I initially planned to begin posting another cinematography giant’s lighting diagrams this week, but a glance over The Money Pit batch changed my mind.  This was a different kind of film for Gordon Willis, ASC, a full-on comedy that called for a much softer touch than the one used for Presumed Innocent’s murder mystery.  As a reinterpretation of the 1948 classic Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (H.C. Potter\James Wong Howe, ASC) there was a lot to live up to.  I recall Willis saying he had never seen the original, and that’s not surprising.  He never let himself be influenced by anyone else’s work.

            Nonetheless, his control of the image in The Money Pit is as strong and tasteful as in anything else he shot.  That the genre might seem somewhat beneath his talents did not go unacknowledged.  One day during lunch on the loading gate of the camera truck, someone mentioned the divide between the heaviness of The Godfather and the frivolity of what we were currently working on.  Willis’ gift as a cinematographer was matched only by his wit and insight.  “Sometimes,” he replied, “you have to be a businessman.”

            You can see this clip at 00:18:32…   The treatment of this shot is notable only because it’s a night\exterior that’s so simply mounted.  No banks of Maxi Brutes mounted on articulated-armed 120′ Condors, no Musco or BeBee lights, no scissor lifts decorated with an array of PAR cans, no armada of helium-filled balloon lights hovering over the background…  Just four 10K’s spaced 50′ to 70′ apart that create pools of light which the subject passes through.  And note that they’re all mounted on stands…quick to put up and quick to come down.

            Willis laid on a little diffusion in the form of a Mitchell A 1\2.  By underexposing a full stop he added to the nighttime feel by suppressing the effect of the 10K’s.  Strategically placed flags and cutters also helped shape the light and kept it from blasting all over the place.

            This was very much a 1970’s-rooted approach to shooting a night\exterior.  In most cases nowadays there would be more reliance on backlight and bringing depth and texture to the background.  Willis did in fact embrace that style at different points in his career, but in the interest of sparing time and stress on the crew and budget for what is essentially just a pass-by, this was a very wise way to go about it.  Let’s be honest…it’s not the most beautiful thing he ever photographed, but it’s only onscreen for a couple of seconds and does what it’s supposed to do.

            The Money Pit was directed by Richard Benjamin and was shot in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  It was processed and the dailies printed at DuArt Film Laboratory in new York City.  Release prints were struck by DeLuxe Laboratory in Hollywood.


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