In 1989 I had the good fortune to serve as Second Assistant Cameraman on the Warner Bros. feature, Presumed Innocent.  Directed by Alan Pakula and shot by Gordon Willis, ASC, it marked their fifth of six collaborations.  Other efforts included Klute (1971), The Parallax View (1974), All the President’s Men (1976), Comes a Horseman (1978) and The Devil’s Own (1997); each reflects the sensibilities of two enormously talented, fully formed people.  Even the casual viewer will find that their films have a nobility about them.  They feel deliberate, sensible, weighty – and are clearly made for intelligent adults.  Presumed Innocent just might be the apex of this expression.

            In keeping with Willis’ taste for simplicity, its visual structure relays information with an amazing lack of artifice, which is not an easy thing for a cinematographer to achieve.  But don’t be fooled by the subdued style.  It’s a grand movie to look at.  And as with the entirety of Willis’ résumé, Presumed Innocent offers a master class in all aspects of cinematography. 

            While watching Pakula and Willis block a scene on a deafeningly quiet set, it was impossible to not recognize a fabulous opportunity.  I used my down time to sketch lighting diagrams and collect comprehensive notes on every element related to the movie’s photography.  Since then I don’t think I’ve shown them to more than two or three people; over the coming weeks I’ll post the most interesting ones.  Seeing them now I’m both fascinated by and grateful for my attention to detail.  I’m sure you will be too.

            To fully appreciate what these amazing documents offer (and hence gain a greater insight to Willis’ genius), I’d advise preceding them with a refresher viewing of the movie.

            Presumed Innocent was photographed in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The negative was processed and dailies printed at DuArt Film Laboratory in New York City.  Release prints by Technicolor, North Hollywood.

            With the exception of a few scenes, the movie was shot with Eastman EXR 500T Color Negative Film 5296.  This stock had been introduced just weeks before principal photography and Willis uncharacteristically decided to take a chance on it.  Normally, he’d perform tests during prep and arrive at a single printer light that would suffice for the entire shoot but the 5296 proved a bit tricky.  Printer lights fluctuated regularly – sometimes on a daily basis.  Willis never really took to the color rendition and I recall him commenting one day, “This stuff is only good for shooting circuses and parades.”  He overexposed the stock by about 1\2 stop, rating it at 400ASA.

            Below is the courtroom set, in which a great deal of the action takes place…  It makes its initial appearance at the 1:08:49 mark.

            The diagram shows the layout of a wide shot from behind the judge’s bench; Harrison Ford’s character of Rusty Sabich is indicated by the ‘R’ at the center of the defendant’s table on the left.  As with this example, the lighting of individual shots were tailored to their specific needs but the approach to the windows and background of this very large room (90’x40′) generally stayed the same.  The big circles indicate 3′ diameter cylindrical space lights that contained six 1K Tota lights; the bottom of each cylinder was covered with silk diffusion while adjustable Duvetyne skirts wrapped the sides so as to contain the spill.  Each unit was wired to an off-stage dimmer board.

The opposite angle, viewing the courtroom from the rear looking toward the bench…

            A typical shot across the defense table.  In referring to the next chart you’ll see how the lighting was tailored specifically for this type of application.



  1. And so it begins…

    Thank you Rich for creating this blog and sharing your insights. Especially thank you for starting things off with a lesson from Gordie. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci

  2. This is great, Richard! In the tighter coverage drawing, do you think the 4×4 solid over Rusty was really to take the top light down off of her sitting behind him? Or both? So were the men lit with a combination of the 6K spacelight and the 4K Zip?

  3. Hey David! I don’t recall the specific but I would assume the 4×4 solid was indeed taking the toplight away from Harrison and Bonnie. The rest of it was lit exactly the way it shows on the chart. Willis was always trying to bring a little contrast to whatever the shot was, hence the 4K Zip…

  4. I see a 29mm listed for the wide shot, does this mean Willis was shooting on Panavision Ultra Speeds (now P-Vintage)?

  5. Thank you, Mark! Spread it around – there will be lots more to come, among other things.

  6. Very informative. Quite surprised that he didn’t test the new 96 500T. But, folks trusted Kodak and the know how in the labs those days to process and deal with any issues

  7. He must have come to like 5296, he used it next on “The Godfather, Part III”… but on the other hand, 5294 & 95 were on their way out, although Allen Daviau shot all of “Bugsy” the next year on 5294.

  8. Great to see into the brain of a Master. You must be very grateful for that experience. Your detailed diagrams shows the extra effort you took as a student of the art. Looking forward to seeing more. Thank you.

  9. Thanks for sharing the diagrams, my brain is already formulating the rig with current technology.

  10. This is wonderful. Fantastic diagrams, which is a tricky task, bravo to your young AC self!

    I too am intrigued by the 4×4 solid above Ford- as well as the lone unskirted Spacelight directly above. It’s perhaps a reminder that lighting can be as illogical and yet still intentional as it needs to be in the moment. I’m glad I am confused, and glad I am continually humbled by Willis’ fearlessness! (no testing of the new 5296?!?) Thank you for this insight!

  11. Alan – we did plenty of testing of the 5296. It only showed its inconsistency when we got it out in the field.

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