Harrison Ford’s character has been cleared of the murder charge but there’s still a shocking surprise left for him, as revealed by his cop buddy John Spencer on a ferry ride home (find it at 1:51:09).

            This scene used genuine, honest-to-goodness, old-school rear projection; it was brought aboard by the expert Bill Hansard, whose first credits in this arena date to around the time the earth cooled.  Though the system’s use here is fairly pedestrian, it did what it was supposed to and was fun to be a part of.

            The main requirements for rear projection are appropriate, well-exposed background plates and a large space within which to re-photograph them.  Several days prior to set-up we went out on the Detroit River and shot the city skyline at a variety of ship speeds and angles from last light until about 11PM.  The rest of the details can be found in the notes on the diagram.

            You might wonder why Willis used a one-stop neutral density filter while conditions were under total control on a stage.  This’s because it was easier to adjust for the exposure of the rear screen at the taking lens rather than at the projection lens.  Many low key scenes such as this one were shot at T4; by shooting at T2.8 Willis took advantage of a shallower depth of field which helped sell the rear projection.

            Everything else camera-wise was pretty much by the book.  I recall doing a number of other shots – some of them appreciably wider and showing more of the rear screen – but they didn’t make it to the final cut of the film.



  1. This is great! How did he meter the RP screen image, with an ordinary spot meter? Do you then assume that the synced projected frame with the shutter of the camera is twice as bright as the spot meter reading?

  2. David – Willis did indeed measure the rear screen with a Pentax spot meter…the bulky one with the rotating scale inside the viewfinder, not the digital model. But that was merely to verify a system that had already been understood would deliver a certain level of exposure with regard to the projector distance to the rear screen. The background plates had been slightly overexposed during original photography and printed down. Given that the footage is of a nighttime skyline, the highlights in the windows still popped strongly against the silhouettes of the office buildings. I can’t recall the specifics of their reflected readings, but balanced against the exposure of the actors in the foreground (T2.8, which was 1\2 stop under key) I’d assume that the effect was bright, hence the use of an N3 on the taking lens. I also just noticed that a #1 Coral filter was applied to the rear projection lens. This not only offset an inherent coolness to the image but reduced even further the amount of light coming out of the projector.

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