It doesn’t get simpler than this: two guys (Scott Caan and Freddie Prinze, Jr.) talking it out under a streetlight in static frames.

            What might make it notable is this scene’s setting beside the Cyclone Roller Coaster in Coney Island.  It’s a grand, ancient structure that presented countless opportunities to exploit its architecture (especially in anamorphic format!), but in this case performance took precedence and the best graphics were left on the cutting room floor.

            Believe it not, that was a good thing.  The old saying declares that you’ve lost your audience if they leave the theater humming the music.  That also applies to the cinematography.  Though we strive to do our best with every shot, story and characters are all that really matter.  Just call to mind some of the movies you’ve loved that weren’t particularly well shot.  The sub-par imagery didn’t affect you at all.  Then turn it around and imagine a few that were beautifully mounted but otherwise lacking.  In those cases, the photography couldn’t save the day.  Things fall apart quickly when images call too much attention to themselves – when look overpowers narrative.  It’s something to be avoided, especially when you’re tempted to choose the showier option.

            This is not a reflexive impulse among young cinematographers.  Like everything else worthwhile, it takes time and effort to develop.  But when they finally understand that their job is to create a mood while remaining invisible, they’re on their way to doing something meaningful…and perhaps, memorable.

            Even so, there is a small personal touch on display.  Brooklyn Rules takes place in the 1980’s; I used sheets of Lee Antique Brass gel over the key lights to deliver a color exactly as I remember it from that time.



  1. Hi Richard, FINALLY connected with this impressive site tonight and wow- thanks for all the generous insight and thoughtfulness about our work!
    This dilemma you eloquently mention of when “look overpowers narrative” is, I think, the very fundamental dilemma we visual-obsessives continually wrestle with… I know I still do. Knowing when to ‘get out of the way’ of the story is something I think we all should humble ourselves to pay much attention to. It is also extra complicated because the business (producers, studios, awards scene, etc) -and even audiences- seem to notice the ‘showier’ work, and consider the more subtle and “story-first” cinematography to be rather “invisible” (which I feel is a great complement TBH). This perhaps seems to be changing a bit, what with Roger Deakins’ very overdue Oscars, but I hope that we will keep the focus and art on the service of the story, with authenticity and honesty! Anyway, Bravo on this site- I am inspired and grateful for your generosity here!

  2. Thank you for the kind words, Alan! I suppose this situation has been in place since the beginning of motion pictures. Most audiences don’t really know what they’re looking at unless it smacks them right in the face, which is what the showy images do. Unfortunately, a lot of execs and creatives fall into the same trap. In general, I think we just need to do what we think is best for the film and let the chips fall where they may.

  3. Lovely post! I always tell my cinematography students: “Shoot for the story, not for your reel.” As a cinematographer, your job is to tell a story and deliver emotions visually. Cinematography is subtle art that shouldn’t attract the attention to itself, but it should be felt every time.

  4. I’m wondering how the scene would have been different if
    the roller coaster had been up and running with the actors shouting
    over the noise. I assume the scene was meant to be subdued as they
    the loss of their friend. The roller coaster does have a powerful, yet eerie quiet presence. Also, was the elevated train shot in order to relate
    to the sounds you hear of the train on the tracks in the background?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *