Master Classes

Two Sundays ago I took a few master classes in cinematography. The morning session was taught by Ron Dexter whose website includes some of the information he shared in the class.

The first half of the afternoon session was taught by Daniel Pearl who shot both the original and remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He has shot a lot of recognizable commercials, including many for Gatorade and the award winning Motorola commercial "Wings" (check out his sports reel and general reel). Pearl favors high contrast cinematography, and one of the interesting things he said was that modern film stocks are so good that they almost work against DP's striving for high contrast. First thing most DPs say when they are sitting in telecine is to crush the blacks.

Pearl's class consisted of watching clips from his reel followed by Q&A after each clip. The second half of the afternoon class, in constrast, consisted of an actual lighting workshop taught by Rodrigo Prieto, the DP most famous for his work with Alejandro González Iñárritu on Babel, 21 Grams, and Amores Perros but who has also shot films like Brokeback Mountain, Alexander, 8 Mile, and Frida.

Prieto chose to recreate the lighting from the final scene of Lust, Caution which he just finished shooting for Ang Lee. Without giving away the story, Prieto told us that the last scene consists of Tony Leung entering a dark room from the hallway, walking over to sit on a bed, and then standing and walking back out the door. On a small stage at the Mole Richardson building he set about recreating the lighting from his memory and then shooting two shots on a Viper camera brought in for the class.

I hadn't heard much about Lust, Caution, but any movie directed by Ang Lee and starring Tony Leung is going to hook me (it's adapted from this book by Eileen Chang). Prieto discussed the challenges of trying to control soft light, and he walked us through how he dealt with several tricky lighting issues he ran into for these last two shots. Several LCD monitors were set up around the room so we could get a sense of what the camera was seeing.

The camaraderie among cinematographers never fails to impress me. You'd think people who have to compete for work would be guarded and jealous, but DP's always seem willing to share their techniques and knowledge with others. Prieto was as personable a guy as you'll meet in the film world.

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