Harrison Ford’s character Rusty Sabich and John Spencer’s cop Dan Lipranzer watch a political concession speech in a hotel ballroom.  Find it at 0:47:38…

            Large space, minimal lighting…yet completely appropriate to the action as described in the script.  And despite the size of the room (100’x60′) and large number of extras, it was very fast to put together.

            Unique among all cinematographers, Gordon Willis took as much time as he wanted while lighting a scene.  While no power on earth could make him speed up the process, he was hired not just to deliver a usable exposure but to bring a specific vision and level of craftsmanship to the production; giving him a wide berth was part of the buy-in.  Though his process caused occasional migraines for line producers, this freedom allowed him to execute things precisely the way he saw fit.

            But this is not to say he was profligate or reckless with the company’s resources as he strove to create the appropriate mood.  This scene is short, a momentary breather before things really start to boil.  In no way pivotal to the story as a whole, it establishes a minor plot point and reaffirms something we already know about one of the secondary characters.

            Starting with this in mind, Willis’ didn’t waste any time on a scene that could easily have been left on the cutting room floor.  Note the simplicity of the overall lighting plan.  A maximum of four units, two camera angles and – bang! – on to the next bit of business.



  1. Dad would never rush anything. I pity the poor first AD or line producer who would suggest anything along those lines. We would talk about solid locations that had the right vibe to them and then being careful not to destroy whats good in the production of the scene. We would laugh in private, all the time, about how simple it is to create something wonderful if you are a good barometer. No magic filters or lights. Its on his gravestone, “Keep it simple stupid”.

  2. This is great! I wonder why the 1/8 Blue on the lights, was it to maintain a neutral gray tone throughout the movie or because the ceiling bounce was adding a bit of warmth that he wanted to counteract? Usually in a ballroom with a chandelier like that, you play the additional lights on the warm side to match, but I suspect that Willis wanted most of the movie to stay away from any warm bias.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *