Rusty Sabich gets the brush-off from mistress Carolyn Polhemus as they leave their place of employment.  A single-shot scene, it was executed on the Panaglide by Craig DiBona in the entrance rotunda of the Newark (New Jersey) City Hall.  Find it at 0:55:19.

            Another large space, lit simply and elegantly with only two main units…  I don’t know why, but Willis elected to shoot a controllable interior at 5600 degree Kelvin with an 85 filter behind the lens.  I suppose he chose the 12K HMI for the extra punch this unit provides.  That cool backlight is fired directly through a 12’x12′ silk while the softer foreground fill comes courtesy of a 5K tungsten bounce off a second 12’x12′ white source.  This mix of color temperature would lend itself to quite a warm tone on the actors faces – but it’s somewhat compensated for in the printer light.

            The actors are noted as being one stop underexposed at their end marks; it’s here that the backlight performs its job by outlining them clearly against the darker background and providing a reference for the diminishment of light on their faces.

            The Mitchell B glass diffusion also smoothes the image and imparts the same texture as witnessed in the love scene between these two in her office earlier.



  1. Fascinating. This strikes me as the kind of photographic consideration and mastery that could only come from tremendous amounts of experience and boldness! Thank you for this window into the process Richard.

  2. Chris – you are so correct. Back in those days just buying a camera didn’t make you a director of photography. Nor did anyone come out of film school and declare the same. You had to apprentice, apply yourself and really learn what you were doing. I’m very proud to have been raised in that system. There’s no substitute for experience and it has enabled me to be bold in my own ways throughout my shooting career.

  3. Richard, These posts are fascinating! Gordon Willis was such a remarkably precise and controlled Cinematographer to work with when I was at Technicolor; I love seeing the elegance of these lighting designs.

  4. Hey Rob – We all worked with a lot of great cameramen over the years but you have to admit – Gordon was in a class of his own. I was privileged to have had the chance to learn from him and to continue to apply many of those lessons in my own work and approach. They’re as solid now as they ever were…perhaps even more so!

  5. Richard,
    He was COMPLETELY in a class all his own!
    Not only a precise one light cameraman, where his answer prints would often print for hundreds of feet with a light change, and then only a minor +1 or -1 of RGB (or in Technicolor’s case YCM), but I loved how he would shoot a thousand feet of an actor in front of a black and white background, color chart, gray scale, and then would send in 10 feet or so to process at the lab every couple of days, always printing at the same light point. It not only was hios way opf making sure our proces was on target on any given day he sent in the test piece… At the end production, he would have the editors splice together all of the test pieces into a single roll an then screen it. HE would then see if our negative process or printing calibration and color positive process varied over the course of production.
    I sat with him at the end of production on “Perfect” when he screened the assembled roll. I of course was all over my dailies printer calibrations on a regular basis, but even more so for Gordon. Bill Gaston, foreman of negative developing in those days watched my back on the negative process, which in those days was spot on at Technicolor. Fortunately, things looked pretty good as we sat in silence for almost 10 minutes screening the roll. I was so nervous because I wanted to please Gordon.
    When the roll finished, he said words to the effect of “Not to F***ing bad Robbie!” he laughed and shook my hand.
    It was such a pleasure on that film to get to speak to him each day as he would call me to check on each day’s dailies.

  6. Wonderful! I suspect that the tungsten fill wasn’t too warm because the white bounce frame was also picking up some of the 12K HMI backlight as well. Pretty flattering light — big backlight and a slightly high soft frontal key light…

  7. It sort of agrees with my lighting philosophy which is that — ideally — there should be the impression in the viewer of one dominant lighting “effect” or source hitting the actors (at any one moment) that all other lights are subservient to.

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