig and all-in with materials, time, labor and engineering its going to cost $500,000.00 which is worrying. Tell me this will work and that I’m not just pouring this money downJP 3 a hole.” (For anyone who knows Larry you’ll know I cleaned up many of his well-placed and hilarious expletives). I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried as well, but I wanted to make sure Larry understood a key component of the plan. Since the days were short, we only had 9 hours of shootable light. My plan was to get two Musco Lights and some 18Ks and light through the overhead silk and shoot into the night with artificial light that matched our daylight. We were scheduled to shoot eight 9-hour days on that set. I told him that if we could get off that set in 6 days and save him 2 days of shooting, that would have a dollar value, no? Larry said, “Shelly, if you tell me that thing will save me two shooting days and you can shoot into the night with it, I’ll sign that check right now.” That said, the rig more or less paid for itself. In fact, with the savings on no force calls dictated by the need for daylight, the rig may have put production into profits.

JP 7

On our very first day in the rig, we got held up with some kind of effects rigging. With the AD, I tried to design the days where most of our wide shots were shot during daylight hours and our night-for-day shooting would be limited to medium shots. With FX and stunt rigging delays (through no fault of theirs, it was a complicated project) it firmly placed our widest shots at the end of the day and well into our first night. Knowing the day was shaping up this way, I was sweating it out and I knew I’d be facing a huge test with a lot of people curious to see how this night-for-day idea would actually look on this scale.

Our first night-for-day shot was a shot of Alessandro Nivola being picked up by a CG Pteranodon and dropped back into the water. The art department had put greens and painted backings like the ones we had on Stage 12 at the two ends of our scaffold rig and with the atmosphere, allowed the backgrounds to recede into a texture. We had such good light coverage at night on the silks overhead, that I actually preferred the mood of our night-for-day work and didn’t object when turn arounds forced our calls later as the work week progressed. Thankfully, we got ourselves out of the set in the six days that we needed and as far as I know, this was the single largest scaffold rig ever built by the Local 80 Hollywood grips!

Captain America: Underwater Submarine Pursuit

In this film, the script called for Steve Rogers to pursue a German Spy driving a car through the streets of Brooklyn as Steve gives chase by foot. The man eventually works his way to the waterfront and escapes in a small one-man submarine, where Rogers dives-in, swims to him, forces open the canopy and wrenches the man to the surface. I had not shot a sequence where a swimmer chases down a submarine before so, I was excited to researching my options. The proposed set was a small tank inside a stage at Pinewood Studios outside London. The tank was 60 feet long by 20 feet deep and the sub was 20 feet long and stationary within the black tank. Our perception of movement would need to come from moving the camera and creating underwater current that would affect debris and bubbles… not the submarine. We ended up getting a Hydroscope from Chapman, which is a heavy duty submersible crane that can be operated from the deck next to the tank, along with a Hydro Head submersible remote head. We needed a camera that we could house in an underwater housing and our Genesis cameras we were using to shoot the body of the show ran too hot to perform well in a housing that goes to that depth. We ended up securing a brand-new Alexa (the only one in Europe that Bob Richardson wasn’t using on Hugo) and I called Pete Romano at Hydroflex and asked if he could quickly manufacture a Remote AquaCam compatible with our submersible remote head, which he began making right away. Typically speaking, these types of housings arrive a few days before shooting so that we can test the fit and check for water-tightness. In this case, the shooting date was looming closer and Pete had yet to deliver the housing from Hydroflex in LA to Pinewood Studios in London. He told me he had to make the housing from scratch, as this was the first Alexa that he was aware of that would be going into a Remote AquaCam. Pete always seems to come through and the housing arrived the day before shooting. In fact, when they opened the box during our early pre-call to test the housing the smell of fresh paint permeated the prep room and made us dizzy from the fumes. The camera, housing and underwater crane worked great and crane operator Gary Hymns deserves an award (and trip to the chiropractor) for doing expert crane moves with submerged principle actors, all while fighting water resistance and working blind to the camera’s proximity to the set-piece. Amazing job by all involved.

Under Water Tank

Below is a clip of the sequence and submarine pursuit that occurs near the end of the clip.

The Big Bang: Color Noir on Film

The Big Bang is an independent film with Antonio Banderas who follows a private investigation that carries him from a random disappearance and eventually poses existential questions regarding the origins of life and the god particle. It’s a head-full for sure. The film was Directed by Tony Krantz who has a vast art knowledge and had very specific ideas regarding the use of color in the film. I felt that in order for the color to have a lasting presence, and so the brain would not neutralize our coloring, that we needed some sort of white reference on order to give the brain a waypoint with which to register color. The use of white went against Tony’s desire to give the film an almost noir type if feel, so we instead decided to go for a balanced neutral and solid black onto which we could anchor our colors. The entire film has this common thread which helps give the fearless use of color and total departure from reality a sense of unity.


I presented to Tony the thought of using only two colors at any given time… Thus, keeping each scene away from a random or garish sort of feel. In doing that, it also inspired us to consider the meaning of two paired colors. I think I had 7 different gel colors that I restricted my choices to, then paired them as the scene dictated. Antonio, who has directed a few films of his own that favor a more impressionistic visual approach was completely on-board with staging for camera. Especially if it offered an unusual and meaningful lighting or composition storytelling opportunity. He is an amazing actor to work with.


Colored gels were used to large effect in a glass home on location outside of Spokane, Washington. We used layers of purple, blue, ND and Roscoscrim so we could shoot a long dinner scene with a stylized day-for-dusk effect and see into the surrounding landscape. The still here was shot around mid-day and we were able to get a stylized dusk look with the help of some heavy clouds. With the blue component in the window gel-pack… Plus the fact that film is routinely blue-sensitive, we enjoyed an interesting effect where purple highlights became blue shadows as they worked their way down the density scale. Interesting and totally accidental phenomenon. We peeled away layers of ND as we lost the light and completed the scene in one daylight period. Sam Elliot is very fun to work with. No-nonsense and a cool guy. I rather enjoyed this film as it gave me the opportunity to do something I had never done before.

Below is the interesting title sequence we shot with the WeissCam at 1000fps (some of it obviously re-timed)

The Wolfman: Standing Stones

The Wolfman features an interesting scene where Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) attempts to protect a young gypsy who is being pursued by a mysterious creature and has taken refuge in the fog amongst a group of ancient vertical stones. The sequence begins on location outside London in a gypsy camp at night, then transitions to the stones set built on stage. Because we needed a controlled environment to contain our atmospheric fog effects, we shot this on H Stage at Shepperton Studios. For those of you who have shot on this stage, you know exactly what happens to smoke effects in the afternoon when the cold ground meets the growing heat building up at the top of the stage. Absolutely fantastic smoke layering effects that look completely incredible. All of our night cloud sky effects were not Visual effects… but rather standing layers of motionless smoke in the air. I’ve shot on this stage a dozen times and it’s the same phenomenon every time. It’s an old metal building with a few holes in it. I hope Shepperton never changes anything about that old stage.

The amazing gaffer John “Biggles” Higgins rigged an open-face 18K HMI and a cluster of diffused maxi-brutes surrounding that light through an 18-foot hole we located in the painted backing. This allowed us to have both hard and soft lighting coming from the same direction so that we may have a hard punch of backlight through the smoke, while the soft backlight created by the maxi’s spread our pattern and kept it from getting too theatrical. We did only a little augmenting otherwise… maybe just an occasional soft push for faces… but otherwise quite simple. Key Grip Gary Hymns operated the TechnoCrane with his son, Paul. Shelly StonesHe, along with operator Des Whelan and First AC Julian Bucknall could move the camera just about anywhere with  precision. Of course, it was extremely difficult movement. They are just good enough to make it appear effortless. I like to use a small handheld viewfinder and mark our lens positions on the ground. We decide on a post position for the crane based in those marks (considering space, arm sweep and where I propose to place lighting so that the arm can avoid a collision with Biggles’s equipment), then lay the shot out over those marks… Mark the arm then start playing. I’ll always try to start with a marked shot when working with the TechnoCrane so that we don’t waste time “hunting” for a shot with a complicated piece of equipment.


When shooting our scenes around the gypsy camp at night, we had firelight and overhead sources in around the wagons of the camp, then back lit the surrounding hills with dozens of Dino’s and 20Ks just over the horizon, out of view of the camera but lighting the smoke we sent up around the hillside. At one point, Director Joe Johnston needed a shot of Benicio running towards the trees and standing stones, where we would later hand off to our stage set. Because the hillside was lit as background for the foreground camp, when we went to the base of the hill there was no light there. In fact, with the smoke machines off and our lights hidden behind the horizon, it was pitch black. We happened to have a great SFX team lead by Paul Corbould. They were able to drive their smokers and gas powered ritters (which were mounted to 4-wheel drive trucks) and get enough smoke in the sky and create a cloudscape that was catching all the light I had pouring into the air. That little glow near Benicio’s knees are 6 Dino’s pounding in from a few hundred yards away… And the trees to the right have five or six 20Ks hidden amongst them. So, there was massive amounts of light up there… They just needed to get their smokers in the right place so they could feed this shot. Joe is very understanding at times like this and when he sees a crew working hard and they are working on a plan he himself believes might be viable, he is as patient as a Director can be. All I know is that the Corboulds made me look very very good that night.

Smash – Conceiving the Pilot Episode

Smash was a Dreamworks series about the world of Broadway and shot in NYC. It was Directed by Michael Mayer who is a Tony Award winning Broadway Director. When the executives at Dreamworks called me, they said they wanted me to go to NYC for an extra week of early prep so that I could shadow Michael and look at some of his work (his musical American Idiot was playing at the time) and get a feel for the type of complex staging he likes to do in the theatre. They asked me to suggest ways the camera can be used so that the pilot could have a similar type of fearless movement. I thought this was a good idea on paper, but I in no way wanted to force ideas onto Michael. So, I decided to go there and let the situation speak to me, then decide how I could contribute. When I arrived, I found that Broadway Directors work very hard. Casting session here… understudy problems there… project meetings… attending performances and giving notes. It was 7 days a week and endless. Michael was amazing and had a positive spirit and a real love and passion for the theatre. He’s talented, tireless, enthusiastic and a very kind man. About 3 days into that first week he said to me; “Look, I know why you’re here. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to tell you in terms of how I want to move the camera. I don’t know enough about camera to tell you I want this type of move or that type of lens.” I told him not to worry and explained to him that he didn’t have to know an endless amount of technical jargon in order to talk to a DP… that I can get visual cues from what he does know, such as a music choice or editing idea or historic photograph, location… or even an anecdote about being backstage, etc. I suggested we go through the script and asked him to tell me what he did know about any given scene, on any level… and that I was there to help him and that it was my job to come up with a way to represent his idea in a visual manner that I could present to him. He had a fantastic reply; “Shelly there is always one thing I will be able to tell you at any time. I can always tell you what I want the audience to feel.”

That was all I would ever need.


Working with Michael was collaborative and energetic. He reminded me just how much enthusiasm plays a part in the selling of an idea to a producer, actor… or even an audience. Being an accomplished Broadway Director, he wanted to make a pilot that was faithful to the theatre community. Therefore, all the rehearsal spaces are actual spaces used regularly when preparing a show for a Broadway run. All the various offices were actual offices of producers and agents that Michael had dealt with over the years. Restaurants were theatre haunts. He said that his goal was to be able to show the film to any of his friends and have them put their authentic stamp of approval on the finished work. So, when we were scheduled to do a shot in poor light on 8th Avenue, I suggested doing our reverse on 9th Avenue, thus avoiding the poor lighting direction, he said; “You mean use a background on 9th Avenue while the rest of the scene plays on 8th? No… every New Yorker will spot that immediately. We can’t possibly do that. We’ll need to figure a way to use the actual reverse on 8th.” I was the only guy from California… and it showed with that suggestion! Only actual reverses! Through the weeks of prep and shooting, mainly amongst the theatre area on 44th & 45th, just off 7th, I observed that he was very recognizable to passers-by who were all theatre workers… actors, set designers, composers etc. “Hello Michael!” “Hey how are you? What are you working on?” A very small and tight-knit community. The day after we wrapped Smash, I was scouting in that area for the new ending for Captain America, which was to be shot in Times Square. By then, the theatre crowd had gotten to know me (mostly technical people like lighting guys and dimmer board operators) through my association with Michael; “Hey Shelly! What are you working on?” I feel like I made a lot of new friends on that one. The pilot got picked up and the series landed in the very capable hands of DP David Mullen, ASC who photographed all the episodes after the pilot aired.

The Wolfman: Unorthodox Night Source Lighting

In thinking about the night photography in the woods, I wanted this location to feel somewhat otherworldly. I didn’t want to feel slave to the moon being up there, but rather thought about what a haunted moon might make a forest feel like rather than look like… if that makes sense. I just felt that if we hung a moon up there that it would look too familiar and too traditional and, in a way, too safe a choice. I spent many of my weekends at the night locations so I could familiarize myself to them and search for opportunities… and really let the location tell me how it wanted to be lit and study how it would take light well. One of my Sunday excursions lead me to Bourne Wood. Joe Johnston would often come with me for at least part of my Sundays, but this day I was by myself. Joe was spending time with the editor and suggested I go alone and present him some stills on Monday. As I was walking through Bourne Wood, I came across an interesting area that fell away down a slope and the trees sloped down and if I situated myself on top of the high grade, I had this amazing perspective of the trees as they grew from the low-ground upstage with our forest floor in the foreground. Because the tree’s high foliage and vertical height were so pronounced, I thought about lighting the forest from below and creating this unusual low key that under-lit the trees and gave us limitless height since we wouldn’t need to worry about crane mounted backlights that usually determine your top frame line all too quickly. I chose angles that favored this technique and pitched the idea to Joe who was interested in seeing it through. Upon shooting the scene, it felt very theatrical and many of the producers were objecting to the lighting because it was not coming from above. This was worrying since, as you can see from the lighting diagram below, I was completely committed to this low source. I was silently asking myself; “Wow, how am I going to get myself out of this?” Without being argumentative, my contention was that in context, this would work and have the appropriate tone that would allow the audience to become immersed in an evocative and haunting environment… much the same words I used to sell the idea to the Director. At that moment, Joe turned from the video assist monitors and said to me, in front of the producers; “Don’t change anything.” Then turned to them and said; “Shelly’s not changing anything, this looks the way I want it.” I was astounded at the strong stand Joe took and thankful as I believed in this lighting. It reminded me that if a cinematographer has an unusual idea, he needs to champion it through every step of the process. To me, it’s interesting how a thematic idea can feel so right in conversation, yet in application on-set, can feel like the scene is being overworked. I think the key is to not look at a lighting effect like this one, on a scene level… but rather this scene’s contribution to the film as a whole. Then these types of unorthodox plans start to make sense and the cinematographer can create a world in which only that story can exist.

Bourne Wood Forrest

Hidalgo and Jean-Leon Gerome

When I first came on to this film, Director, Joe Johnston and Production Designer, Barry Robison were referencing the work of Orientalist painter Jean-Leon Gerome. Largely, his work with eastern subjects and how they related to the portion of our story that took place in Syria. We had a few large-scale encampment scenes that take place in the desert where we wanted to extend this Orientalist influence. These camps are built in layers from the grand and ornate Sheik’s tent, to the more workaday black Bedouin tents, which were numerous. Considering we were shooting on film and in anamorphic format with older E Series lenses, we were limited to how far we could feasibly open those lenses and still expect a certain level of performance. Panavision would sit in on our lens test screenings (which are much more comprehensive than a typical lens test in spherical formats). They would advise and adjust where they felt the lenses were performing best. But lens performance on a focus and resolution chart is very different than photographing for practical scenes. There are contrast, color and distortion intangibles that become visible… Good or bad. Suffice to say, a T4.0 at ASA 400 was as fast as I was willing to go for this film. So now those black Bedouin tents against a black desert sky were looking like a real puzzle. I came up with a plan to silhouette the tents against layers of lit air that would contain drifting smoke from cooking fires. At the top of this frame, you can see the layers of backlit tents that probably extend back 400 feet beyond where Viggo is taking his shot of whiskey. Gaffer Dave Maddux had dozens of 5k skypans set low to backlight the smoke as it drifted up the rows of tents and skypans. We needed that much wattage to register past our four-stop. Funny enough, when the smokers were off, the camp went completely black. It was unnerving. There was literally nothing visible. But when the smokers came on, the rows of tents hiding in the darkness showed themselves and life was good. We augmented with firelight effects near the actors and those elements, when all combined in a single frame, began to look like our Orientalist Gerome paintings. The camp was set up in a circular pattern and Joe could freely face any direction, as Dave had broadcasted something in the area of 80 of these skypans in all directions and featuring every row of tents.

Hid 1We wanted to give our US scenes a similar type of mood and respect to Gerome as well. Here are the great JK Simmons as Buffalo Bill and the unequaled Viggo Mortensen as Frank Hopkins. An interesting scene on a moving train shot on stage in West LA. In the scene, Frank’s friend and former Chief Eagle Horn beseeches Buffalo Bill to help him save the wild Mustang that roam the Dakotas. The meeting doesn’t end well as Buffalo Bill resorts to grandstand posturing as opposed to any sincere help. In this scene, I would have been tempted to key from the windows and let the train fall off in the interior and play the scene in moving shadowed light. However, much of the Gerome work had a more pronounced key, so I made the decision to abandon naturalism and go for the feel of a more orientalist style. Thus, the formal staging around the table that clearly favors composition… and a key top-source that is brighter than anything to be found in the late 1800’s. To be honest, it feels uncomfortable to part with reality in such a way, but I think it’s important for a cinematographer to previsualize not only the look of a scene, but also that scene’s composition in the larger telling of the story. In many cases, the DP is the only one truly viewing the story on that level while shooting. It’s certainly easier to stick with naturalism and shoot with old lenses… very easy in fact… but I think that the art of previsualization and execution of an authored visual idea is what transports an audience to a new world.

A Family Man

I shot this film in Toronto under a different title, and the Trailer recently was released. The film comes out in May and features some amazing performances by Gerard Butler, Gretchen Mol, Willem Defoe, Alfred Molina and a future young super-star Max Jenkins. Such an interesting project with a first-time Director, Mark Williams, who was amazing. The story was so delicately told and Mark had spent an enormous amount of time developing the script. He knew the story very well and was very humble about his knowledge of the camera, and asked for the crew’s help daily. I like it when a first-time Director is this self-aware and doesn’t pretend to know what he thinks he should know. The fact is, he knew more than anybody about what type of story he wanted to tell, and it was our job to keep the communication open and help him to use the camera to translate those thoughts to the screen. Many first-timers might think they are putting themselves in a position of weakness if they approach the crew with such a brutally frank assessment of themselves, but I find it to be quite the opposite. I think a crew can tell if a Director knows his way around a film set, and when that Director puts the crew in a position to help him, they are more than willing to do so. I think in this case, we gained an immense amount of respect for Mark, because he was so knowledgeable about the nuances of the storytelling and the crew was duly respectful of his talents and sensitivity.


Please meet Max Jenkins, who plays young Ryan in the story. He and Gerry carried this film on their backs and worked hard at cultivating a relationship off camera as well. On weekends, Max and Gerry would sometimes visit children’s hospitals and other personal outings. I thought it was very nice of Gerry to extend himself in that manner to young Max and I think it made a big difference when it comes to their onscreen relationship. A funny story about Gerry and his generosity. The cast, Director and myself were having rehearsals in the house that served as location for the film. The family that lived in the house was very nice and had arranged to be out of the house while the rehearsals where in progress, but the time got away from us and before we knew it, the family was quietly returning home from their long day and beginning to cook their evening meal. Upon finishing rehearsal, Gerry went into the kitchen, where family and a few of their son’s friends were gathered and asked if he might have some water. By then, the kids were sitting at the table and starting to devour a wonderful-smelling roast chicken. They invited Gerry to sit with them and join them of dinner, to which Gerry accepted without hesitation. The kids were in awe of the fact that they were having dinner in their own house with Gerrard Butler. He engaged them with questions about the sports they played, school, what they were up to and gave them a memorable experience and could not have been a nicer guy.


The film existed in three worlds… that in the family home, hospital and Dane’s office, Blackridge Recruiting, which was a competitive and high-tension business run by a manipulative boss played by Willem Defoe. He would keep the team leaders in constant competition with each other with the ultimate goal being the influx more commission dollars. It was very much a boiler room office with interesting dialogue and many interesting recruiting tactics that clearly crossed the line into the unethical. We had one scene where Dane’s group was burning the midnight oil and Mark and I spoke about getting some sort of exterior where we could see that in a transitional shot. Our office “set” was in a high-rise in downtown Toronto. As I recall, we were on the 18th floor in a building that was under renovation. My goal was to get to a building I could see across the street… hopefully on the 18th or 19th floor there, and do a wide shot where we see our cast members working into the night. The location manager found a series of offices that he could get for us and showed us stills from the different angles which looked stunning. We wanted to shoot the shot at the end of dusk, where we had an invisible amount of ambience on the building’s granite face. I also wanted to establish a brighter interior look at night so that our office, even though only partially lit, would have visual pop from a great distance. The only problem was that the building we had chosen for our camera placement had tinting on their glass that was unimaginably dark and with huge amounts of green. Since we were shooting through the foreground glass, I had to open the camera up in order to get our sensitivity to levels that not only gave us sufficient exposure, but also gave us enough image to work with so that we could achieve our massive minus-green grade without everything going too gray. As I recall, I was at a 359 degree shutter, ISO 1600 and wide open on a 50mm G-Series Panavision anamorphic prime. At night, we lost too much exposure through our window tint so the need to shoot at dusk was paramount. I also wanted to carry the hotter glaring look of the interior into our scenes that followed. Interesting set of technical and storytelling challenges!


One of the highpoints of this film was working for the first time with Production Designer, Charisse Cardenas. This being a low-medium budget Indie, our need for production office space eventually migrated my desk away from the director’s office and into the middle of the art department bullpen. I rather enjoyed working with the art department and got a real appreciation for the level of attention they gave to every prop and piece of set decoration… not to mention the painstaking detail to Charisse’s designs. We had one scene in Ryan’s school classroom that we wanted to play in a colorful manner in order to show a contrast between his once normal daily life as a 9 year old boy and the more limited palette in his new hospital environment. Typically, in these types of classroom spaces, the color can get so unthinkably random that the scene can begin to look like what I term as “Disney Channel Random Hue.” I talked to Charisse about the need to focus our intent from a color standpoint, and wow, did she ever. She somehow added massive amounts of color but in a very specific set of tones and hues. She also worked closely with the wardrobe department and they frequently compared notes on what they were working on throughout the film and how they could connect on a color level. Quite extraordinary. I find that when those two departments can work well together, a DP’s life becomes just a little better! Charisse was also very collaborative in giving me my practical placements… especially in places such as the office and hospital where my practicals were largely lighting the scenes. I therefore needed very specific types of LED Channels, such as you see in the first image, or the office fluorescent ceiling to be laid out and executed according to what my placement, color and exposure needs were. She never once questioned anything I had a need for on this front and always found a way to integrate the designs with her appropriate sense of style. She also collaborates with Clint Eastwood on films such as American Sniper and approaches every project with the same degree of detail, no matter what the budget level.


Interestingly, when I started prepping with Mark Williams, I tried to sit with him to do a page-turner of the script in order to get our initial ideas in place. Those meetings weren’t flowing like they typically do, so I needed to change up what I normally do in order to get into the Director’s head. Once we got into scouting and he could stand in a location that he liked, he found it easier to discuss his story ideas. He had such a masterful grasp of the writing and a wickedly sharp sense of humor, frequently wise-cracking that if I bothered to read the script, making this film might be bit easier. Hilarious. So I scheduled repeat visits to the locations and we walked through the script that way… very much a non-linear version of a page-turner, but it got the job done… and in a way that Mark could get his head around the shooting of the material. We had a wonderful group local Camera/Grip/Electric people from Canada. In fact, Technicolor, Toronto showed such commitment to the film when they did the dailies grade, that we brought them the D.I. when we finished the project. For me, its fun to mix in the lower budget indie films with the larger movies. I see that DP’s should, and can move from genre to genre… high budget to low budget… theatrical to TV… narrative to commercial… Home or on the road. Its definitely good for any DP to keep moving in all directions.

“Silhouette Sunday” Reprise from ASC Instagram

Falling Water. This project was Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who was wonderfully thoughtful about how he wanted to approach the visuals on this pilot. The project is about people who share a single collective dream and Juan Carlos wished to establish a very specific visual language that we would “teach” the audience and help add depth to the contrast between waking life and the dream state. He pushed hard for consistency and the project had a purity due to his intent on that front. Juan is a very kind man and was just the right person to pursue this project. I was fortunate to work with him. We shot in NYC with a talented crew. The gaffer was Bill Almeda, who I know from the pilot for Smash. Mark Schmidt was the camera operator who followed this boy through room after room in a shot that ends the story and shows the complexity of the dream landscape. Very talented guys indeed!


Jurassic Park 3. In the spirit of “silhouette Sunday” here is a shot of Michael Jeter walking through a plane fuselage at El Mirage Dry Lakebed in California. This shot started in the cockpit of the derelict plane and panned him through the darker mid-section, then out the open rear door. As I recall there was a 4-stop pull during the shot in order to accommodate the bright exterior and dark interiors as Michael moved through the plane. Joe Johnston is fantastic at coming up with flowing shots of this manner. His ideas are often difficult to execute and are what I would consider to be quite advanced since he often adapts the plan to fit his inspirations on the set… Like any good director should. For me, that translates to having a plan in place, but being ready to augment that plan (to an often more complex interpretation) according to Joe’s needs. Quite a fun way to work and certainly a method that requires intense concentration in order to keep up with him. Through all that work and concentration, I find myself being quite gratified with working with him.

Heat 1

Wild Card. The great Stanley Tucci being introduced in silhouette in this William Goldman written project that takes place in Naked City, Las Vegas. Directed by Simon West… we were scheduled to shoot in an adjoining hallway where Stanley and Jason Statham would perform their introductory dialogue. When Simon arrived on the set that morning, he asked if we could play much of the scene in a showroom in the midst of preparing a Vegas stage show. Gaffer Bob Bates, who I met in New Orleans while shooting a massive night sequence on Percy Jackson, quickly and efficiently brought together what we needed to give Simon what he asked for in a very low-key fashion. This was the second film I’ve done with Simon and I trust his instincts and experience and will happily charge-up any hill he asks me to charge. Source Fours, some atmosphere and a few smaller lights here-and-there gave us a simple and graphic image of Stanley… Who is truly one of the most pleasurable actors to work with.


Captain America: First Avenger. The great Hugo Weaving as The Red Skull on set at Shepperton Studios in England. I had worked with Hugo the year prior on The Wolfman and he always surprises with his choices and brilliance. He understood, completely, the properties of this shot and lighting set-up that he could bring forth. The combination of a great actor coalescing with a great screen moment reminds one of why they decided to make films in the first place. More on Captain America later, but this film was long and involved, and became larger than life in its production scale. I have a regular UK crew that’s helped me through every step, including Gaffer John Higgins (Biggles), Key Grip Gary Hymns, Operator Des Whelan and First AC Julian Bucknall.


Captain America: First Avenger – Suborbital Bomber

One of the more challenging sets on this film was The Sub-Orbital Bomber, which was a very large flying-wing type of aircraft that manifested itself in stage form as a huge gimbaled cockpit set. The set itself was 20 feet tall and placed on a huge gimbal that was 14 feet tall. All lighting and camera needed to be independent of the gimbal (such as camera cranes and sun sources) so that the movement of the set could be registered. In this case, we had the rear wall of the set built to be removable so that we could build our 50 foot TechnoCrane onto a 24-foot rostrum, then float the camera over the moving floor. The set was so large that the 50-foot Techno did not give us a reach into the full depth of the set… only about three quarters of the way in fact… and we made up the rest by coming in through the front glass, or riding-out the gimbal action with smaller jib-arms that still gave a dynamic movement, that related to the set activity. This was a very beautiful set, designed by Rick Heinrichs, that let light in from a single large source in the front. Rick used a metal finish that was reflective and most of the set was rendered in this reflected light value, or high altitude direct setting-sunlight created with a gelled 100K SoftSun. I proposed setting the Bomber Flight at sunset, which gave us a light angle that made moving sun effects more visible and allowed us to create a color contrast.CA6

I had the idea of playing the changing light on Chris’s face as though the Suborbital Bomber was flying amongst clouds. This hopefully would have conveyed some sort of feeling of speed, which is good considering we could see no windows looking back into a set that was the size of a flying small ballroom. My general rule of thumb for any process flying sequence is to unlock anything and everything… all axis on the camera, all lights and any camera mountings. Therefore, we had a moving sun, moving clouds, a camera that could move in, out, left, right and up & down. Never locking pan or tilt so that it was free to float independent of anything else.

SubOrbital Bomber Cockpit

Instead of a greenscreen out front, we were able to use a white source that would bring cooler reflection into the set… and VFX agreed to make their mattes using luminance keys with roto instead of a color key. This set was a real ankle turner. Steel grates and steep steps and drop-offs, as well as built-in VariLites located in wells for some of our light effects. We were all no stranger to an ice-pack at the end of the day (and a cold beer)