THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 AT CINEGEAR

The activities started early on Saturday the 6th with several seminars, master classes, and presentations by key members of the industry. The vendor exhibit areas were crowded by the attending public inquiring about products and services. The site looked like a tribute to the choreography of a Busby Berkeley film with so much in-sync movement and functionality together under one roof. Sky high zooming towering cranes, moving dollies, up and down jibs, steadicams flying about, floating lighting balloons, camera cars, tingling lighting pattens and hundreds of people moving about sharing a common bond for motion picture production.


Two of the many outstanding seminars at CINEGEAR, I could attend were The Taking of Pelham 123, and A Dialogue with the BSC and ASC Cinematographers.

The Taking of Pelham 123 was moderated by Bob Fisher and presented a dissection of the anatomy of the remake of the original film and shooting styles of two directors of photography, the veteran master Owen Roizman, ASC and the younger and talented, Tobias Schliesser, ASC. Owen Roizman was the cinematographer of the original film directed by Joseph Sargent and Tobias Schliesser was the cinematographer of the remake helmed of Tony Scott.


I still remember the day when I saw the original film in a cramped Times Square theater, I was taken by the dynamic directorial pace, the motley crew cast of characters and the fluid cinematography that took place in such confining location. The action scenes inside New York City subway cars and tunnels of my neighborhood prompted to investigate how such action movies where made.


Tobias Schliesser ASC, Bob Fisher and Owen Roizman, ASC.

"It was a single Panavision camera shoot on Kodak 100 ASA negative stock on top of a dolly and I used anamorphic lenses. No storyboards, no special effects and I relied only on the available electrical power offered by the MTA (Manhattan Transit Authority). The film was pre-flashed at 20% with an optical printer and processed photochemically and I approved the dailies at the lab every day before coming to the underground set".

"I used the train overhead fluorescents and the tunnel tungsten illumination to my advantage coupled it with several inkys, tweenis, babys, juniors and 500 watts photofloods. Due to budget and insurance constraints, our electrical power was provided by the city and our lighting package was basic. For example, I used the car electrical out lets to fire our rigged 1oo watts inky fixtures bounced into dentist mirrors and the car available fluorescent overheads for the close ups and eye lighting".


In contrast, Tobias Schliesser ASC, lit the set for Tony Scott using the latest technology in fluorescent and tungsten lighting. The camera setup was a multi-camera setup or EFP style using Kodak 500T film stock on Panavision cameras tethered to a video village, covering every aspect of the performance while Tony Scott commanded the framing and moves via headset. Another big difference in the shooting style of the two films was the choice of lenses. Tobias Schliesser used Super 35 aspect ratio on faster Primo zooms and high speed primes lenses from his arsenal to capture the distinctive look that matches the fast pace of the edited storyline.

"I was there to make sure that the highly storyboarded and choreographed set was properly illuminated. We discussed every single move and lighting scheme prior our working day. Tony sketches very detailed storyboards and follow them as much as possible but I never stayed on the video village while the shooting, but in the middle of the action, close to the camera operators making constant lighting adjustments for such complicated coverage". The processing of the resulting exposed film was photochemical and scanned to a digital workflow for DI colorizing and other pertinent adjustments.


After the fantastic conversation with these three masters of their craft, I am looking forward again to sit in a dark theater to revisit the emotion I felt once for 90 minutes and watch the remake this classic New York City thriller.



Cinematography by Owen Roizman, ASC



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