Down To Earth was my second go-round with good friends Paul and Chris Weitz, who co-directed. It’s a remake of Warren Beatty and Buck Henry’s Heaven Can Wait (1978; shot by William A. Fraker, ASC) – which itself was a remake of Alexander Hall’s 1941 comedy, Here Comes Mr. Jordan (photographed by Joseph Walker, ASC).
The premise is simple. A careless heavenly emissary (Eugene Levy) prematurely takes the life of stand-up comic Lance Barton (Chris Rock); the ensuing hunt for a replacement body leads to many funny moments. This scene occurs just as the uncomprehending Barton reaches heaven, which is presented as a swinging cocktail party featuring guests who reach back to the beginning of time. The set was dressed within a former restaurant space at a Hudson’s Bay department store in Toronto. It was huge – as big as any soundstage – and we used every inch of it to our best advantage.
During prep we decided that the heaven scenes had to have an appreciably cooler tone than the rest of the movie. This meant rigging the set lights on the blue side – while foreground lighting was kept normal. To nudge things in that direction, I lined the baseboards of the room with daylight balanced (5600˚K) Kino Flos; each tube was sheathed in Lee #68 Sky Blue gel. Back lights were also given the chilly treatment by virtue of Full CTB gel. All were overexposed from one to one and a half stops.
1K PAR cans were placed in intervals from an overhead grid in order to create some hotter spots on the dance floor. Those were blessed with the Full CTB treatment as well.
In order to create some color contrast, foregrounds were lit for tungsten (3200˚K) color temperature and underexposed one half to one full stop.
Paul, Chris and I had discussed the possibility of flooding the place with smoke from dry ice or another source but ultimately decided not to. It had already been done in the Beatty\Henry version and the money\time\logistics pipeline couldn’t support it. After extensive testing, a cherry was placed on top in the form of a #1 Tiffen White ProMist filter (the rest of the film was shot without filtration, save for 85 daylight correction).
The cocktail tables were also lit to tungsten standard; doing so really gave the scene some pop. This was effected by 500W practical bulbs rigged inside China balls and hidden under the silk tablecloths. Wired to dimmers, I used a spot meter to set the exposure level for each one – one at a time. In general, they were locked at one stop over key (T2.8), while the people seated there were lit to one stop under.
We shot a great deal more footage on this set than what made the final film. I tend to be disappointed when that happens because I always feel the best work got left behind. But what you see here is not too bad. In fact, having not reviewed it for a very long time, I’m very pleased!