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.