As a Director of Photography, Richard Crudo most recently lensed two of 1999's biggest summer hits, Universal's American Pie and Miramax's Outside Providence. Among his many other credits are the screen version of David Mamet's seminal piece American Buffalo (MGM, starring Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Franz) and Music From Another Room (also from MGM, starring Jude Law, Gretchen Mol and Jennifer Tilly). Additionally, Mr. Crudo has photographed a number of highly acclaimed independent features, including Federal Hill (in black and white, starring Nick Turturro) and The Low Life (starring Kyra Sedgwick).
Born in Brooklyn, NY, Mr. Crudo earned a bachelor's degree from St. John's University and a master's degree from Columbia University. He began his film career as an Assistant Cameraman in 1978. During the 1980s, he served on the camera crew for a variety of major features, including Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Ishtar, The Money Pit, Raising Arizona, The Silence of the Lambs, Ghostbusters 2, Dead Poet's Society, Field of Dreams and Presumed Innocent. He became a Director of Photography in 1990.
Since then, Mr. Crudo's work has consistently drawn positive notice within the critical community. Of his work in Federal Hill, The New York Post's Thelma Adams wrote, "cinematographer Richard Crudo's images have the clarity of ebony and pearl…" while Gene Siskel raved "…the photography here is something marvelous and indeed is one of the film's high points."
Kenneth Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote about the indie favorite The Low Life: "Cinematographer Richard Crudo captures beautifully the scarred derelict interiors and exteriors that characterize great swathes of our City of Angeles." In reviewing American Buffalo, The Toronto Arts Newspaper stated: "…the cinematography makes the film look like an Edward Hopper painting." Even the teen comedy American Pie was noticed by the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morganstern as being "handsomely photographed."
Richard Crudo is currently preparing to shoot the Paramount feature I Was Made to Love Her, a remake of the classic 1978 film Heaven Can Wait. The new version will star Chris Rock and will be co-directed by Chris and Paul Weitz.
(Published November 7, 1999)
A Conversation with the Director of Photography About His Work, How He Got His Start and Keeping Up with Technology
In September, journalist Bob Fisher caught up with Director of Photography Richard Crudo for an interview on his career. The two sat down with for a couple of hours at the Guild office to chat about a variety of subjects: his latest movie, American Pie, which just grossed $100 million, how he got started in the industry and the difference between working in New York and Los Angeles.
QUESTION: Can you trace the roots of your interest in cinematography?
CRUDO: I got interested in still photography and read American Cinematographer and other magazines as a teenager. I studied film at St. John’s University, and one of my instructors was a commercial director. I latched onto to his crew as a P.A., which began to give me an idea of how things work. Once I got on a set, and actually saw what happened, it all crystallized. My plan was to go on to grad school at Columbia University and work as a P.A. and loader on non-union productions while I was waiting to get into the Guild.
QUESTION: Was it hard to get into the Local in those days?
CRUDO: That was around 20 years ago, 1979 or 1980. You almost had to be born into it at that stage. The local in New York at that time was very small. There were probably less than 400 members, maybe 350, and only 75 to 80 of them actually made their living on camera crews. They weren’t real enthusiastic about wanting new members.
QUESTION: How did you handle that?
CRUDO: I was one of, I think, five people who got into the Guild (in New York) around that time. We use to joke that they must have needed a quick infusion of cash. It was a lot different than today. You didn’t qualify based on days of experience. You had to pass a test, and there was a rigorous process involved. First, you had to pay a fee to fill out an application. It was very rudimentary. Then, you waited for maybe a year to see if you were going to be allowed to apply. When and if that happened, you filled out a much more detailed application, and if you got past that, you were interviewed by a panel, which I called the 12 angry men. You’d sit down at one end of a long table. There were these 12 old guard guys on the other side. It was very imposing, because you didn’t know who they were, and the truth is that they all acted kind of mean. I felt like they really wanted me to turn tail and run. If you got through that process, you were allowed to apply for membership, which meant you gave them some more money and waited another couple of years until you were called for a test.
QUESTION: What was that like?
CRUDO: You showed up at Panavision, in New York, on a Saturday at 8 a.m., and there were 15 stations with 15 different setups of cameras in cases. You can to work your way around the stations and assemble all 15 cameras by 5 p.m. All the while, there were people grading you and giving you a hard time. It was like day one of boot camp for future cameramen. The trick was you had to know about all of these cameras, and some of them weren’t real common in production. There also were a lot of obscure devices, which I haven’t seen since I took that test. The only way to learn about them was to visit the rental houses in your free time, and if they were slow, and you persistently hounded them, they’d let you play with the gear. They knew me at all the rental houses.
QUESTION: What motivated you to want to get into the Guild at that point?
CRUDO: They were making real movies. In New York, NABET, at that time, was primarily involved in providing crews for commercials and very low budget films -- what we characterize as independent features today. I was much more interested in working on mainstream Hollywood features. By then, I knew the history and traditions of the Guild, and I could see that the best cinematographers and crews working on the best pictures were members of the Guild. There was a vast gap between the films they were making and the work being done by NABET members. I considered them real movies -- the type I had wanted to be associated with since I was a kid.
QUESTION: Was that a decision you came to right away or did it evolve?
CRUDO: I was finished with school, and was beginning to work and meet people in the industry from both sides of the track, and it very quickly became very clear to me.
QUESTION: I’m presuming you passed the test, and assembled those 15 cameras. What was the next step?
CRUDO: There was also a written test, which was quite easy. It just dealt with basic photography questions and procedures. After you got through the Saturday crucible, and assembled the 15 cameras, you waited anxiously for a couple of weeks, waiting to hear if you passed. I was very fortunate; I got in on my first try.
QUESTION: Then what happened?
CRUDO: Then I wrote a big check, and began looking for work. I had made some contacts with a few Guild cameramen who were doing newsmagazine and documentary work, including Greg Andracke and Chuck Levey. There were working for programs like 60 Minutes and 20/20 which were still being shot on film. I spent a lot of time with Greg, in particular. He’s a great guy, and he was a terrific mentor. I also did many jobs with Chuck Levey for 60 minutes, 20/20, PBS -- a lot of documentaries, nature and medical films. We shot in prisons all over the country for one program. All of those programs were produced on 16 mm film, so I learned a lot about exposure, composition, working under pressure, and also using natural light sources. Chuck was also one of the roving newsreel guys at Woodstock during the great concert, though that was before my time.
QUESTION: Do you think those early experiences helped you later on?
CRUDO: Very much so -- just the exposure to the whole ethic of what we do, and the camaraderie -- there were never more than four or five of us who would travel together. It was documentaries and magazine stories, but I began to learn a way of thinking about what it takes to work with a crew and make sure the job is done right. All of that is still with me today. They say you learn from your mistakes, and that’s also true.
QUESTION: You were also doing reality filming with minimalist resources.
CRUDO: It was extremely minimalist work, and a lot of it was done on the fly. I remember a documentary on prisons, where the producer, director and cinematographer had a very precise plan. We showed up at the location with certain expectations, and because of internal politics or something, everything had to be done entirely differently. Those experiences were really useful at that stage because I could see how the cameraman adjusted, and never showed his angst to the network producer and director. He just did what he needed to do to get the job done right. That made it easier on everyone else, and I could see that the producer knew that the cameraman was the guy who kept his head. That was an important part of my education. They can’t teach that in school.
QUESTION: How did you do your cross over into doing narrative work?
CRUDO: That was always my goal. I worked hard at meeting people and making contacts. Occasionally, I’d catch some days on a B camera as a loader or a second AC. During the early 1980s, I hooked up with Doug Hart who was very kind to me. At that time, Doug was working for Gordon Willis (ASC) as a first assistant, and he brought me into that orbit. I worked on a couple of pictures with Doug and Gordon and a lot of commercials. That was in the early through the mid-1980s.
QUESTION: What were some of the pictures?
CRUDO: Broadway Danny Rose, Purple Rose of Cairo and The Money Pit.
QUESTION: What were you actually doing?
CRUDO: I was second AC.
QUESTION: What did you learn from watching Gordon Willis at work?
CRUDO: It was like a dream come true. Suddenly, I was working for the guy who shot The Godfather, Godfather II and all of those great Woody Allen pictures from the 1970s and ‘80s -- Annie Hall, Manhattan and Stardust Memories. Broadway Danny Rose was black and white. He got an Oscar nomination for Zelig. I remember thinking; life couldn’t get better than this. How lucky can you get? I was like a human sponge. There wasn’t a moment when my brain wasn’t working overtime, because I knew this was an absolutely invaluable, once in a lifetime, experience. I was determined to capitalize on it, and to this day I still draw on a lot of what I learned then.
QUESTION: Can you give me an example?
CRUDO: It’s not necessarily about imitating anything specific that he does. I don’t believe that anyone could ever successfully imitate Gordon Willis or anyone else. I don’t even think I have it in me to imitate Gordon at that level at this point in my career-- or at any point. It’s just not my style to want to imitate verbatim. But, I learned so much from watching how he works and approaches the job. He has a way of simplifying, and stripping things down things to the barest essentials. He is always totally focussed on serving the story. Gordon always used to say that it took him 30 years to learn to be simple. I never understood what he meant until I became a cinematographer and discovered how hard it is to be simple. That’s absolutely the biggest challenge I face. I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that’s true for most of us this stage of our careers. I’m not talking about technical issues. That’s hardly worth worrying about, because if you haven’t mastered the technology at this point in your career, it’s time to rethink your future. I’m talking about taste, your approach to getting the work done, and your philosophy about serving the story. How is that little shot in this scene going to serve the story and the film as it’s going to cut? How will it play with all the other elements? Gordy has remarkable foresight. He never spoke about, what a great shot this is – it was always about the story. I also learned that no matter how much you plan, how much you scout, how you break the script down, it always comes down to that moment when you are shooting, and so many other things can happen and influence you at that moment -- the director, the actors, or just whatever you feel in the air at that moment. The single greatest challenge is to recognize those opportunities and do it simply and elegantly in a way that best serves the story.
QUESTION: So, you learned more about human factors than techniques?
CRUDO: The most important qualities you can have as a cinematographer is your taste and your ability to make the right choices. It’d not about T-stops, lamps and film stocks, although you need to master the craft if you going to achieve the goal of simplicity. You need total mastery over the craft, otherwise the elegance of your simple idea is meaningless. Gordon always used the example of a painter. A person might have a great idea for a painting, but if you don't know how to paint, your idea isn’t worth anything. I thought it was kind of funny, but now I know it’s true. You have to master your tools and be able to execute, so you can do what you want to do. No one does that better than Gordon Willis. He has mastered use of all the tools, lighting, the camera, composition, lenses, everything we have in the box. His films are literally flawless. But beyond that, there is a lot of thought behind everything he does, and a lot of wisdom.
QUESTION: How did you advance from second assistant to the next step?
CRUDO: I eventually got chances on B camera on a lot of films. I was very fortunate. My timing was right. There was a great crowd of talented people working in New York and a lot of good features were being produced, at least partially, in the city. Gordon would only do one picture a year, and that left me with a lot of time free.
QUESTION: Who were some of the other people you worked with?
CRUDO: I worked on Ghost Busters: 2 with Michael Chapman (ASC). That was a real interesting experience. Michael was Gordon’s operator for years, but he’s a fabulous cameraman in his own right. He shot Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and other great films. It was a totally different experience. Gordon’s set is generally as quiet as a church. Everybody tiptoes around. They are very respectful of the actors, Gordon and the director. You can just feel that there is a lot of heavy thought going on. This film sounded like the invasion of Europe. There were five cameras and a Steadicam standing by. A lot of it was done on the fly. It was a lot of fun, and a different way of working. I was assigned to Larry McConkey, the Steadicam operator for the entire shoot in New York. At one point, we didn’t do anything for 26 days. That gave me a chance to watch Michael Chapman work. It was another seminal experience that I still draw on today.
QUESTION: Who else did you work with during that period?
CRUDO: I spent a lot of time with Larry McConkey as his first assistant, and also with Ted Churchill, and other Steadicam operators during the ‘80s. Usually, we’d spend only a couple of days or a week on a film and then go somewhere else. That gave me small tastes of how many different cinematographers work in different situations.
QUESTION: When did you get your first chance to shoot?
CRUDO: During the late 1980s, I started shooting student films, some promotional films for companies, a few documentaries, and some very low budget work, which never saw the light of day. It was a fabulous training ground. I shot whenever I could.
QUESTION: Did you always know what you wanted to do was shoot? Was there ever a time when you wanted to be the world’s best first assistant, operator or maybe a director?
CRUDO: I always know that I wanted to shoot, but I wanted to learn the job from the inside out and from the bottom up. That made all the difference in the world. I know the tendency today is for everybody to want to start at the top. I never bought into that, because I knew what I didn’t know, and I was committed to spending the time needed to gain experience. That’s something nobody can take it away from me. I saw how people like Gordon Willis and Michael Chapman work, and learned everybody else’s job. I’ve learned there is no substitute for dedication. You can’t get by faking it in this industry. I’ve learned the importance of serenity even when there’s all kinds of chaos going on around you. You don’t learn that in school. Some people are coming right out of school shooting music videos and moving on to features. Maybe that works for some people, but I think there are real advantages which come from spending some time in the trenches.
QUESTION: When did you get your first chance to actually shoot a narrative film?
CRUDO: I shot a short film called Title Shot in 1989 with (director) Michael Corrente. I subsequently I did a couple of movies, including Federal Hill, American Buffalo and Outside Providence with him.
QUESTION: How did you get that first film with him?
CRUDO: We were friends socially in New York. He was working as a carpenter in New York City, and he had written a script called Federal Hill. He wanted to direct it, and I was going to shoot it. We spent a couple of years in the late 1980s trying to put that deal together. It was next to impossible. Eventually, he raised $80,000 through friends and neighbors, and in 1993, we got the chance to shoot his film, and prior to that we had done a number of shorts and trailers with the idea of raising the money.
QUESTION: Federal Hill was the first feature you shot?
CRUDO: That was the first one that anyone noticed. I shot a horror movie in Connecticut that has disappeared. Title Shot was an hour-long piece that we shot in 1989 that was going to end up as part of the body of Federal Hill but never did.
QUESTION: You guys made a seminal decision to shoot Federal Hill in black and white. What was that about?
CRUDO: Truthfully that was Michael’s decision. I was his good lieutenant. Trimark Pictures picked the film up and decided to colorize the home video version, and that got a lot of publicity at the time. It turned out to be a lucky break, in a way. David Mamet heard about that, subsequently saw Federal Hill, and apparently liked what he saw. That’s how Michael and I got to work on American Buffalo, a film based on one of his (Mamet’s) plays, starring Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Franz. That was in 1996.
QUESTION: Let’s go back. Why was Federal Hill shot in black and white?
CRUDO: It was (Kodak) Plus X negative. We both felt black and white film suited this story. It was an independent film made on an $80,000 budget. We didn’t have to answer to any one. Michael felt thematically that these characters see everything in their world as black and white, and I agreed. It was something worth doing because we didn’t know if we’d ever get another chance to shoot a film in black and white. He didn’t do it on a whim. It was something we thought about long and hard.
QUESTION: What happened?
CRUDO: It got picked up by Trimark and got a limited release with some decent critical notice. About six to eight months later they decided to colorize the home video release for stores across the country. But they decided to send it out to the distributors in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago in two packs, one color and one black and white, so more ‘sophisticated’ or discriminating viewers would have a choice. It was colorized by a company called CST, Color Systems Technologies, in Culver City, and I supervised the process. The technicians had originally colorized it like a Bugs Bunny cartoon from the 1930s. Basically, what I did was eliminate as much color as I could. It looks pretty horrible. Everybody looks embalmed. CST went out of business shortly thereafter, which I thought of as justice.
QUESTION: You became a cause for the Artists Rights Foundation.
CRUDO: It was the first time in film history that a movie was colorized while the director was still alive. What it came down to is that they were going to ship 5,000 cassettes in black and white or 50,000 if it was colorized. That was the trade-off. A month or two before the decision to colorize was actually made, Michael was at a video jobbers convention in Minnesota, and he was talking to one of the major jobbers, who claimed people won’t rent or buy black and white films. I don’t believe it. I haven’t met a person yet who said black and white puts them off. We showed Federal Hill at festivals and on college campuses, and I asked audiences if they were bothered by the black and white images? I never heard one dissenting vote, and these weren’t film buffs. People accept black and white on MTV, in commercials and classic films. Why not new films?
QUESTION: When did you decide to be a full-time shooter and give up crew work?
CRUDO: Just before I shot Federal Hill in 1991-92. I didn’t have a heck of a lot of responsibilities and nobody to support, so I figured that was the right time to do it. It was my life’s dream and I didn’t think I had anything left to learn as an assistant cameraman. It was a slow evolution getting to that point, of course, but the absolute decision came in a snap. It wasn’t easy leaving behind a fairly busy career as an assistant, but it’s the same thing when you upgrade from second to first assistant and from first assistant to operator. One of the basic rules in this industry is that you have to flounder on your own. No one can decide when you are ready for the next step but you.
QUESTION: At what point did you get an agent?
CRUDO: Right after Federal Hill was released. They came after me, actually. I was very briefly with one agency, and I could see it just wasn’t going to work. As soon as I made it known that I was looking out for a change, I hooked up with the people I’m still with, Wayne Fitterman and Pete Franciosa at UTA (United Talent Agency). It’s very important decision, even though the huge majority of jobs are based on your relationships and word of mouth. An agent can give you more of a presence in the community and they can make introductions. Let’s face it, cinematographers are isolated in a lot of ways. We manage big crews, but we are basically in a very solitary job. I remember Michael Chapman saying a cinematographer is like being the maiden in the corner at a dance. You have to wait until somebody asks you to dance.
QUESTION: When did you decide to move to Los Angeles?
CRUDO: In 1990. It was quiet in New York, and there just weren’t enough opportunities for cinematographers at my level of experience compared to Los Angeles. It was something that I’d had in back of my mind for a long time. It was an easy transition, because I like living in California.
QUESTION: Having been in the Guild in New York, what did you think of the merger?
CRUDO: I think it’s great and long, long overdue. There have been some growing pains, but that’s natural. I think already we’re starting to see the road ahead is a lot smoother.
QUESTION: What has been happening since your move to Los Angeles?
CRUDO: I’ve picked up 12 or 13 credits, mainly independent features. Federal Hill, and a very cute little film called Rave Review directed by a guy named Jeff Seymour ( ?) It got a very limited release. American Buffalo was picked up and released by Goldwyn, and now it’s in MGM’s library. I did a film with a director named George Hickenlooper, called The Low Life. It was a very interesting independent film that got limited distribution. I did one movie that I’m very proud of that really got the bad end of the stick. It’s called Music From Another Room. It was an Orion production, and now its in the MGM library. It’s a romantic comedy directed by Charlie Peters, with a great cast. It kind of fell through the cracks during distribution, but it’s doing terrific business in home video stores where an audience is finding it. I shot Bongwater, Outside Providence, and First to Go and a couple of other films. They’re all in video stores. That’s the toughest part of this business. You have so little control over your fate.
QUESTION: American Pie was your first studio film. How was that transition?
CRUDO: It was very easy, Chris (producer) and Paul Weitz (director) are terrific
guys. They are brothers, and they actually directed the movie together, although only Pual was credited as director, because the DGA wouldn’t let them take co-directing credits. They did an outstanding job. It was a low budget film as far as Universal Studios was concerned. It was only a $10 million budget and we shot it in 36 days.
QUESTION: Did you ever think you’d say it was only a $10 million budget?
CRUDO: It was luxurious compared to a film like Federal Hill. We had everything we needed and there wasn’t a bad 30 seconds. Everything worked as reliably as a Swiss watch. I think a lot of that was due to Chris and Paul being very open and very appreciative of everybody’s input and contributions. They are very smart guys who know how to explain or describe what they want
QUESTION: What was it like being the experienced person on a film?
CRUDO: It was a great feeling to have something to say and people who were interested in my opinions and ideas. Every movie isn’t going to be a commercial success, but it is still rewarding to feel that you brought something to the table, and you ended up with a great collaboration with a director, and a film that is better than expected.
QUESTION: What was it like after nearly 10 years of shooting films, to wake up on a Monday morning and find American Pie was number one over a summer weekend?
CRUDO: It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that so many people are seeing something you helped to create and they are enjoying it. Chris and Paul and I drove around on opening night, and we ducked into a couple of theaters just to gauge the reactions of the crowds. It was wonderful seeing and hearing 500 people appreciating your film and laughing in all the right places. Maybe after a while you get use to that feeling, but, it was quite a charge, especially when the boxoffice went over $100 million. Outside Providence was released around the same time. That was the first time I had two pictures playing at once.
QUESTION: How do you deal with the downside issues? I know you were happy with Music From Another Room, for instance, and it never got a good release.
CRUDO: You deal with the downs because you love the ups so much, and you love the work. When I’m working behind the camera, I just know that’s what I’m supposed to be doing with this part of my life. There is no better feeling.
QUESTION: How do you keep up with all of the technological changes and ensuing confusion caused by the proliferation of hype permeating the industry?
CRUDO: I read a lot and go to seminar and exhibits at trade shows, and also attend the Guild seminars. I get a lot of information from people I trust at the labs and post houses. The truth is that you have to be on station 23 hours a day even in your dreams.
QUESTION: Do you think the role of the cinematographer is going to change dramatically with the developments in digital post especially.
CRUDO: I don’t know that the role will change, but I think our responsibility is going to increase. Instead of just delivering the raw material, we’ll be expected to ride herd and not lose control right through postproduction. I want to be there when the movie is being timed and when the video transfer is made, because no one knows what was in my mind. I try to be tenacious about every aspect of the movie right through the post process. You don’t always have that opportunity. For example, on Outside Providence, there are a couple of absolutely atrocious opticals that look like they are from a movie made at the turn of the last century. They were made in New York, and I didn’t see them until we were in the interpositive stage making answer prints. There is only so much you can do at that point. I was able to clean it up somewhat in the transfer for video releases.
QUESTION: One of the rationales you hear is the audience doesn’t really care.
CRUDO: I don’t believe that. You hear it, but if it’s true then what’s the point of getting out of bed every day and doing the best you can? If you believe that your taste or aesthetic values count, then you can’t accept that the audience doesn’t care.
QUESTION: I know one cinematographer who was told by a prominent director not to worry about lighting because he was going to fix it in digital post.
CRUDO: That’s may be a job you take to pay the mortgage, but its not a job that nourishes our soul or satisfies our urge as craftsmen or artists.
QUESTION: But that feeling is out there. You read it in the trade press every day.
CRUDO: I’ve heard those stories, but fortunately that hasn’t been my experience. The people I’ve worked with are conscientious. They care about what they are doing. Going back to your question about how our role will change, I think to some extent we have to be guardians of the art. I don’t know of any other group in the entire industry which loves what they do in such a pure fashion as cinematographers. I think the Guild, ASC and other cinematographers' organizations need to speak up and take a more vocal stance.
QUESTION: I want to come back to what you said about the public caring. Really?
CRUDO: They don’t care what makes watching The Godfather, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Searching for Bobby Fischer and other films like those a wonderfully, satisfying experience. But, the fact is that in those and many other films, the cinematographers have made important artistic contributions. They were great stories complimented with great photography. It’s a visual medium and there’s always going to someone responsible for creating pictures for the screen.
QUESTION: How do you think the industry is going to change?
CRUDO: Everything seems to happening faster. You are constantly challenged to be more inventive and more efficient. Time pressures are becoming unreasonable. The gap between production, post and distribution is narrowing. You can do everything right, and there isn’t time or maybe money to make good release prints.
QUESTION: What does this mean for the future of the cinema?
CRUDO: You can get great coverage of baseball games on television at home, but going to the ballpark is an entirely different experience. It’s something that stays with you. I believe the future is bright, because when we give people an opportunity to see good films in great environments, they respond.
QUESTION: How about the claims that the cost for digital projectors and for building an infrastructure can be offset with commercials and live events?
CRUDO: I suppose anything can happen, but I personally resent it when you pay to go to a theater and you see commercials. I dread the fact that young people may accept that as normal. I have one observation about digital projection, and I’m not saying its good or bad, because it depends. Just because something is new, doesn’t mean that it is better or even as good. I have some concerns about this drive to convert us to video. I was re-cutting my reel recently. I haven’t done that in over a year. I have some elements on my reel recorded on video formats that are already obsolete. The post houses don’t have the hardware needed for editing. I have some material I like that is recorded in D2 format. I have to take it someplace else to have it transferred to digital format, so I can cut it into the new reel.
QUESTION: How do you handle it when a director tells you, ‘Richard, we want you to use this HD camera because it doesn’t requiring lighting?’
CRUDO: If we only had digital tape systems today, and someone invented film, everyone would be blown away. We’d be demanding the end of electronic imaging. It would be considered too cumbersome and too impermanent. The manufacturers make claims, and if we don’t agree, we are called Ludites.
QUESTION: What is your response?
CRUDO: I tell them not to confuse movement with progress. It’s not the same.
QUESTION: What are you looking forward to?
CRUDO: I’m looking forward to using all of the digital tools, when they are appropriate for what I’m doing, particularly digital mastering and color timing of films. What concerns me is that so many people are seduced just because something is new. I don’t think we should embrace or reject any technology simply because it is new. The vendors make it sound far too easy. They say anyone can make a movie on the cheap now. They say it is a more democratic form of moviemaking because anyone can do it. They also said that synthesizers would replace orchestras, and they were wrong about that, too.
QUESTION: So, 20 years after you graduated, what’s you advice for this year’s class?
CRUDO: It sounds corny, but I’d say be true to your feelings, persist in your beliefs, and if you have the talent and work hard enough, someday you might succeed. I’d tell them it’s a very tough business, which weeds a lot of people out, but that won’t scare people who have the heart for this work. If they don’t have the heart, they might as well quit now. I’d tell them, it’s not about the technology or equipment, but you still have to master your craft. Don’t get me wrong, because I think I’m a consummate technician, but I am going to rise or fall because of my taste and aesthetic values.
QUESTION: How do you keep your ideas fresh?
CRUDO: Stay open to everything -- television, art, painting, sculpture, cinema. Every successful cinematographer I know has an innate curiosity about all the arts. You aren’t going to embrace everything that’s going on around you, but I think all of it informs your work. I buy countless magazines to look at the designs and pictures and to see new textures and ideas. I also read a lot, because I enjoy it and it broadens my thinking.
QUESTION: Do you worry about the future of the industry?
CRUDO: I’m looking forward to the future. I know there is a lot of turmoil and concerns about changes that are coming; but ultimately nothing is going to change. Maybe some of the tools or the delivery system will be different. Postproduction has changed, but it still takes talent and skill to be a great editor. It will be the same with cinematography. There are exceptions, but this is a collaborative process. No one person is going to consistently make great or even good movies alone. We feed off of each other. There is never any one right answer. Maybe this year I will like the sky in a scene a particular shade of blue, and next year I’ll probably have a different idea even if its the same picture with the same director. Both can be right or wrong. My only fear for the future is that we will believe the people who say we don’t need to worry about lighting because they’ll fix it later.
QUESTION: I’ve heard talk about promises of digital cameras with interchangeable chips for different looks. There can be an Allen Daviau chip, a John Toll chip, or if you want a picture that looks like American Pie, a Richard Crudo chip. What do you think?
CRUDO: Stay away from the people who tell you that. It’s like saying you’re going to sample Beethoven or the Beatles music and record it on a chip. Just slip the chip into the synthesizer, and you’ll be able to create music like them. No one is going to beat a path to Carnegie Hall to hear a synthesizer concert. It won’t be original, and it won’t have a soul. It is the same with photography. It would be like painting pictures by numbers.
QUESTION: Is there any other art like photography or cinematography?
CRUDO: I compare cinematography to jazz music. I’ll tell you why. Because so much of what you do when you are creating jazz is in the moment. Despite all the plans, the sheet music, the conductor, orchestra or band, sometimes our best work is what comes out of us instinctively at the moment. When I was on Gordon Willis’ crew, sometimes I’d ask why he did something a certain way. His stock answer was that it felt right. I thought he was blowing me off, but now I know exactly what he meant. When someone asks me that question, I usually say, I can give you the technical specs, but that’s meaningless. I did it because it felt right at that moment. When you are playing jazz, you are improvising on a theme. You might have a plan, and you think of something better and suddenly you’re playing a different key, and it moves the audience. Cinematography is like that.
QUESTION: Let’s close with this question. What’s the worst advice you ever got?
CRUDO: That’s easy. On one of my first jobs as an assistant cameraman, I was working on a 60 Minutes shoot. The assistant cameraman who was working the first camera was a crusty old guy was at the end of his career. We were packing the gear at the end of the day, and he said,' you know kid, you better get into something else while you’re still young.' What you’re doing now is the equivalent of becoming a blacksmith when the automobile was invented.
QUESTION: Did that worry you?
CRUDO: Not for a minute. We changed from silent movies to sound, and from black and white to color. I’d bet some of the old studio cameramen were apoplectic when they saw that people like Laszlo Kovacs (ASC) created flare on purpose, and they used shaky, handheld cameras and bent and broke other rules. I’ve never been afraid of change, but I’m dubious about marketing claims about newer technologies affecting us on a substantive level. I think ultimately we’re going to work in a hybrid world where you have film and digital images with places where they overlap and other places where they don’t. Photography didn’t replace painting, and acrylics didn’t replace oil paints.
* * * * * * * * * *
The following are audio excerpts from the interview with Richard Crudo conducted by Robert Fisher.
Clip 1 (545k)
Richard explains how he got his start in the business. This clip is approximately 8.5 minutes long.
Clip 2 (551k)
Richard talks about moving into features and working with Gordon Willis. This clip is approximately 8.5 minutes long.
Clip 3 (738k)
The world of independent features... Federal Hill, American Buffalo and more. This clip is approximately 11 minutes long.
Clip 4 (495k)
Giving up crew work and becoming a full-time shooter. This clip is approximately 7.5 minutes long.
Clip 5 (532k)
How he got his first studio picture, American Pie. This clip is approximately 8.5 minutes long.
Clip 6 (234k)
The unique place of cinematographers in film craft. This clip is approximately 3.5 minutes long.
Live Chat / Transcripts
(Note: All questions asked during the chat session are filtered through Moderator.)
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:10:00 PM)
First of all, I would like to say that's it's a pleasure to chat with you. My question is: which film that you worked in is or was more memorable to you and why? And is there someone that influenced you to become a Director of Photography?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:11:00 PM)
Two films, I would say. The little known Music from Another Room because of the delightful collaboration with the director Charlie Peters...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:11:40 PM)
The other would be, American Pie, simply because it was a nice collaboration and my first really big commercial success...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:12:16 PM)
As to your second question, there's no one individual who influenced me to become...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:12:37 PM)
a dp, but a culmination of a lot of different films, love of photography...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:12:45 PM)
and certain individuals.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:13:57 PM)
George Dibie has this question: At the beginning of your career, you shot Federal Hill and when it was colorized for TV, you took a stand. Was there any trepidation? Were there any repercussions?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:14:25 PM)
On Federal Hill, there was absolutely no trepidation about taking a stand...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:14:40 PM)
The movie had been planned from day one to be presented in black and white...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:14:53 PM)
It had its theatrical release in black and white...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:15:09 PM)
and then at the final hour, in the form that it would live for eternity, suddenly...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:15:26 PM)
we were told that it would go out to the public in color.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:15:42 PM)
So obvisouly there was no choice but to speak up in the most vehement terms possible.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:15:52 PM)
There were no reprocussion...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:16:12 PM)
Ironically, there was a tremendous outpouring of support...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:16:20 PM)
from the creative community...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:16:53 PM)
This was the first film in history to be colorized while the director was still alive...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:17:22 PM)
so as the co-creator of this film, it was incumbent upon me to make my feelings know.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:17:31 PM)
And my feelings were that this was terribly wrong.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:18:35 PM)
Steve Flint has this question: What do you think about "runaway" production? And how will it affect future of cinematography?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:18:58 PM)
Runaway production is obviously the biggest problem facing us at this moment...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:19:16 PM)
There are a lot of reasons why this trend is taking place...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:19:37 PM)
but none of those reasons involve lack of talent or intiative on the part of the crews...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:19:48 PM)
here in Hollywood where we have the best people in the world.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:20:07 PM)
I think that as individuals people often feel powerless to act against this problem...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:20:22 PM)
but our only hope is to hang together as a group and act aggressively...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:20:39 PM)
to change our government's policies to ones more favorable to ourselves.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:21:01 PM)
The Guild is helping lead the way...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:21:16 PM)
and hopefully we'll see some positive developments soon.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:21:48 PM)
As to how runaway production will affect the future of cinematography...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:22:08 PM)
I hope it doesn't discourage aspiring talent from picking up the slack...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:22:27 PM)
also, I hope it doesn't water down the talent pool. If every decision a producer makes...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:22:44 PM)
is based purely on money, then every slot will be filled by the lowest bidder, rather...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:22:50 PM)
than the best person for the job.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:23:22 PM)
And the fact is, it's not always economically favorable to shoot in other places
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:23:57 PM)
than the US. There's a certain bandwagon effect that's at work now...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:24:10 PM)
and we have to try hard to derail that juggernaut.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:24:21 PM)
Tim Wade had this question for you: How do you keep up with new technology, including all the new digital cameras? Will they make it easier for more people to become cinematographers?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:24:59 PM)
Basically, read a lot, all the trade magazines out there...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:25:26 PM)
attend all the Guild-sponsored seminars, and trade shows like trade-show expos...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:25:47 PM)
excuse me, Show Biz Expo...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:26:01 PM)
Talk with the manufacturers themselves and so on....
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:26:27 PM)
As to whether or not it will make it easier for more people to become cinematographers,
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:26:33 PM)
I don't believe that's true...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:26:42 PM)
This trend today that we're seeing...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:26:56 PM)
towards the "democratization" of film making...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:27:10 PM)
is the biggest fraud perpetuated by manufacturers...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:27:23 PM)
and know-nothing individuals.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:27:44 PM)
It's almost akin to handing out typewriters to a bunch of chimpanzees...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:27:56 PM)
and telling them their novelists...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:28:17 PM)
It takes a long, long time...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:28:34 PM)
to become a true cinematographer. Just because you shot...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:28:46 PM)
a music video doesn't mean you're qualified...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:28:56 PM)
on any level to do any more than that...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:28:58 PM)
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:29:07 PM)
is so much more to the job...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:29:15 PM)
than just getting an exposure.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:29:27 PM)
Any of you chat room users---feel free to type in any questions you have whenever you want.
judah (07-Nov-99 4:30:40 PM)
Do you feel the cheap availabilty of equipment will erode the apprenticeship nature of the film industry, as has existed for many years?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:31:02 PM)
I hope not, but probably simply because...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:31:20 PM)
human nature is inherently lazy and will take the path of least resistance...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:31:38 PM)
Nonetheless, there will always be people with talent, brains, commitment...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:31:43 PM)
and passion who will take the time...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:31:53 PM)
to truly learn and understand their craft...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:32:28 PM)
before deigning to call themselves a cinematographer.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:32:41 PM)
You started your career working on camera crews. Would you make a different decision today, and start out shooting low budget films?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:33:37 PM)
It's hard to say what I would do if I were starting out today...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:33:55 PM)
The world has become so different in such a short time...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:34:25 PM)
I still think that even though everyone in the industry...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:34:42 PM)
seems to come to their position in their own way, that the best road...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:34:56 PM)
is the one that will give you the broadest experience.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:35:20 PM)
I was always trying to shoot whatever I could get my hands on...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:35:29 PM)
even during the time when I was loading magazines...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:35:45 PM)
I never had the illusion, though, that what I was doing on my own time...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:36:04 PM)
was anything more than trial by error informed by...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:36:39 PM)
the experiences I was having as a member of the camera crews for some of the best
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:36:46 PM)
cinematographers in the world.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:37:33 PM)
Is your next project lined up and how will you prepare for it?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:37:54 PM)
My next project will be "I Was Made to Love Her"...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:38:13 PM)
The directors will be Chris and Paul Weitz who also directed American Pie...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:38:24 PM)
I think we're set for a January of 2000 start...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:38:41 PM)
And it will be released by Paramount. Chris Rock will star in this remake of ...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:38:45 PM)
Heaven Can Wait.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:39:02 PM)
Chris, Paul and I are already spending a lot of time..
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:39:14 PM)
discussing the look of the movie, most notably...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:39:27 PM)
how to render the look of heaven in a new and interesting way.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:39:48 PM)
We want to stay away from the dry ice against the white cyc approach...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:40:21 PM)
Chris and Paul are committed to making a big leap in the visual sophistication of this film...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:40:34 PM)
in comparison to American Pie.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:40:57 PM)
And we're really trying hard to realize that.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:40:59 PM)
Would you personally rather work on a big studio production--or a smaller independent feature?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:41:26 PM)
I'm going to tell the truth...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:41:33 PM)
I'd rather work on a big studio production...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:41:46 PM)
Having done a good number of low-budget independents...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:42:00 PM)
you find the situation is invariably one...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:42:10 PM)
where you're trying to stuff 50 pounds of potatoes...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:42:14 PM)
into a 5 pound bag.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:42:28 PM)
It's rare that directors in the low-budget world...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:42:36 PM)
try to make the best movie they can within their means...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:42:52 PM)
It never pays to try to make Titanic on a Ed Wood budget...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:43:08 PM)
At the upper level of the studio production, you're working with the best people...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:43:13 PM)
who have the best taste...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:43:24 PM)
and all the resources they need...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:43:29 PM)
to realize their vision.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:43:38 PM)
What are the next horizons for filmmaking--and for cinematography?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:43:50 PM)
I wish I knew...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:44:07 PM)
Certainly digital projection is somewhere in the not to distant future...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:44:13 PM)
From what I've seen of it...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:44:28 PM)
it has its plusses, but it's certainly no...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:44:51 PM)
total solution or magic replacement for anything we've seen to date...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:44:58 PM)
Change is happening so quickly...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:45:15 PM)
not just in filmmaking, but in all segments of society...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:45:23 PM)
that it can frightening at times...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:45:36 PM)
You don't have any time to process anything or to make sense...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:45:47 PM)
of what's going on. The one thing I can say is...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:46:01 PM)
never mistake movement for progress. I use that over and over...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:46:21 PM)
Just because something is new, doesn't mean it's better.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:46:36 PM)
There's always going to be a segment who just have to have the newest thing...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:46:45 PM)
I'll never understand that...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:47:11 PM)
Progress is a great thing...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:47:36 PM)
but hopefully the weeding out process...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:47:50 PM)
will leave us with the best of it without causing us to lose...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:47:59 PM)
any of the great things we've had with us for so long...
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:48:15 PM)
As your films have gone to home video, have you supervised telecine or played a role? Is this going to become a more important issue with HDTV and DVD?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:48:32 PM)
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:48:45 PM)
I've supervised the transfer of every film I've shot as well as the printing...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:49:03 PM)
It's not going to become more important. It will stay as important as it is...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:49:57 PM)
Since theatrical run of a film is relatively brief, no matter how successful it is, you have to understand that...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:50:09 PM)
the movie lives forever, essentially on tape or DVD...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:50:27 PM)
so you want that to be as representative of your vision as much as what plays..
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:50:38 PM)
on the screen.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:50:58 PM)
DVD and HDTV are just delivering a higher-quality image to the home...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:51:06 PM)
which is a win-win situation for everyone....
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:51:31 PM)
Is supervising the transfer on your own time, or is it done by the Studio, or does the Studio even care about it?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:53:16 PM)
Supervising the transfer is done on your own time for the most part. And yes, the studio cares very much..they want you to do as good a job as possible with that as you wuld for the print version.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:54:42 PM)
Telecine transfer is always an interesting experience because you have so much more latitude in what you can do to the image versus what's available at the lab.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:54:49 PM)
As your films have gone to home video, have you supervised telecine or played a role? Is this going to become a more important issue with HDTV and DVD?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:55:17 PM)
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:56:02 PM)
Which are the cinematographers who influenced your work?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:57:52 PM)
There are so many... Gordon Willis, for starters. I was fortunate enough to have worked on his crew for awhile and I can't overestimate his influence in so many ways. Conrad Hall, of course. Jordan Cronenweth...John Bailey...John Alonzo, of course - Chinatown remains a touchstone for me in so many ways...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 4:59:36 PM)
Kovacs, Zsigmond...I could go on... Then there are so many others who you look to for bits and pieces that you find over time make up an incredible reference catalog. Sometimes I'm not even aware of it until much later after I've shot a film. So much of it becomes part of your subconscious after awhile.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 4:59:45 PM)
How do hire crews when you work at different locations?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:00:21 PM)
I try and bring my guys with me. This is no knock on local crews anywhere, because there are many talented people all over the country now...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:00:45 PM)
but these are the people I know best and I feel a great loyalty to them because they stick with me on the bad ones as well as the good ones...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:02:05 PM)
If my regular guys aren't available, I'm fortunate enough to know people that I can call on to fill the bill wherever I might be shooting.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 5:02:16 PM)
What have been the most important advances in film or camera or digital technology during recent years... and why do you feel that way?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:03:00 PM)
Have there been any true advances?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:03:19 PM)
The technology is outstanding, no matter how you look at it at this stage of the game...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:03:48 PM)
What we need to start addressing is the thought processes that drive the creation and use of the technology...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:04:26 PM)
Once again, I go back to the chimpanzee with the typewriter. What good is all the technology in the world in service of a lousy story?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:05:38 PM)
Why do I feel that way?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:05:49 PM)
Just take a look around our culture. There's not much out there...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:06:06 PM)
in any arena at this time that the thoughtful person needs to be paying much attention to...
Moderator (07-Nov-99 5:06:20 PM)
Do you have any advice for someone at the very beginning of their career?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:06:51 PM)
I think it's greatest way I can possibly imagine spending my working life...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:07:14 PM)
As for specific advice, I wish I could tell you how to have passion, because that's what matters most of all.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:07:25 PM)
If you have that all-consuming desire...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:07:42 PM)
to become a cinematographer, there's nothing that will stop you from achieving that.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:08:13 PM)
It's not an easy road by any means. Only people with true passion will be able to see it through.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:08:38 PM)
That of course is in addition to applying yourself in every way imaginable to learning...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:08:48 PM)
about the craft on a simple mechanical level.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:09:20 PM)
That means reading books and related periodicals with a religious intensity, attending seminars, trade shows...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:09:32 PM)
classes, visiting sets, working on sets...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:09:42 PM)
in whatever capacity and so one.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:10:28 PM)
Visiting rental houses is good too. Meeting people who work in the industry to expand your network of connections is also of critical importance.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:10:58 PM)
Watching movies on tape or DVD has made studying the work of our great cinematographers easier than its ever been.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:11:22 PM)
There's no excuse to have a dull moment if this is the life you choose to follow.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 5:11:35 PM)
Are there any last questions for Richard Crudo?
Moderator (07-Nov-99 5:11:59 PM)
How do you feel when you have to shoot at location far from home and dont get to spend time with your loved ones especially for the holidays? What about when a picture has to be shot during the holidays, do put it on hold, pass it by or what?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:12:30 PM)
That's a good question and it's something we all have to deal with from time to time...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:13:03 PM)
This industry is notoriously hard on most people's notions of a traditional home life.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:13:24 PM)
I've been blessed with a very supportive and understanding family...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:13:52 PM)
and have somehow managed to make this work.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:14:21 PM)
Fortunately, I have never had the gun to my head during the holidays and I'm sure I'll blow that bridge someday when I come to it.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:14:54 PM)
Obviously, family has to come before anything else in your life, but you also have to make a living to support the family, so it's a double edged sword in many ways.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:15:32 PM)
One factor working in our favor is that most of us love what we do with such an intensity...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:15:51 PM)
that the benefits we derive from that carry over into our home lives...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:16:10 PM)
And our loved ones recognize that and reap the benefits as well.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 5:16:13 PM)
how do you keep your sanity in between projects, while waiting for the next call?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:16:28 PM)
I don't. My apartment is lined with padding...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:16:46 PM)
and I've worn out certain sections where I bang my head regularly...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:17:22 PM)
As much as I love to do what I do, the only thing I despise about it is the down time in between jobs. I've often said...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:17:55 PM)
that when we're working they're paying us not for the job we're doing, but for the time we have off...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:18:16 PM)
Seriously, though, the down time is not wasted time...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:18:37 PM)
by any stretch. When we work, the job becomes so all encompassing...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:18:51 PM)
that there's no time for anything else. You need time to recharge and rest...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:18:58 PM)
and get ready for the next battle.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:19:27 PM)
You can also bone up on the latest development, say hello to your family, and pursue hobbies that bring a new freshness to your work.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 5:19:33 PM)
If there aren't any more questions...
Moderator (07-Nov-99 5:21:23 PM)
Has there ever been a time where you were so stressed by your job that you feel that its worth working so many hours of your day? That you feel that it's a job and not love for what you do anymore?
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:21:54 PM)
Everybody gets discouraged from time to time. And as we all know...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:21:59 PM)
fatigue makes cowards of us all...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:22:20 PM)
Sure, I've been discouraged and at times felt that the effort put out was not worth the return...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:22:58 PM)
but even at the lowest point it's still a privilege to do this kind of work...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:23:24 PM)
After a good night's rest, you can even start to see the humor in it. I can't tell you how many times...
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:23:46 PM)
I've sat around with my crew having a couple of beers and laughing about some of our worst experiences...
Moderator (07-Nov-99 5:23:53 PM)
What was discussed in yesterday's membership meeting? I missed it.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:24:03 PM)
I don't know. I wasn't there.
Richard Crudo (07-Nov-99 5:24:15 PM)
But I should have been.
Moderator (07-Nov-99 5:25:04 PM)
Well, thank you Richard, and thank you all.
Fasten Your Seat Belts, It's A Breathtaking Ride: Richard Crudo, ASC on Grind
by Bob Fisher
(This article originally appeared in ICG Magazine in August 2003.)
Let's be honest. His initial instinct was to take a pass when we asked Richard Crudo, ASC to talk about Grind. He characterized the film as another comedy mainly targeting teenage audiences. There are no morality plays woven into the fabric of the story, no dark characters and no visual effects. Grind is a road show. School is out and four buddies from Chicago are following a famous skateboarder on a summer tour. They are pursuing a dream, hoping to get noticed and perhaps launch their own careers.
Their trek starts in Chicago, then takes them through Kansas, Colorado, Arizona and on to Los Angeles. Along the way, they skateboard their hearts out. For them, it's an act of pure joy. The comedy is physical and verbal, including pratfalls while they are skateboarding. Crudo explains that it's kind of a badge of honor for skateboarders to be reckless and crazy.
What experiences prepared him to shoot a film with a deeply etched skateboarding theme? The answer is nothing and everything. Crudo earned a graduate degree in filmmaking from Columbia University, in New York while working as a film loader on low budget films. After graduation, he crewed with Greg Andracke, Chuck Levey and others on documentaries and such magazine shows as 60 Minutes and 20/20. Crudo says that's when he learned to really see natural light and what it took to work under unrelenting pressure. Later, he was a camera assistant for Gordon Willis, ASC on Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, The Money Pit and many commercials. Crudo doesn't have to explain how that experience influenced him.
He earned his first notice as a cinematographer in his own right in 1994 on a black and white feature called Federal Hill. Other notable dramatic credits include American Buffalo, Bongwater, Music From Another Room and Outside Providence, along with such lighter comedies as American Pie and Down to Earth.
Crudo volunteers, "I've never been near a skateboard in my life. I prepared by looking at as many videos and DVDs about skateboarding as I could find…and there were a lot. I had no idea about the impressive width and breadth of this subculture."
He explains that most of the videos were crude homemade movies shot by kids who were skateboarders. Crudo says he used them to glean ideas about how to shoot Grind differently. He wanted to do something on a much bigger scale designed to pull the audience deep into the skateboarding sub-culture on a visceral level.
As he read Ralph Sall's hilarious script, Crudo realized it wasn't going to be a walk in the park. He had 35 days to create the illusion of a cross-country trip with four main characters and an ensemble cast. 90 percent of the story takes place in daylight exterior conditions. 40 percent of that involves skateboarding scenes with dynamic action.
"Bill Gerber and the other producers were committed to shooting the entire film in Los Angeles, and my hat is off to them for that. I just can't say enough about those guys. They could've chosen to take this movie anywhere but they did the right thing – they chose to shoot it at home." he says. "They believe it's important to make stories that take place in the United States in the United States. A great part of the reason is they understood and appreciated the need for a talented American crew. That meant a lot to me, personally. There are no better crews than our own. Though we've literally taught the rest of the world how to do it over the years, as you can imagine, I was anxious to shoot here with my regular crew."
Crudo came onto the project five weeks before shooting began. He needed every moment of that time. Four weeks into prep, Casey La Scala, a former development executive who was involved with the project, replaced the original director. It was his first time at the helm. Crudo had already spent much of the preproduction schedule scouting Los Angeles County for locations that were appropriate for creating the illusion of a cross-country car trip with believable environments.
One of his first suggestions was to shoot Grind in 2.40 anamorphic apsect ratio, but he settled on 1.85:1 instead. Since the skateboarding sequences were to be shot with as many as five cameras, Crudo felt it would be easier to get the required number of matching lenses in spherical format.
"Bob Harvey, Lori Killam, Frank Kay and Andy Romanoff at Panavision were an enormous help in servicing this job. I've been with Panavision since the start of my feature career and there's never been an instance in which they've ever let me down. I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude."
His basic camera package included two Panaflex Gold II'S, two ARRI 435s and a 50-year old Eyemo with a windup motor. Crudo chose a mix of Ultra-Speed and Super-Speed prime lenses and Cooke 5:1 and 10:1 zooms. He usually filmed the big exterior skateboarding scenes with the Cooke zooms, generally at a stop of T5.6, which helped carry focus on the fast-moving skaters.
"The zoom lenses gave us the freedom to make adjustments on the fly," he explains. "This was very much a documentary-type of deal. The Eyemo was mainly used as part of a special rig that was bolted to a skateboard. It allowed us to get into the middle of the action. The ARRI 435s were used for ramping shots when it was appropriate to speed-up or slow down the action for dramatic affect."
The actors did much of their own skateboarding except for the heavy stunt work. The latter was done by some of the world's top skateboarders, including Bucky Lasek, who is one of the greats.
"We want the audience to experience skateboarding through the eyes of the characters," Crudo says. "I had a second unit director-camera operator, Matt Goodman, a world ranked skateboarder who works with the legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk. He was actually able to skate and shoot street courses and vert ramps, following the characters, getting close to them with a handheld ARRI 435 camera. Right out of the box, he did an absolutely fantastic job.
"It's almost a ballet with a lot of shutter adjustments and speed ramping," Crudo continues. "We never lost a frame. Mostly we were on street courses. Sometimes there were competitions. Other times, our skateboarders just took over a parking lot and put up their own obstacles, often in confined areas. We also made effective use of the vert-ramp. Here, the skaters would work the half-pipe, so to speak, often flying up the sides of a 16 foot-high wall, doing flips and turns all the way."
Crudo experimented with frame rates in these sequences. Typically, he started a shot at A normal 24 frames per second speed, ramped it up to a higher speed for the most intricate part of the trick, then slowed it back down to normal for the rest.
"We almost never went above 72 frames per second because it just didn't feel right," he explains. "This is something we discovered through trial and error."
The story takes place in summer, but they started shooting in October and continued on into the Holiday season, during the shortest days of the year. Crudo estimates that they basically had eight hours of workable daylight and used every second of that time. He says it is unlikely that he could have done it without a skillful crew who collaborated as a team.
His gaffer was Steve Belsky, a frequent collaborator. Brian Osmond, his first assistant on A camera, has worked with Crudo for six years. Eric Roizman was his A camera operator, with Ralph Watson handling the Steadicam and B camera. His first assistant on B camera and the Steadicam was Jeff Hand, the second assistants were Steve Marshall and Adam Baral, and the film loader was Laura May Bobick. The still photographer was Dale Robinette. "I've shot movies all over the world," Crudo stated, "And hands-down they're the best crew I've ever worked with."
He also had kind words for his immediate collaborator. "Casey (La Scala) took to directing like a fish to water," Crudo says. "He was involved in developing the script, so he was familiar with the material. He knew the tone he wanted but didn't spend a lot of time telling me how to shoot it. Basically, we would watch the actors walk through a scene and decide where to place and how to move the cameras. We had a broad idea of where the actors were going but they also improvised. We were laying back and documenting what they were doing and they never complained if we asked them to repeat a complex skateboarding sequence more than once."
One of the technical nuances that flew under the radar was the way Crudo and his crew crafted a consistent look while shooting big day exteriors in unpredictable light. Some scenes were filmed on or near the beach. Some mornings they began shooting with an overcast sky. It would clear up a bit and then get cloudy again. Occasionally it rained, followed by a crystal clear sky with bright, unrelenting sunshine.
Crudo and his crew took a workman-like approach to enforcing a seamless continuity. They typically had three or four 18K HMIs, which were used to create sunlight and to fill the shadows created by floating clouds. Their toolkit also included big reflectors - 20 x 20 and 20 x 40 foot silks, bleached muslins and grid cloths.
"The 18K WAS the primary workhorse in these situations, either bounced or direct through some diffusion," Crudo says, "but we were making lighting decisions in the moment, and they would evolve five minutes or 10 minutes later when something changed, which was almost all the time on this shoot. That's why you need a crew that works as a team. They have to be in-synch with each other. Plus, you develop a shorthand as you go. A healthy routine sets in. For example, every morning when the lights came off the truck, the rags were automatically framed up and ready to go whenever we needed them. Everyone knew each other's moves and was able to anticipate without being told."
Crudo felt it was important to provide a foundation of reality for the actors to perform their antics. That included continuity in the texture and color of light.
"The audience is sitting in a dark room and you're trying to draw them into the story, so they temporarily forget they're watching a movie," he says. "If the quality of light keeps shifting, it subconsciously takes them out of the story."
Another advantage of shooting in Los Angeles was the depth of the infrastructure at his fingertips. Crudo observes that everything he needed was 20 minutes away, from Panavision and the other rental houses to Technicolor laboratory and the Telecine facilities. Crudo began every morning at the lab with his dailies timer, Ron Scott, who he characterizes as "a genius," and Art Tostado, whom he calls "brilliant."
"They were a critical part of the team," says Crudo. "I'd worked with them for years at CFI, before they became part of Technicolor. There was no problem convincing the producers or Casey that we needed to see dailies on film. They simply wanted to do things the right way. And not only was it cost-effective, it was smart for the entire production. Right down the line, everyone involved really cared about what they were doing and understood that nuances in images make a difference."
Crudo opted to record the entire picture on Kodak Vision 5279 film, which he over-exposed slightly by rating it as a 400 rather than a 500-speed emulsion. That gave a little extra richness to the details recorded on the negative without intrusive grain. Crudo explains that he decided to use the fast film on a mainly daylight-exterior picture because it allowed him to squeeze the most time out of the short days.
In addition, he shot all daylight exteriors without an 85 filter on the lens. That gave him an extra two thirds of a stop which also helped extend the shooting day. He compensated for the slight shift in color balance during timing at the lab.
In one sequence, a character is about to drop from the lip of a huge vert ramp. This "half-pipe" had a 16 foot height to its coping, was 40 feet wide and had a breathtaking 60-foot depth. La Scala wanted the audience to experience the emotions that the character was feeling on a raw, visceral level. No problem. Crudo designed a point-of-view shot coming off the top of the ramp that raced to the bottom at break-neck speed. To do it, he had the grips mount an ARRI 435 camera on a skateboard. They also built a little roll cage as part of the rig, so as not to damage the camera.
A 14 mm lens was used and the effects of under- and over cranking were tested with the goal of creating butterflies in the pit of the viewer's stomach. But this was no mere exercise in evoking thrills and chills. For that moment, he and La Scala wanted to go further and put the audience inside the mind of a character making the jump.
Crudo spent only one week of the precious five week prep period with La Scala scouting locations that provided settings for the stops the characters make on the way to Los Angeles. They also discussed La Scala's vision for the story and how it could be translated into moving images. They created a skateboard park at the beach in Santa Monica for Los Angeles scenes, used a parking lot at Malibu State Park for Kansas, shot on Pear Blossom Highway on the edge of the desert for Arizona scenarios, and in Tujunga, on the outskirts of the city, for Colorado.
There was virtually no time to shoot makeup, hair or wardrobe tests with the actors and no defining color palette in costume or production design. One of the actors, Vince Vieluf, was 32, but Crudo says, “He looks like a kid." The others were in their 20s. He shot some tests on the first day of principal photography, but that was the extent of his prep time with the actors. "Most of the women in the story are just passing through," Crudo observes, except for one, played by Jennifer Morrison, "a skateboard chick" who had a past relationship with one of the characters. "She was gorgeous and there was very little for me to do beside expose her properly," he said.
Grind was produced entirely at practical locations, including a house in Brentwood, which provided a setting for one of the main character's homes in Chicago, and a couple of skateboard shops around Los Angeles. He describes interiors shots as "pretty straight-forward" with reality-based lighting motivated by what appeared natural in the space.
"We wanted a feeling of tactile energy almost all the time, especially in the skateboarding scenes," he says. "The actors and stunt guys are almost always moving and we wanted the cameras moving, too. I put a camera on a Lenny arm pretty regularly which gave us some interesting angles and movement. Putting Matt Goodman on the skateboard with a camera under his arm also helped get a lot of dynamic angles and frenetic movement. If you want a moving camera while they're skating, you have to get in close and use a wide lens. That gives you the perspective of being closer to the character. Longer lenses make you feel further away and a little bit removed from the action."
"The 14 mm lens is about as wide as you can go without getting distortion on the edges of the frame," he says. "We got close to whatever we were shooting, finding odd angles which exaggerated some aspect of what we were photographing, just to give it a little goofier feeling. That was the language appropriate for this movie. We also used 17 and 20 mm lenses a lot, generally at very low, exaggerated angles, even for establishing shots."
Since all the cameras employed video taps, the director was almost always situated in video village, which Crudo says was close to the actors, depending on the space they had to work with. But La Scala was always within speaking distance.
Though there are a few dramatic moments underscored by lower key lighting, Crudo uses the words "goofy, funny, teenage movie" to describe Grind throughout our conversation. But, he still treated it with the same respect and attention to detail that he would give to a film dealing with more serious subject matter. The final touches were added when he timed Grind at FOTOKEM, fine tuning the scene to scene color structure for continuity as the story moves from the cooler environs of Chicago, to increasing warmer climates. Here, Crudo Credits chief timer Dan Muscarella for his invaluable contribution. "Dan is another CFI refugee - and I know this is starting to sound trite, but it's true - he's one of the best guys working. I was truly blessed on this job."
Grind was produced by Gaylord films and Asphalt Productions and distributed by Warner Bros. An unsigned internet review sums up what Crudo modestly omits: "I saw an early cut of this movie and I have to say it was absolutely hilarious. Tons of great cameos. Like a long, funny skateboard video with cute boys and a cute storyline. Not to mention a rad sound track. When they start advertising this movie, I would say yes it is as funny as it looks and worth your time."
Richard Crudo Tackles Two Kinds of Comedy
by Pauline Rogers
"I don't believe in doing comedy in the old 'bright and tight' manner," says cinematographer Richard Crudo (Federal Hill, The Lowlife, American Buffalo, Music From another Room, Bongwater).
But, he admits, although Paul Weitz's American Pie - about four teenage guys who make a pact to lose their virginity before graduation - is the usual teen silliness, it has a strong story line.
"And, Michael Corrente's Outside Providence, co-written by Peter Farrelly (Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin, There's Something About Mary) is much more of a bittersweet comedy/drama coming-of-age, about a 17-year-old boy from the wrong side of the tracks, who ends up finishing his education at a posh boarding school."
Lighting styles were very important to Crudo for both pictures.
"American Pie is very straightforward," he says. "We wanted to keep the lights (and camera work) tasteful and appropriate to the given mood. The real job was not getting in the way of telling the story."
That didn't mean all high key comedy lighting. "Paul Weitz wanted a feeling of being rooted in reality, so there are parts of the movie that are considerably more edgy than you might find in your average run-of-the-mill film of this type," Crudo explains. "Fortunately, we had good-looking kids, so it was pretty easy to photograph them."
Shot in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Long Beach, a great deal of the picture's action takes place in a high school. "We tried to keep a nice sheen on the place," he explains.
"The hallways were of special concern. Here, we used lots of kicks off the glossy lockers. This created a sense of sunlight, as if there were windows somewhere just off-camera in what was really a very confined space."
The young men are walking three abreast in one of the opening shots of the movie. It begins on the second floor balcony that overlooks the big, open lobby where the school's main entrance is located. "We tilt up from the front doors to reveal a beautiful 1930s vintage WPA-style mural on the wall above and then pan to pick up our three main guys on the stairwell," Crudo explains.
They turn off the stairs toward the camera and the camera dollies back with them as they advance, holding them in a medium three-shot. "Though this shot as it appears in the finished film is considerably truncated, we staged and lit it as a 150-foot unbroken move. Since we traveled so far on the dolly, we obviously couldn't have any dolly track laid out because we'd see it in the background."
Crudo thought about Steadicam. "This was a bit of a spur-of-the-moment decision on the part of Paul and Chris Weitz," he comments. " I had to hit the curve (as is so often the case in what we cinematographers do). So I mounted our Super Pee Wee dolly on our large-sized Western dolly. Though the surface of floor we needed to travel over was fairly level and without any pits, the big, soft pneumatic wheels of the Western dolly helped soften the ride and let us do a long tracking shot with a great deal of freedom and consistency.
Crudo's concern, lighting wise, " was not to create a feeling of overhead fluorescence, but rather a more naturalistic one, as if there was no real source of the light; as if it were just there. This was achieved by rigging a 5K fresnel with a large Chimera attached to it on the Western dolly itself, right over camera. This gave a nice, soft, untraceable light on our three heroes as we dollied them back through the hall."
For the sake of variety and contrast, Crudo left the classroom doors open all through the hall (which was filled with 200 kids running for class), and placed 2K Baby Juniors inside which focused into the hall. "As the guys passed the opened doors, they'd get nice hits that felt like normal daylight streaming through the windows inside the classrooms," he explains.
There were also a series of skylights built into the hallway ceiling. "Here, I had a two-pronged approach. First, I covered the skylight with duvetyne so I could control the light there without worrying about it changing over the course of the day.
"Next, I rigged a number of 2K Baby Juniors in the recesses of the skylight, bouncing some of them into beadboard while pointing others straight down to simulate hard sunlight kicks. The effect is very believable, since this skylight effect was measured at about one stop over key. They gave a nice variation from the consistency of the 5K lashed to the dolly, as we traveled the length of the hall. As I said, this shot and others like it were ultimately cut into much smaller pieces in the final film, but in dailies we saw that we all did our job very well.
"My hat is off to my dolly grip, Mike Listorti, who had to push our heavily-outfitted Western dolly a long, long way over many, many takes..." adds Crudo.
The dark, shiny nature of most of the student lockers located in the hallway led to some interesting challenges for Crudo, because of reflections. "Since we moved around these hallways so freely so much of the time, very often I had a problem hiding my lights," he says. "Imagine this - a corridor eight feet wide with shiny walls on two sides and a seven foot ceiling! It was amazing how clearly you could read the shape of our lighting units in the reflections sometimes."
If Crudo was unsure about how to proceed with lighting a scene, his usual backup plan would work. "When I really got into trouble, I would bounce my light (usually a big unit like a 10K or 20K located far down the hall) into a four-foot by eight-foot piece of beadboard. Next, we would flag off the lighting unit itself, so the reflection in the lockers would be hidden in the black of the flag."
But this still left a reflection of what was now essentially playing as the light - the white bead board -very clearly in frame. "This was easy to cure, though; I merely took some two-inch black tape and made a windowpane pattern on the bead board so that when you see the reflection, it looked like a really bright window that was located somewhere out of frame. Fast, cheap, ridiculously simple and very effective," he comments. "It can be seen in many shots and moves in the hallways throughout the movie if you know where to look, but I won't tell. Besides, the movie is too funny to pay any attention to my little tricks," Crudo adds.
Crudo and Weitz were constantly moving the camera to keep up with these kids who were alive, vital and full of energy. "That meant a lot of Steadicam," he explains. "One of the shots that really shows the ability of the Steadicam and our desire to keep moving with the characters takes place in the gym. This is prom night. We started on one kid and followed him for a bit through the huge crowd. We then switched off to all the other characters to show what they are doing at various points. This was all in one continuous move."
To light this, Crudo placed 20 space lights about 30 feet above the gym floor. This created a low level (about two stops under key), for ambience. He then accented the set with 1K PAR cans that were programmed from the dimmer board. "This allowed us to intermittently flash the lights on and off," he explains. "The 1K PAR cans carried party colors - deeply saturated red, blue, orange, purple, and yellow. A festive mood."
There is a night interior in a very nice upper middle-class home that Crudo enjoyed. The house was large, well appointed, and had lots of kids as the guests. "We wanted a very low-key feel, since Paul, Chris Weitz and myself all remembered our own parties from those days as being invariably dark with almost all the lights in the house turned out.
Crudo and his crew used the Steadicam to follow the main character, Stifler, as he downs some shots with friends in the kitchen and then leads the audience through the entire place before the scene switches to some other kids and a separate little vignette in the living room.
"Hiding lights was a big challenge," says Crudo, "since this was a practical house, not a set. No matter how large and comfortable the house may seem to live in, when you start to shoot a movie in exactly the same space, it's amazing how quickly the place becomes small. Ceilings were low and walls were close. I ended up hiding what few lights we used, mostly 650W Mole Tweenies and Midgets or 250W Inkies among the many guests moving about the place. Sometimes lights had to be placed on dimmers to avoid photographing a shadow of the Steadicam as it passes through the lighted areas."
In these cases, an electrician (located out of frame) would use the dimmers to fade the offending light out to dark on cue as the Steadicam passed through the danger zone.
"Under-exposure was the order of the day here, with most of the ambience at least two stops under key, while key lighting on any of the people varied from one to one and a half stops under key. It's an intricate camera move that looks much simpler than it appears on screen because it involved a lot of very precise choreography between the lead actor, the extras and Steadicam operator Gerry O'Malley, who did a great job!" enthuses Crudo.
Crudo also enjoyed shooting the love scenes at the end of the film. The whole movie leads up to these sequences where each of the main male characters finally gets his shot at fulfilling the bet they all made together at the beginning - to lose their virginity by graduation.
"So as the 'climax' of everything, these scenes had to be treated carefully, lighting-wise. In terms of action, they are rather tame and modest, which is totally in keeping with the overall tone of the film. I must emphasize that there is nothing racy or raunchy about the love scenes; on the contrary, they're very soft and sweet and indicate a higher level of true affection and consideration among the characters than we are used to seeing in the teen genre.
Crudo admits that he tried to stay true to this in his lighting approach, "especially since I wanted to make sure the actors were as at home and as comfortable as possible on the set."
Crudo's general rule was low-key, soft, romantic, inviting. "For the scene in the lakeside gazebo between Mena Suvari and Chris Klein, I wanted to keep the water in frame because of its long-held association with sensuousness. It serves here as the introduction to the scene. We begin on the background (the lake itself) and in an unbroken move pull back to reveal the young lovers in the foreground as they start to get seriously acquainted."
Crudo found that lighting the water was a problem. "It was nighttime, and in order to light water so it'll read on film, you have to get a unit way up high at a 180-degree angle to the lens. The geography fought me on this one," Crudo admits. "We shot out at Lake Sherwood in the West Valley and for a variety of community relations reasons it was out of the question for us to consider using a Musco unit or amything like it from the far bank back toward the side of the lake we occupied. The solution came during the prep period. I suggested to our production designer Paul Peters that he build the gazebo in which the love scene take place on the shore rather than over the water. This way, I could angle it so that I would definitely see the water, while also taking advantage of a large light source that could now be placed on a more film-friendly part of the shore."
This solution proved to be Crudo's salvation. "I then used a 100-foot Condor crane with an articulated arm to support two 20K Tungsten lamps. One of them was used for the back light on the water (180 degrees to the lens) while the other was used to light some of the shore that is visible in the background. In the gazebo foreground where the actors work, I used some soft rim light to separate them from the dark background and then filled it with very soft light, some three stops under key."
Crudo explains that there was a warm tone at work that is very romantic and complimentary to both the actors themselves and the context of the scene. "What I, at first, anticipated as a troublesome bit of logistics actually turned out to be a very simple and satisfying part of our shoot."
When Crudo and team did move outside, the sequences were often large and fast moving. One of the most extensive was a Lacrosse sequence shot at Long Beach State University. This involved fast action with young men on the run, waving sticks and firing a very hard ball at the goal.
"We used the Steadicam rigged to a speed rail frame attached to a four-wheel drive all-terrain vehicle," he explains. "It was really the only way to keep up with the action, while on the move. This allowed us dynamic and dramatic footage of the players from right up close in the middle of the action. We also used several different cameras with long lenses, set at strategic points such as sidelines at mid-field, behind each goal, and up high in the stands for overview. This gave us random bits of action."
Because they shot this sequence over the course of two days, there were some discrepancies between sunny and cloudy sky conditions, Crudo notes. "But, since nearly all the action was on the move, there was no way to augment any of this with lighting. So, I was forced to balance everything in timing. With the action and cutting so fast, everything looked consistent."
For American Pie, Crudo chose to shoot Kodak's 5293 (rated at 160 ASA) for day and night interiors and night exteriors. He also used Kodak's 5245 (rated at 50 ASA) for day exteriors. Cameras were Panavision with Primo prime lenses. "I didn't use filtration, except a little of 85 daylight correction," he adds. He kept the interiors at T2.8 and exteriors at T4. His printer lights were 32-34-36 for Tungsten and 21-29-29 for daylight.
DeLuxe Labs of Hollywood did the work with Ron Koch as dailies manager and Ron Graham as timer. Phil Hetos did the release print timing. "An interesting side note," says Crudo, "was that we printed the dailies on Kodak's 5386 positive stock during principal photography. 1999 saw the discontinuation of 5386 and switched completely over to the new Vision 2383 positive," he explains. "The look is somewhat different now that I'm doing the release printing on Vision 2383, and I'm still not sure how I like it. The stock is harder and has more contrast than I generally care for. Had I known this ahead of time, I would have shot the movie a little differently. I might have used a lower contrast negative stock or maybe lit things a little bit more softly and at closer ratios."
In contrast, Outside Providence (set in the year 1977) featured two very distinctive lighting approaches. The idea was to contrast the "wrong side of the tracks" background of hero Dunphy (Sean Hatosy) to the school he attends. Shot in Providence, Pawtucket, and Kingston, Rhode Island, as well as Hollywood, Florida, the locations themselves gave Crudo an even better edge.
"For Pawtucket (where Dunphy lives), we used a cool/bluish tone, making it very contrasty and shadowy," says Crudo. "For the Connecticut boarding school environment (where Dunphy goes to school) we used a warm and yellowish look that was softer and less dense. These choices were made not just to differentiate between the two worlds, but to indicate a texture not common to what we often see today," Crudo adds. "I think it is important, with period pieces, to have some sort of distancing device built into the visual structure, no matter how subtle it may be."
Again, this youthful story contains several sport and movement sequences. "One of the most interesting takes place in a hockey rink," he says. "The location was huge and very, very old. It had mercury metal halide lighting fixtures, rigged in these rafters that looked like they had been there since the year of the flood! To the naked eye, this house lighting made skin tones appear greenish-blue. It was obviously beyond our means to gel correct or replace each lamp individually," he says, "so I shot a test."
Because this was part of the boarding school segments, "I used the 5293 equation - pulling all the filters except for the diffusion. By doing several passes in timing correction, I found the right printer lights to make the house lighting look normal. A second test then determined the proper gel to use on my Tungsten lamps. This would illuminate the actors in the foreground (in other words, I gelled my foreground lights to match the color temperature of the mercury metal halide house lighting that lit the rest of the arena). On the screen, it was a perfect match."
Crudo found another "oddball" sequence - a wake held at Dunphy's house after one of his friends has died. "Since we were back in Pawtucket, I used Kodak's 5298 stock," he says. "Director Michael Corrente wanted a really messy, rough, documentary look. So, we did the entire sequence hand-held."
For lighting this sequence, Crudo stayed simple. "We went with overhead baylight-type arrangements. The baylights, or 'coops', are units of reasonable size (four by eight feet in this case). Inside, 1K broads are bounced straight up into a white headboard, which in turn reflects the light down through a sheet of diffusion that acts as the floor of the unit. When these were suspended overhead, they gave a wide, even soft look - and a very 'toppy' feeling of illumination. We then added black duvatyne skirts, attached to the perimeter of the baylights, to keep the light from spilling on the walls of the set.
Crudo used very little fill light from eye level. "The result of lighting in this fashion was exactly what the director wanted emotionally - sad, uncomplimentary, frenetic, and very, very ugly. No one looks good in this sequence, but I think it still manages to serve the story, especially since we cut from here directly to the more soothing, bucolic and pretty life at the Connecticut boarding school."
The main interior location that doubled for the Connecticut boarding school was the Cranston Street Armory in Providence, Rhode Island. "Built in 1905, it is a truly incredible piece of architecture. First of all, it's gigantic," says Crudo. "It is a fortress in the truest sense of the term."
In the story, it is Thanksgiving weekend and all the students, except Dunphy, are going home. "We wanted to do a shot that would show all the madness and excitement of the students as they head for the doors after their last class. We also wanted to use some of this fabulous architecture that we had at our disposal here at the armory. So we staged 150 student extras to come pouring down the stairs all at once into the main lobby where they are met by waiting parents. To capture this with some imagination, I had a Chapman Lenny arm brought up to the third floor landing. We mounted our Panavision camera on a Cam-Remote unit. The Lenny arm allowed me to start the shot with the camera way up high - between the concentric stairwell rings of the 4th and 5th floors. As the kids start pouring out of the rooms above and head for the stairs, the Lenny arm-mounted camera then booms and tilts down through the concentric stairwell rings with them. They descend to the next floor below, ending close to the ground floor where everyone congeals in a swarming mass of humanity."
As the students clear out for the exits, Dunphy is left by himself. Crudo went for simple lighting. The hard part was just keeping the units out of sight, "because we see so much of the place during this vast and sweeping move," he explains. "Mostly, we used three or four 20Ks (nothing smaller than a 10K), usually bounced into beadboard to create a usable level overall-from as far back and out of the shot as was possible and appropriate. The darkness of the wood that we see here in much of the armory's design sucked up a lot of this light and helped give a naturalistic feel to the practical sources that were in the shot."
Crudo also enjoyed another exterior shot, this time with Dunphy and his father in their car. Dunphy has been arrested by the police for a teenage prank that got out of hand. His father (Alec Baldwin) has come to the precinct to pick up his son.
"It is a rainy night exterior for us and we have a fairly involved shot planned out that would bring Dunphy and his Dad from the precinct door up the block, across the parking lot and to their car," says Crudo.
"After much planning and rigging in anticipation of this big set-up, it was all thrown out the window for the sake of a better idea. Since it was actually raining the night we showed up for this bit, the actors began rehearsing their lines in the car. As the director sat in with them and really listened to what they were saying, the scene was changed to just having Dunphy (in the passenger seat) and his Dad (in the driver's seat). They were already in the car - no walk and talk, no great Steadicam, no big camera choreography - just two guys sitting there talking while we photograph them from the front end of their car through the rain-flecked windshield."
Crudo used minimal lighting. He rigged a 5K Tungsten unit through 216 diffusion some distance behind and up high over camera. "Which, as I said, was placed right at the front end of the car by its bumper," he adds. "This gave a very low level (two stops under key) base illumination. I then used some back-cross lighting on each of the actors (2K Baby Juniors placed at 45 degree angles to the lens off camera left and camera right) to give a bit of a highlight on the insides of their faces (one stop under key).
"The effect is simple, elegant and effective," he says. It was also quick, which was a concern here once the decision was made to go this way, because the actors had to be soaking wet from the rain, and who wants to sit around damp and miserable for very long on a cold and windy night?
"Ironically, as much as I looked forward to the big set-piece originally planned, I think this was a truer choice for the story, much more intimate," he admits. "You really pay attention to the actors and to the text here, not to any camera heroics. And, that's really the crux of what we do as cinematographers."
Again, Crudo used Panavision/Primo lenses for this shoot. He printed dailies as he did before, using DuArt Labs in New York, Steve Blakeley (dailies manager) and John Franick (dailies timer) with Dave Pultz (release print timer).
His Pawtucket segments were shot on Kodak's 5298 rated at 320 ASA (Tungsten and Daylight). His stop was a T4 for interiors and T5.6 for exteriors. Printer lights were 33-47-26 on Tungsten and 27-50-42 on daylight. He used Kodak's Wratten +10 Blue gel behind the lens. For these sequences, there were no diffusion filters. Nor did he use an 85 filter for daylight correction. For the boarding school sequences, Crudo used Kodak's 5293 rated at 160 ASA (tungsten), 125 ASA (daylight/with 85 filter). His stop was T2.8 for interiors and a T4 for exteriors. The printer lights were set at 31-45-29 for Tungsten and 28-47-45 for daylight. He used Kodak's Wratten +20 Yellow gel behind the lens, Tiffen- Black ProMist diffusion filter, and an 85 filter for daylight correction.
Richard Crudo and Down to Earth
Born Again: Richard Crudo, ASC breathes new life into nirvana with Down To Earth
by Bob Fisher
In Here Comes Mr. Jordan (photographed by Joseph Walker, ASC) boxer Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) is slated to contend for the heavyweight championship. But following an accident that he should have survived, an overzealous angel prematurely brings Pendleton to Heaven. After being dropped back to Earth, Pendleton is given a chance to fulfill his destiny in a new life as a millionaire playboy. Guiding him is Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), a senior executive from the pearly gates. In the 1978 re-make photographed by William Fraker, ASC, quarterback Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) is headed to the Super Bowl when an errant angel accidentally ushers him to the Sweet Hereafter. Both Fraker and Walker earned Oscar nominations for their impressionist images.
Down to Earth marks the third iteration of Harry Segall's metaphysical play. After an afterlife detour, struggling comic Lance Barton (Chris Rock) returns to Earth as a rich White man named Wellington, whose wife and her lover are conspiring to murder him. American Pie co-directors Chris and Paul Weitz re-team with cinematographer Richard Crudo, ASC on Down to Earth, which is co-produced by 3 Arts Entertainment and Alphaville Films for distribution by Paramount Pictures. A crucial part of Crudo's preparation included watching the DVD of Heaven Can Wait and then conferring with Fraker himself. "It's always been one of my favorite films," he says. "What Bill Fraker did was positively masterful. Joe Walker's work in Here Comes Mr. Jordan is classic black-and-white work. It's luminous and absolutely magical, but Bill Fraker's version is still contemporary. It is masterful use of hard light. I felt like he was looking over my shoulder on every setup and that I had an imposing standard to meet."
In Fraker's rendition, Heaven is created with mist rising off dry ice with a white cyc background - it's as if the people are floating in fluffy clouds. The Weitz Brothers, however, envisioned a more stylized and edgy milieu - a 1950s nightclub. The set was dressed with white walls and measured 150 feet long by 75 feet wide with a 40-foot high ceiling. "White walls are not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a nightclub," notes Crudo, "but it was a practical location and we couldn't repaint the walls. After testing, I decided to make the background kind of bluish by using gels on the fixtures. The foreground is slightly warm using light and filters to get that effect."
"We shot a lot of tests with the materials that Paul Peters [production designer] wanted to use and also some of the wardrobe [done by Debrae Little]. There were 300 extras on the set and a lot of action going on - it's a busy environment. I shot the entire movie with the [Kodak] Vision (5277) 320-speed film. For Heaven only, I had a number one Tiffen White ProMist filter on the lens that softened the texture enough to separate it from the scenes on Earth. It's not jarring, but it's enough for the audience to sense a difference."
To maintain consistency, Crudo decided to use only one negative; after shooting a series of tests with the Sun directly overhead on a clear day with snow and foliage in the background, and some buildings casting very deep dark shadows, he chose Vision 320T (5277). The dailies accurately matched what had been seen by eye, especially in regard to details in the darkest shadows and brightest highlights. "You can make 5277 look almost any way you want it to, depending on how you expose and light it. It's virtually grain-free and the blacks are very potent." The co-directors insisted on film dailies with the total support of Paramount Pictures and the producers. "They were cutting on an Avid [as edited by Priscilla Nedd-Friendly] but wanted to see dailies projected on a big screen every evening to help them keep their idea of the scope and scale of the movie fresh in their minds.
The Panavision camera package consisted of two Panaflex GII bodies with a matching set of ultra-speed and super-speed Panavision lenses which Crudo assembed for use on previous pictures. He opted for the 25-year-old optics because "they have a different quality than the Primos that's hard to describe. It's a sort of roundness that records images that are pleasing to my eye. It's a mistake to assume that newer lenses are better for everything." He did switch the standard eyepiece on the Gold IIs for one lifted from the Panastar camera because "it's just a bit truer and brighter."
Earthbound moments are motivated mainly by light coming from visible sources like windows and lamps. Crudo's overall lighting approach is just slightly brighter than might be considered his normal taste, but there are times when it's a little subdued, like scenes set in the wings and backstage of New York's Apollo Theater. "When Lance was performing on stage, we replaced the house lights with our own fixtures," the cinematographer reveals. "The overall level of light had to be sufficient enough to get an exposure. Plus, I wanted to add a little bit of back and rim light here and there for some contrast. The light needed to fall off somewhere here, but creating the effect of darkness doesn't necessarily mean that you shoot without light. You have to light something to make it seem dark and we wanted to read some details on faces because the audience's reactions are important."
For the few digital shots, Crudo exposed the effects elements on the same stock with his regular crew using Gold 2 cameras. During a gig at the historic 1,500-seat Apollo Theater, only 800 seats were filled at any given moment. He had one of the Gold 2 cameras on a motion-control rig, and the footage was then digitized with the crowd being replicated to create the effect of the theatre being jammed to the rafters. A few greenscreen shots aided the illusion of infinity in the Heaven set's background. Rock and the other actors sat in the foreground on both wide and tighter shots with dialogue; in the case of doing greenscreen photography, Crudo's main challenge is keeping the foreground lighting consistent and the greenscreen background free of any spill. The negative was then converted to digital format and composited with a CG background.
"We had talked early on about shooting in anamorphic format but decided to frame the story in 1.85-to-1 - we felt it was more intimate," continues Crudo. "Chris Rock has acted in a lot of films, but he's never carried one like this before. He's in the center of the action in almost every scene. In order to give him as much time as he needed, we wanted to be as light on our feet and as quick and easy in our setups as possible. There's a lot of Chris Rock in Lance Barton. He comes across as likeable and accessible, and he's got an open and endearing manner. We want the audience to relate with him. Regina King is his love interest and she had to look great."
During testing, Crudo found that King looked best with soft key light coming off of camera left. In situations calling for single or over-the-shoulder coverage, he often did a sort of "reverse blocking"- plotting the light to serve the actress' close-up and then working the rest from there. As the love story evolves, while Rock and King are in two-shots, Crudo applied just enough backlight to create a hint of an aura suggesting a magical or heavenly feeling about their relationship. "At first, she doesn't really like him very much and there's a lot of resistance. As they get to know each other, their relationship warms up until it starts to glow. The use of the backlight evolves. It was a big challenge for the actors to modulate those shifts in the relationship. Otherwise it just becomes kind of a one note.
"Chris has really interesting cheekbones, and his eyes just pick up light. No matter where we put a light on Chris exposure was never a problem because his skin is very reflective. We used a fair amount of bounce light, mixed occasionally with direct light through diffusion, depending primarily on the motivating sources - but it's mainly a soft light movie. The trick here was to make the actors look good and let the romance play out as a key element in the story."
Production on Down to Earth occurred over 45 days, including 20 days spent in New York City. The script calls for a spring setting with blossoms and greenery on trees in Central Park and other exteriors on the metropolitan streets. When shooting in Central Park during April, technical travails ensued due to the constantly fluctuating weather - the Sun would be bright in the morning while sleet fell in the afternoon. "We only had a week-and-a-half of shooting in Central Park, so we tried not to stop for anything," the cinematographer remarks. "We shot with two to three cameras from different angles, but continuity was always a challenge. We'd start a shot in a clearing in sunlight, and a few minutes later there was cloud cover and then it was raining. By avoiding backlight and dark backgrounds, we tried to compose so the rain didn't read. Chris and Paul are reasonable guys and they generally listened to my advice on issues like that. There were some unavoidable mismatches, but as always, you hope the strength of the story will carry the audience through."
"Camera and lighting were almost solely motivated by the actors' performances," offers Crudo. "There's some very nice Steadicam work by Larry McConkey when we were on the streets of New York and in Central Park that captures the energy in those scenes. Mainly, what I tried to do was somewhat follow the template established by Bill Fraker in Heaven Can Wait - if only to help me exceed myself. Though I am satisfied with our efforts, I'm not embarrassed to say that I didn't even come close to what he achieved."
ICG Magazine recently sat down with cinematographers Fraker and Crudo as they compared notes during the postproduction phase of Down to Earth.
RICHARD CRUDO, ASC: I saw Heaven Can Wait in the Avalon Theater on King's Highway in Brooklyn - I remember it vividly. The Weitz Brothers first spoke with me about Down to Earth when we were still shooting American Pie. I thought it was a fabulous opportunity, but also a huge challenge. Believe me, I fell way short of matching what Bill achieved.
ICG Magazine: Bill, did you find yourself in the same sort of position? You were remaking Here Comes Mr. Jordan, photographed by a legend, Joe Walker, ASC.
WILLIAM FRAKER, ASC: I remember how impressed I was that they had shot Here Comes Mr. Jordan in 18 days in gorgeous black-and-white. I got a hold of the special effects man who created the Heaven sequences in Here Comes Mr. Jordan and brought him out of retirement so he could help us recreate heaven. We used around 15,000 pounds of dry ice.
We built Heaven on an elevated stage, so that we could put the dry ice underneath. I believe it was in Stage 29 at Columbia in the old Gower Street lot. We hit it with some oxygen and created a very pure, white smoke. It was non-toxic but it sucked all the oxygen out of the air. You could go for about 10 minutes and then you had to run outside and breathe air. Warren would shoot a 1000-foot magazine at a time. After every roll, we'd would open the doors, rush out and suck oxygen back into our lungs.
CRUDO: The first thing Chris and Paul Weitz talked about was doing Heaven differently than in your version, but the basic template is almost the same.
ICG Magazine: Why did the directors want a different take on Heaven for Down to Earth?
CRUDO: Chris and Paul saw Heaven as having a low-key nightclub feeling with kind of a 1950s touch. I guess that's how a character like Lance Barton would envision Heaven. We decided to keep the background very cool with the foreground warm where the characters are in more normal light. The production designer [Paul Peters, who did The Phantom and American Pie] gave us bouquets around the perimeter of the walls, and we used them to hide fluorescents with blue gels. It's a very soft blue. All the accents are blue. The cocktail tables are covered with a blue silk cloth on Plexiglas. We used China balls under the tables to get a nice glow. In the foreground, the lighting is kind of a normal warm. I think it's a nice contrast. I also had a number one White ProMist filter on the camera lens.
FRAKER: We created all of our own effects in camera. There really weren't that many. In the last scene, the two of them [Warren Beatty accompanied by James Mason as Mr. Jordan] are walking across the football field at the Los Angeles Coliseum. We wanted the lights at the Coliseum to go dark as they were walking away from the camera. We did that by working with the Coliseum people and timing turning off the lights as they walked by. We shot the football sequences at halftime during a pre-season game between the Rams and the Chargers. The Coliseum was filled with 80,000 people, which meant that everything we did had to be absolutely precise.
During scouting, I decided we could get a shot on the 50-yard line with the camera right on the ground in the grass. Because of the curvature of the field, when we put the camera down, we only saw the actors from about the waist up. It was a very interesting effect that we discovered by doing it. The night we filmed the football scenes was unbelievable. We had five cameras. Our two teams came on the field at half-time and executed about six plays. Every one of them was perfect. Warren threw a 40-yard pass that was caught. We were on and off the field in 20 minutes. The crowd was standing and cheering, screaming and hollering. I've done a lot of movies with special effects but you can never create those emotions that are real. It was magic.
CRUDO: Did you have any problems matching or correcting the stadium lights?
FRAKER: No. We used a very soft color correction filter and Technicolor did the rest during timing. It's great to have these new tools today but I think we did okay.
ICG Magazine: I know the two of you met before Richard started to shoot Down to Earth. How did the conversation go?
CRUDO: We met the week before I left town. I don't think Bill took me seriously, but I asked for his blessings. I felt I was remaking a classic film.
ICG Magazine: You didn't have any particular questions, Richard?
CRUDO: I was in awe. I was interested in how he keyed Julie Christie [as love interest Betty Logan], because I don't think she ever looked better.
FRAKER: She is gorgeous and that's always a good beginning. We used two types of keys. We had soft light on Julie and hard light on Warren. The big problem was when they exchanged positions on the set, so we had to double key them. We were using one of the old Mole Richardson console dimmers. Our dimmer man, Tuffy, had a great eye. He could tell you if you were off by one inch. He'd lower and raise the dimmer level according to what he saw with his eyes, and he hit the exposure on the head all the time. I had worked with him years earlier on the Ozzie and Harriet Show. We also had a dolly grip that I had worked with on that show. He never put a mark on the floor for the dolly. He'd just ask what lens we had on the camera and he'd hit the right spot every time. I also brought him out of retirement to do this film because Warren and the other actors wanted some freedom in the way they moved and where they turned.
CRUDO: How did you actually light Julie Christie? Did you use a soft bounce source?
FRAKER: Heavy diffusion from a hard source with just a little bounce. It was basically hard light with a lot less diffusion on Warren. We used a lot of Seniors and Juniors and very few Babies. It was a different style of lighting than today. We used a lot of different filters and diffusion to put a little bloom into the film to make it look a little bit more romantic. We needed 75 to 100 foot-candles to get an exposure of 2.5 or 2.8 with a 100-speed film. But the people before me who were shooting in Technicolor needed 10 times more foot-candles overall, with no shading, to get an exposure.
ICG Magazine: Richard, how did you approach lighting the lead actress in Down to Earth?
CRUDO: We did some tests with Regina [King] and it was clear that she looked best with soft light from off camera left. There were times when we had to do some switching on the board, but it's pretty seamless. Sometimes on day exteriors it was a little tricky, so we used a lot of negative fill, bringing in some big Solids to take sunlight off her but not to the point where it becomes noticeable.
FRAKER: Lighting daylight exteriors is a real art. Most people don't realize how tricky it can be - that's an art in itself. There are a lot of younger directors today who understandably haven't had experience with the need to maintain visual continuity. You try to talk to those directors and bring them into your world. A good director will listen to you. There are also directors who figure it's your problem. Somehow you'll fix it.
CRUDO: My favorite effects shot was done in the camera. Chris has come back to life in the body of a 60-year-old white, fat, baldheaded industrialist. He's in this guy's body, but he's still a stand-up comic at heart. That's the dream he's come back to complete. He decides to sharpen up his act in a Black comedy club. He's on stage doing his act and in the beginning the camera is seeing this from audience's perspective. He's doing his dialogue, which is very funny. The camera begins to dolly in towards him on an angle so we end up behind Chris with his head and shoulders in the foreground. We go directly behind him so Chris is now in the foreground and the audience is in the background. We wanted to see the back of the White guy's head on the body that Chris is occupying. We created a flare that seemed to come from house lights hitting the stage and blowing out the frame.
We used that transition to walk Chris off the stage and put the other guy in his place. We couldn't do that with the lights on the set, so we had the grips build a metal frame around the lens. We mounted a bunch of Inkies on dimmers. It was attached to the head so it moved with the camera. Using the dimmers, we had a controlled and repeatable amount of flare. When we whited-out the frame, Chris stepped out and the other guy stepped in. It's totally transparent. The biggest challenge was working out the timing, particularly how long to keep the flare. We did 12 takes before it was exactly right. It cost nothing compared to a digital morph and feels a lot more believable.
ICG Magazine: During the 23-year interval between Heaven Can Wait and Down To Earth, lots of new technology has arisen, including films, lenses, lights and ways of moving the camera. Does the advanced technology result in better pictures?
CRUDO: I'm proud of what we did, but it's not close to being a better picture.
FRAKER: Technology helps you get there but it doesn't help you make better films. Film is an art, and art is created by people. In this case, it's a collaborative art. You are never going to see people making better movies than She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, My Darling Clementine, Citizen Kane or Casablanca. They were made with slow films and lenses, with cumbersome cameras and lights and no digital effects.
ICG Magazine: If you could have one wish granted by a higher power, what would you ask for?
CRUDO: The greatest gift anyone could give me is the opportunity to shoot films the way they are supposed to be made.
FRAKER: I'll second that motion.