Writer William Roberts continues to draw Gregg Toland, ASC out in the February 1941 issue of Modern Screen. His article was titled, Shooting For the Stars.
I inquired about Toland’s most recent and celebrated patient, Orson Welles.
“Shot ‘Citizen Kane’ in sixteen weeks,” explained Toland. “It’s an unusual picture. For example, we worked with no beams or parallels (to hold spots) for the first time in Hollywood history. All sets were given natural ceilings, which made bright lighting difficult but also made for realism.
“Orson Welles was an interesting type to shoot, especially his characterization, changing from a lad of twenty-five to an old man of seventy, and wearing, in old age, blood-shot glass-caps over his eyes.
“His problem, today, will depend on whether audiences prefer him as a character actor or as himself. I like one quality in his acting and direction. Stubbornness. He would bitterly fight every technical problem that came up. Never say die. Never.”
Gregg Toland confessed that the one defect he’d found in most actors and actresses was discoloration and lines or wrinkles under their eyes. “Were we to leave them natural, it would make them appear tired and haggard on the screen, especially since they are amplified so greatly. So, I place bright spotlights directly in their faces, which wash out these lines and make their faces smoother.”
Then Toland began discussing technical problems in a very untechnical manner. It was a liberal education in cinema craft. He spoke fondly of “The Grapes of Wrath.” Said he enjoyed much of it because he was able to shoot his favorite type of scene – building somber moods through shadowy low-keyed lighting, such as the opening candlelight scene in that classic of the soil. “We slaved, Jack Ford and I, to make that picture real,” Toland revealed. “We sent the cast out to acquire good healthy sunburns. We threw away soft diffusion lenses. We shot the whole thing candid-camera style, like a newsreel. That’s the trend today in Hollywood. Realism.”
“Of course,” he added, “sometimes realism is attained only through complete trickery. Remember the third or fourth shot in the beginning of ‘The Long Voyage Home?’ The scene of the ship floating and rocking on the water? Here’s how that was done. I had the studio build half a miniature boat, set it on a dry stage. Then I took a pan full of plain water, placed it on a level with my lens – and shot my scene over this pan of water, catching the boat and giving the perfect illusion of its being in the water. But I better not tell you too much of that. Trade secrets, you know. You better have another beer …”