Hello Ci lovers! Many of you asked me for more lighting setups. I decided to prepare this second part of The Assassination of Jesse James Lighting Breakdown with Cinematographer Roger Deakins to satisfy you. Without further ado, let’s start with scene number one;
Roger Deakins: The only time we used conventional film lights in that sequence was when we were running with the outlaws down the hill toward the train. The robbers are supposed to look as if they’re being lit by the light at the front of the train, and I think we used a 10K bounced off a white card to create that sort of effect amid the steam. When we finally show the train carriage, you can see the passengers amid this golden light coming through the windows. That light was provided by 175-watt mushroom bulbs mounted on 10-foot strips positioned all the way down the interior ceiling of the train carriage. We could rely on our dummy lanterns when we were inside the train, but when we shot that exterior we had to really project the light out into the atmosphere. That shot of the passengers was inspired by one of Andrew’s photographic references, and I think it’s one of the most successful shots in the film. When we were doing it, though, it filled me with dread, because I was concerned that the light would just burn out the passengers and it would end up looking silly.
Roger Deakins: The scene takes place in a house that was built on location and for that reason, much of what I was doing was controlling the natural light. We were after a sunny bucolic feel to the scene. Through the windows, I was bouncing natural sunlight or 18K HMIs off 12′ x 12′ Ultrabounce reflectors. Inside I bounced some 400-watt Jokers off muslin material which was mounted on 4′ x 4′ frames or just taped to the wall. I also used an 18K HMI hard to mimic sunlight although some of the ‘sunlit’ shots, especially from after the shooting, were shot taking advantage of natural sunlight. For these shots, I used just a little interior bounce from the floor in addition to the natural light.
As I say, the room was part of a house built on location and weather played a big part in forcing us to schedule shots around the daylight. Some close shots were actually made after dark and lit using artificial sources.
Roger Deakins: That was done entirely in camera with lenses that are now called ‘Deakinizers.’ I used to use this gag where I put a small lens element in front of a 50mm to get a similar effect. I went to Otto Nemenz and asked how we could create that effect in a better way, with more flexibility and lens length. The lens technician suggested taking the front element off a 9.8 Kinoptic and also mounting the glass from old wide-angle lenses to the front of a couple of Arri Macros. Otto now rents out three Deakinizers. Removing the front element makes the lens faster, and it also gives you this wonderful vignetting and slight color diffraction around the edges. We used different lenses, so some were more extreme or slightly longer than others. Sometimes we used Shift & Tilt lenses to get a similar effect.
Roger Deakins; The Saloon was really quite a simple set up but, for me, making the decision to go with one large soft source through the window was the key. I was a little nervous about this, as the set was quite deep. Another obvious decision was to use a little atmosphere.
“Some 25’ from the window we had a row of 5 x 18K HMIs on stands. Between them and the window is a large frame of Light Grid diffusion whilst there is Hampshire frost on the window itself. I also had white muslin laid on the ground between the Light Grid and the window as I felt the sunlight would illuminate this and soften the whole effect. We were in for a few days of uninterrupted sunlight so this seemed to make sense. The sunlight hitting the diffusion was not a problem but we did need some overheads to cut the direct light off the Saloon window.
Every shot we were making here was always intended to be part of a voice-over montage so we went for our special lens vignette effect, which we had decided on for these sections.” He added.
Roger Deakins; That night scene in the rain was lit from two lifts with 2 x 10Ks and 2 x 5Ks on each. My lighting diagram has 8 x 10Ks total but I remember scaling that down a little. I often ask for more than I end up using! Each lamp had 1/2 blue and quite a bit of wire as I didn’t need the amount of light that that firepower gave me but I wanted the spread. I shot at 2.0 I remember. There was no light source on the riders other than from the lifts and if Andrew had asked to see the rider’s faces I would have put a practical up on the wall somewhere. I think we did talk about that but I rejected it because I liked seeing the warm light in the window of Jesse’s house and not before.
Roger Deakins: When we were downstairs in our studio house, I tried to create a feeling of the landscape and the snow outside the windows by positioning black flags slightly beyond the windows and keeping them out of focus to create the line of a hill (similar horizon line flags for Jarhead). There’s not a lot you can do in those kinds of situations. The blown-out windows ended up being part of the look of the film because I did that even on some of our location sets.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a beautiful movie with care and attention to detail. You can see Deakins’ influence throughout, from the composition of scenes to the color palette he uses. I hope you enjoyed this breakdown; if you have any questions, please let me know in the comment section.
That’s all for today, I hope you enjoyed this second part. Share and save this article for reference. Thanks for reading and See you in the next episode!
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