You’ve seen it ten thousand times over the course of your movie viewing life – a raking shot of two people in the front seat of a car as they drive along the streets.  Though there’s nothing innovative or remarkable going on here, there are a few things worth mentioning.  Find this scene at the 0:19:00 mark…

            According to the diagram, passenger Harrison Ford and driver John Spencer are lit by separate units that are well flagged off from each other.  Since the windshield is covered with Half-Spun diffusion, both lamps blended together to form a single source – and each actor received considerable spill from the unit diagonally across from them.  If nothing, Willis’ approach was always about finding the shortest distance between two points.  The same effect could have been achieved using one light and no flag; I had seen him do exactly that many times before.  Unfortunately, I never got the chance to ask him what he was thinking in this case.

            Also note that he was working at a deep stop – T11 – which carried focus for both actors.  This was important because there was no coverage at all (save for an insert of some papers in Ford’s hands).  Today this would be considered a “brave” choice, but for a smart director and cinematographer it was merely the correct one.  It’s a short scene that relays some pivotal information to the viewer; as with the rest of the movie, their approach was to let the story unfold in as unobtrusive way as possible.

            But in spite of its simplicity, don’t think this was a casual decision.  Doing it in a one-er meant camera placement was of supreme importance.  That Harrison Ford is locked in the foreground and appears as the largest object in frame was no accident.

            As camera operators and focus pullers the world over are fond of saying, “Always go with the money, baby!”



  1. Perhaps Willis was trying to make Ford slightly brighter to compensate for his tan, I don’t know. I like the deep focus, I’ve done that for raking 2-shots in cars, sometimes with a tilt-focus lens, sometimes just by stopping down, sometimes both. Beats the AC trying to ping-pong the focus to follow the dialogue while listening over headphones on a moving vehicle… Thanks for the info!

  2. I have one question from your notes, Richard.
    From the diagram and the info from your notes, on the bottom it reports “1 under”. I assume it means he requested to stop down from the correct exposure reading. Also, from the notes, he used HMI in daylight and an 85 plus ND .6 filter, to give stop down 2 stops and give some orange tint back.
    It’s interesting, with plenty of options and at T-11, that he requested to go “1 under” instead of using a T-16 or an 85N9. Was it because there wasn’t time to adjust the filtration, the lenses couldn’t close more than 11, or the exterior from the window couldn’t be controlled?
    Thank you always for the great posts!

  3. Luigi – Willis would always assign a specific measure of exposure to every shot we did – and it would go into the notes in case we ever had to reshoot or add to the scene. In this case the “1 under” indicates we were exposing at a full stop under the key reading (which in this case would’ve been T8). I don’t recall him ever stopping down deeper than T11, as at T16 other issues would start to kick in. And the only reason we were at T11 was for the added depth of field. Surely there are a lot of ways to skin a cat but he chose this one and stuck to it. I hope this answers your question!

  4. f.11!! It’s wild to think how this would be done today, when – God forbid!- you must NEVER stop down beyond 5.6!

    I try to remember that limitations (technical/political/exposure/etc) are a darn GOOD thing- they force us to be bolder and hopefully more honest…

    This shot seems very honest to me, and I love that the specs back it up!

  5. Alan – Who says ‘you never stop down beyond 5.6?’ You couldn’t execute this shot unless you did exactly that!

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