Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Steven Poster - Cinematographer

Cinematographer Steven Poster is the ex-President of the American Society of Cinematographers, current president of the Local 600 (the International Cinematographers Guild), a still photographer and DP of many films, including Rocky V, RocketMan, and Donnie Darko. He is possibly the only American Cinematographer ever to shoot a French movie for a French director in France.

At the recent Canon New York Expo he was interviewed by Canon's Tim Smith and talked about still photography, making movies, and the move from film to digital.

Do You Light For Motion?
The thing about light, light becomes the entire subject for me. I was a student at Arts Center, and at the first lecture by a man named Charlie Potts, who was wonderful, I realized that everything that I did was about light, and light became the subject. So do I light for still? Do I light for motion? I light, and then I add the motion. The ability to light has nothing to do with knowing where to put the lights. It’s everything about seeing light, knowing how to see light.
Ridley Scott
I did some additional shooting on Blade Runner. It was one of the shots that actually made my career. I did the shooting of what they call the Spinner, Harrison Ford’s car; driving through that tunnel with the reflections on the tunnel. Ridley had sent out three other people to shoot that shot, and he never was happy with it, and I came in. He didn’t tell me what they wanted, he just said go out and shoot it, and I came back with the shot that’s in the movie. But I didn’t have any lights, I was not allowed to bring them. By that time the studio was so disgusted with the situation, they said just go out there and shoot it. You can have a water truck and that’s it.
- Don’t you wish you could have patented that? Because that shot has been stolen a thousand times.
Switching to Digital

Donnie Darko
There is a scene where the characters are introduced at the school, and it’s a very fluid, very long scene, and Richard wanted to do it in one take. […] the producers were hysterical, they came to me “You’ve got to tell him he can’t do it,” and I said “I’m not going to tell this man that he can’t do it, but I do want a rehearsal. Let’s get the camera operator and Richard together at the school on a Saturday and lets rehearse it and we’ll see what happens.”

So we got to the school, and Richard said, “Lets go in and figure out the shoot,” and I said “You know what, you go in with the camera operator, but first, here’s a stop watch, I want you to take this stop watch and I want you to figure out how long it’s going to take this scene on the screen.”

And about twenty minutes later he came out and said “Okay, we’ll do it in three shots.”

It’s not a matter of saying no, it’s a matter of helping someone understand how to do it.

Using HDSLRs
I thought that the 7D’s were just going to allow me to place cameras anywhere, while we were shooting with the main camera, which were the RED’s. Everybody said “There are motion artifacts, there are things that this camera doesn’t do well.” But you know what? I started looking at the material that I was getting with these cameras and I said “I can use them as my main camera." I don’t see any reason not to include them when I can put it in a place that I couldn’t get a another camera, or when I want an additional shot very quickly.

You need to modify the camera in a way that you can use film lenses. The thought of going in to a Best Buy and buying a camera and coming out and making a movie is a very attractive thought. [...] You need to have lenses that an assistant cameraman can focus while you’re shooting. The reason for that is in real narrative work, the camera operator needs to operate the camera, and not be concerned about the focus. You need an assistant cameraman to focus with it.

You need to have monitoring, you need to have camera mounts, you need to have matte boxes, you need to have a way to put filtration on, you need to have a way that you can get the image off to the digital imaging technician so that you can control the image. You cannot do this without the amount of crew that you need to operate any other camera. It’s a fallacy. If you’re doing a documentary, if you’re doing something special or a one-off shot, that’s a different thing, but when you’re making an actual narrative motion picture there are certain reasons that the crew exists as it does, and if you try and bypass that, it’s a mistake.

How do you feel about 3D?

There is a price to pay for the quality of the image in 3D and you have to live with that as a cinematographer. It’s not easy. I think the 2D version of Cats and Digs has a much more cinematic quality to it.

Do you see a time when film doesn’t exist for motion pictures?
You know, I’d like to say no. I think the Zytgyst goes in waves. At [some point] it will become popular not to do film, and then it’s going to wave back where some directors going to say “you know, I’m going to do it differently, and I’m going to do it on film.” I don’t know if film will ever completely disappear, unless the economic forces are such that it is no longer profitable for Kodak to make film.
At one point you said 60-40 when is it 50-50? In six months or six years?
I don’t think it’s six years. I think it’s coming more rapidly. As the cameras develop, as the technology develops. I’ve not finished the movie that I shot using the 7D’s and the REDs, but the tests that I’ve seen, and this may sound blasphemous, but the Canon material looks a lot better than what I see in the RED material. That’s just in the tests that I’ve seen. Now when I finish the movie it may be different. But I have done tests and I feel that the Canon is a much better chip than what exists in the new RED.

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