Sub-zero night exteriors on a blizzard-swept British Columbian mountainside… What more could a cinematographer ask for?
Well, for one thing I wanted a simple way to illuminate a huge expanse that would give flexibility to multiple cameras covering a free-for-all downhill ski race. The lamps would have to be mounted high in the air in order to keep them out of frame; to preserve the night effect and give some shape to the look, I also needed to keep as much spill off the snow as possible.
Condors and Musco-type units would’ve been the first choice, but there wasn’t enough level ground on which to base them. Instead, we built 80′ parallel (6’x6′ scaffolding) towers on both sides of the course and topped them with 20K fresnels. Easily secured and spaced at 100′ intervals, they provided plenty of punch from just short of the dense forest that lined the perimeter. Because they were tungsten units, I was able to use dimmers to set their levels according to the specificities of the shots – and this was very important. I didn’t want to overflow the mountainside with light. By keeping the cameras on essentially the same axis, the ability to individually adjust the 20K’s was an enormous help in controlling the look. And while I didn’t win every one of those battles, watching this footage for the first time in many years reminds me that I won the majority of them.
Each lamp was manned by an operator who was also responsible for placing a 4’x4′ solid “bottomer” flag under his 20K so as to attenuate the light hitting the hillside closest to the tower.
I used Kodak 5277 negative, a relatively new stock at the time. I chose it because it held highlights especially well, which was important during the many sun-and-snow, high-contrast day exteriors I was faced with. And even though this movie is a comedy and generally lit for an up-key feel, the ’77’s characteristics allowed me to approach it with a little more of an edge than usual.
Keep an eye out for the amazing stunt work executed by some of the best snow boarders in the world. Any close shots you see of our actors and such stars as Zach Galifianakis and Jason London were done in a controlled way on sleds that were towed by snow machines.