Merry Christmas…!

            I day-played as an assistant cameraman on this 1985 film so I don’t have too much to offer in terms of lighting information or anecdotes.  The chart I’ve provided says a lot though, and I suggest you give it a close look.

            As with last Friday’s post, it describes a film-within-the-film scenario.  Mounted in the style of a 1930’s screwball comedy, this vignette eventually sets the plot in motion when Jeff Daniels’ character of Tom Baxter magically steps off the screen and into the life of Mia Farrow’s character, Cecilia.  These black and white passages are spread throughout the story and are easy to find on the DVD.

            Some of this black and white material was cleanly cut into the body of the film (which was shot in color).  Other parts were re-photographed with an audience in the foreground as it was projected at the Kent Theater, a neighborhood fleapit that was taken over by the production.  Located on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, it’s still in business today.  For those shots we had to sync the camera’s shutter to the projector’s shutter by way of a junction box (created by Panavision) and a hard wire that ran from the camera to the projector.

            Willis once again chose his favorite black and white stock, Kodak’s 5222.  I don’t know why he chose to shoot with a 160˚ shutter angle here as opposed to his more traditional 180˚ or 200˚; I suppose he had something in mind regarding the period feeling he was trying to recreate.  Ordinarily, he would have also used a 40mm lens; instead he opted for the 50mm, which was the go-to focal length for most applications during the 1930’s.  This portion of the film was shot in 1.33:1 aspect ratio; the remainder in 1.85:1.

            The set was lavishly dressed and decorated and I recall feeling as if we were traveling back in time that day…at least while we were shooting.  Once again, developing and printing were handled by DuArt Film Laboratory in NYC.



  1. Richard, Notice that Gordon called out the Gamma (contrast) of 0.65 he wanted the B&W film developed to. In my experience, most modern cameraman weren’t aware that the contrast could could be adjusted for B&W negatives in processing. Not so with color negatives, where the use of exploding couplers in the color dyes locked in the contrast within the first few seconds of developing, thus forcing cameramen to rely on techniques like flashing the negative or print to modify the contrast. In my experience with Gordon on “Stardust Memories” he was very demanding that Technicolor’s gammas were precisely correct.

  2. Rob – Merry Christmas once again…and you are so right. Not to mention, here are DuArt’s median numbers from that very time:

    Camera Negative: .65 gamma
    Fine Grain Positive: 1.40 to 1.45 gamma
    Dupe Negative From Fine Grain: .55 gamma
    Check Print: 2.60 gamma

    Willis and the people he was working with knew precisely what they were doing in a way most don’t understand today!

  3. As a beginner, I remember reading two American Cinematographer articles where the cinematographer mentioned picking a gamma to develop the b&w film to — on “Rumblefish” (Stephen Burum) and “Young Frankenstein” (Gerald Hirschfeld).

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