Author Topic: 2006 article about filming BBM  (Read 4998 times)

Offline chowhound

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2006 article about filming BBM
« on: Mar 12, 2012, 04:27 PM »
Hi Jackster, BBMsheep and myprivatejack,
   I  thought the three of you and maybe others might like to read the complete article from which I took the above extract. It's quite long and highly technical but does contain some insights into the film as a whole as well as one or two amusing anecdotes:

American Cinematographer magazine January, 2006 Peaks and Valleys by John Calhoun Brokeback Mountain, shot by Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC, traces the emotional arc of an impassioned relationship between two cowboys. The two protagonists of Brokeback Mountain are in many ways classic American cowboys -- strong, silent types. As director of photography Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC puts it, "When they talk, they don't adorn what they say with fancy words; they're direct. [Director] Ang Lee and I felt the camerawork had to be like that as well. Ang said he wanted to shoot it very much like the characters are: very stoic in a way, and simple." Lee says it was Prieto's virtuosic work on Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's films Amores Perros (see AC April `01) and 21 Grams (AC Dec. `03) that caught his eye. "We met and talked about Brokeback Mountain, and I felt the talent there, and the energy," says Lee. "And then I asked Rodrigo to [work in a style] that was quite the opposite of why people want him." Yet the visual simplicity Lee proposed appealed to Prieto, who was nearing completion on Oliver Stone's Alexander (AC Nov. `04) when he got the script. "Brokeback Mountain was the antithesis of the extremes of Alexander, which had many different visual styles, many cameras, big lighting setups and many characters in every scene. This was a complete 180, and that's one of the things that attracted me to it, as I enjoy looking for new challenges with each project." Another thing that made the film attractive to Prieto was its unusual subject matter: what makes main characters Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) atypical cowboys are their romantic and sexual inclinations, which are directed toward each other. Adapted from a short story by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain is a rarity in American cinema: a tragic tale of thwarted romance between two characters of the same sex. The story opens in 1963, as Jack and Ennis meet while tending sheep on the titular Wyoming peak. It goes on to cover the next 20 years of their lives, as the men marry and establish families but periodically reconnect. Throughout the relationship, they attempt to recapture that initial moment of happiness symbolized by Brokeback Mountain, but are held back by social restraints and fear. "I think every once in awhile, we need something fresh to tell the oldest story, in this case a romantic love story," says Lee. "It's harder and harder to find obstacles for romance." Prieto adds, "When I read it, I knew I had to participate in it. This is the 21st century, and there's still quite a bit of intolerance toward homosexuality. This script really makes you feel empathy for these characters." Lee reveals another reason he wanted Prieto for the job: the cinematographer is known for getting dazzling results with limited time and money. "This was a very low-budget film, but it's not written like one," Lee says of the story, which spans two decades and encompasses several distinct settings. "I needed someone who uses natural light smartly, who sets out the shots without changing them and gives most of the time to the actors." Just as important, he adds, "I needed someone like myself, with fresh eyes for the American West." For inspiration, Lee, Prieto, production designer Judy Becker and other key crew studied a number of visual references during prep, including Richard Avedon's In the American West book of portraits and William Eggleston's stills. The latter interested Prieto because of the "limited color palette and sometimes strange but simple compositions." The lighting and compositional styles of painters Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth were also influential. Lee was drawn to Ansel Adams' classic photography of small Western towns in which "the frame is kind of off, with a lot of things on the sides and a lot of contrast." "Ang is very specific about framing and lens choice," says Prieto, who has shot movies for Julie Taymor, Curtis Hanson, and Spike Lee, among others. "He'd ask for a specific lens, look through the director's viewfinder, and then we'd mark where he was. Ang has a great eye, and he meticulously looks for the angle that best tells the story." The director's eye was apparent to Prieto during testing. The cinematographer's plan was to "do things that were very subtle in terms of film stocks, framing and filtration -- things that I hoped wouldn't be noticeable but would make a difference. Ang is very keen on those subtleties, and he noticed every little thing: the grain texture of one stock versus another, or the subtle difference between a Zeiss Ultra Prime lens and a Cooke S4. I presented him with options, and he had very specific opinions." Selecting the proper lenses for the picture required a collaborative attention to detail. "Ang originally wanted to use Cooke Panchros because he wanted a softer image," recalls Prieto. "He didn't want something really hard-edged and stark. I usually use Ultra Primes because I like high contrast and very, very sharp images, so we did side-by-side comparisons of Ultra Primes, Panchros, and Cooke S4 primes. We concluded that our best bet was the S4s; they have a wider gamut of lenses than the Panchros, and they match better from one lens to another. The S4s also felt a tiny, tiny bit less harsh and a touch warmer than the Ultra Primes. It was hard to see -- we had to A-B project them over and over! If we needed a little extra softness, we used a bit of diffusion." For example, scenes late in the film involving Jack's wife (Anne Hathaway), a heavily made-up Texas woman, were shot with Schneider Classic Soft filters. Elaborating on his use of lenses, Prieto continues, "We were mostly staying on the wide end, but I wouldn't say wide angle. We wouldn't use the 14mm, but we did use the 27mm, the 32mm, and the 40mm and 50mm. I like the way a 40 or 50mm feels on a close-up -- it looks more intimate, as the camera is physically close to the actor." He shot the picture with the Arricam system, using the lightweight LT as his A camera. "Peter Wunstorf [ASC, CSC], who shot second unit, would take the ST into the mountains," he says. With a chuckle, he adds, "Peter did all the shots people will remember as being the photography in the movie!" Wunstorf had very precise guidance, however: "When we scouted the mountains, I took stills of everything," says Prieto. "When we printed the stills, Ang would draw on top and say, `Frame it like this.' Peter and I would then discuss the ideal time to shoot for the light on the peaks." Choosing film stocks was even more complex than choosing lenses, because the filmmakers wanted to establish a subtle visual distinction between the early scenes of Jack and Ennis on Brokeback Mountain and most of what follows. Lee explains, "I didn't want to divide it in terms of `The days on the mountain are great, and off the mountain sucks.' But I knew the mountains should be romantically photographed. That's why the film is called Brokeback Mountain -- everybody has a Brokeback Mountain, a yearning for romance or the illusion of romance. When Jack and Ennis are off the mountain, they want to go back but are never really able to. The landscape gets drier and drier as we go along and gradually becomes a backdrop." In the towns, the framing often includes the sky; in addition to the story's intimate scale, this emphasis on the mountains' vertical scope is why the filmmakers decided to shoot in standard 1.85:1. "We wanted to visually separate the men's everyday lives in Wyoming, where Ennis lives, and Texas, where Jack lives, from their experiences on Brokeback Mountain," says Prieto. "For day-exterior mountain scenes, I used [Eastman EXR 50D] 5245 because I wanted those images to feel a little crisper and cleaner -- I wanted the air to be more transparent." Daylight scenes down in the towns were filmed on Kodak Vision 250D 5246 to achieve "a touch more grain and a touch more contrast," he continues. "Judy Becker's production design featured muted colors, and we wanted [the town] to feel a little grayer, a little harsher than thte mountain scenes." He also used 5246 for dusk and dawn scenes on the mountain, when he needed more speed. When Jack and Ennis rendezvous on the mountain in subsequent years, the stock is once again 45 -- until the men begin to argue over their relationship. "When things get a little ugly, I go to 46. Throughout the picture, 45 is the stock for when things are good." Prieto used Vision2 500T 5218 for all night material except the sequences set in Texas; there, he used Vision 500T 5279. "I find 79 a little more saturated and contrasty than 5218, and I wanted brighter reds and a little more color in Texas." Most of the picture was shot in the Canadian province of Alberta, and the 10-week shoot was subject to all the predictable difficulties of practical locations and high-plains weather. "Ang talked a lot about the type of weather and time of year he wanted throughout the story," says Prieto. "I broke the script down scene by scene, listing the film stock and special equipment I wanted to use, as well as notes about weather, time of day, mood of lighting, and specifics about color. We tried to stick to it, but [this kind of shoot] is never what you want weather-wise -- the skies in Alberta are full of huge clouds and the sun comes in and out all the time, which is every cinematographer's nightmare. The movie depends so much on exteriors, and we knew we weren't going to finish with a digital intermediate [DI], so we just waited for the light." Or they did their best to fake it. "We had to shoot one long dialogue scene that was set at dusk in the middle of the day. I created a fire effect on the actors' faces that was really, really bright to compete with the daylight in the background. I used an 81D filter plus heavy NDs on the lens so the background would look slightly blue and soft-focus, as though the day was about to end. We blocked the daylight from the actors with a black 12-by-12 overhead frame, and I brought up the exposure of the firelight effect on their faces to the same level as the background daylight, then underexposed everything to make it feel like dusk." Night exteriors were an even bigger challenge, especially outside the artificially lit towns. "It's easy to bring in a Musco for moonlight, but I'm a little obsessed with making [nighttime ambient light] really look like it's moonlight or firelight," says Prieto. "The trick was finding a way to do that without a big budget." Several key sequences early in the film find Jack and Ennis getting to know each other by firelight or, in one crucial case, only the moon. "The problem with moonlit scenes in the countryside is that the moon will light to infinity, so if your eye can see the mountains in the distance, they should be moonlit as well. We had to find locations [to set the action] that were a little bit enclosed, with trees or a little hill -- something that would block the view of the far distance. "We couldn't afford to create moonlight with helium lighting balloons, so my gaffer, Christopher Porter, brought in weather balloons, and we bounced light off those," he continues. "We had rigging electrics climb 40 or 50 feet up in the trees and tie up 12K and 6K HMI Pars to blast the balloons, and that was our moonlight fill. We gelled the lights with 1/2 CTO and 1/4 Plus Green so the light wouldn't have any real color to it. On wider shots, we used three or four weather balloons and I underexposed the footage." In one scene, Jack is lit by the campfire and Ennis is seen approaching from a 50-yard distance, lit only by the moon. "I was underexposing the moonlight by about two stops, whereas Jack by the firelight was on key. I wanted you to be able to see Ennis, but just barely." For firelight, Prieto used 8'-long wood batten strips with 100-watt household bulbs attached every 6" or so. "We used Socapex connectors and had the bulbs going off in different rhythms to create a shimmering, flickering effect," he says. "It's a big, soft source with many, many bulbs, and we dimmed them way down to create an orange glow." In another scene, when Jack invites a shivering Ennis inside the tent, the campfire has gone out. This scene was shot in two sections. The first part is an exterior location that was chosen partly because of its proximity to a hill. "In that case," says Prieto, "I had a 24-lamp Dino gelled with 1/2 CTB and 1/4 Plus Green way, way off on a 100-foot Condor. That barely gave me an exposure of T1.4. Our lens was T2, so it was underexposed by a stop. Then we had our balloons filling out the foreground a little. I wanted all this to look like a single source, so we positioned the balloons so their illumination would seem to continue the light from the Dino." The portion of the sequence that unfolds inside the tent was shot on a small stage in Calgary, and it was no less tricky to illuminate. "Those tents are made of thick canvas, so when you go inside and close the opening, there's no light," says Prieto. "We had to be able to see inside, yet the illumination had to feel natural -- I couldn't have high contrast, because where was the source?" He created soft ambient light in the tent by directing Kino Flos and 2K Fresnels through the canvas. "I had to add more blue to the [moonlight] gel pack because the canvas was quite warm; we used Full CTB instead of 1/2 CTB." The scene was underexposed by 1-1/2 stops "and printed down even further -- we wanted to see the faces, but barely. It was kind of scary to work in such low light, but I thought it would also help the actors; I wanted Jake and Heath to be in a dark environment in the tent to help with the intimacy of the scene." The only other set the production built onstage was a motel room where Jack and Ennis have their first rendezvous after a separation of several years. Otherwise, practical locations around Calgary were used. "It's always a challenge to work in tight spaces, but I really do feel it helps," says Prieto. "When you're limited by reality the lighting feels more realistic, because that's the way light behaves naturally. When you're onstage and can move a wall out or put a light through at any point, it can look good, but it's fake. This applies to camera positions as well. Even for the tent scene, where we took one side of the tent out so we could fit the camera through, we made sure the lens was inside -- we were right in there with a 32mm. In the motel room, we took a wall out, but again, the camera was inside, where the wall would have been. "We were trying to base everything on reality, with light sources that made sense but also helped create the mood we wanted for each scene. That meant working very closely with Judy [Becker] on light sources, be they windows, or streetlights, or lamps." Of course, that's not to say subtle stylization wasn't at work with the lighting. At night, when Jack and Ennis are shown apart, Prieto created a slight color separation with lighting. Night exteriors with Ennis, the more tortured character, "had a little more blue influence," he explains. "I generally used Steel Green gel on the streetlights to make them feel more like mercury vapor or metal halide. For Jack's world in Texas, I either used straight tungsten white light or introduced a bit of warmth, an amber color that suggested [the sources] were sodium vapor. Jack is a little more energetic; he has a little more vibration." That vibration is nowhere to be seen during a scene late in the movie, when Ennis visits Jack's parents. Their farmhouse is "very stark, with grayish-white walls," says Prieto. "I tried to do something very simple but with a powerful contrast, which is difficult to achieve in a white room, so I blew out the windows and made them bright spots while keeping dark shadows on the faces. For this scene, we were inspired by the work of Vilhelm Hammershoi, whose paintings are very moody but devoid of color. We used an 18K HMI as the main source, lighting from a large window next to the table where Jack's father talks with Ennis. The light was diffused with a 12-by-12 full grid that was as close to the window as the framing allowed in each shot. We had two 6K Pars over the smaller windows coming in as direct sunlight through the sheer curtains, and a 4K Par through the small window in the door. For close-ups, I added an Image 80 on the ground to give a sense of light bouncing off the floor, plus a single 2-foot Kino tube wrapped in 216 under the lens for a very slight glint in the eyes. The goal was to suggest that Ennis feels uncomfortable in the stale, monochromatic atmosphere." Throughout Brokeback Mountain, the camerawork is possibly the simplest visual element. "Most of the time we were shooting with one camera," says Prieto. "Sometimes Damon Moreau was operating, and sometimes I was." Lee marvels at Prieto's facility in this role. "I've never worked with a better operator," says the director. "Rodrigo breathes with the scene -- the framing goes along with what's happening, it goes with the flow, whether the camera is on sticks or handheld." Actually, according to Prieto, there's only one handheld shot in the movie, during a fight scene between the two men. Dolly shots were nearly as scarce, and cranes were nonexistent. "There was a temptation sometimes to do a nice camera move," says Prieto, "but the story didn't need it." One of the picture's rare Steadicam shots finds Jack prowling among the male prostitutes on a back street in Mexico. The companion he chooses is played by none other than Prieto. "I was starting to light the scene, and Ang said he wanted to ask a big favor," recalls the cinematographer. (Lee, who explains that the actor originally cast turned out to be too short, notes, "Rodrigo will do anything for a director, including putting himself in a dark alley!") Prieto continues, "They whisked me off to hair and makeup and wardrobe, and God, it was horrible. The worst part was, it was a complicated lighting setup. The camera starts with Jack going down one street that was lit with tungsten units gelled with 1/4 CTO, and then turns onto a street where all the prostitutes are. I wanted to transition into something seedier there, so I went to mercury vapor; the light changes from a warmish hue to blue-green with some yellow and red spots coming out of doorways. The camera was seeing in 360 degrees, so I had to contain all the sources within the buildings or overhead and had very little time to do it -- and on top of that, I had to endure makeup and hair!" Prieto color-timed Brokeback Mountain at Deluxe Toronto, right after he finished supervising a three-month DI for Alexander in Paris. "Ang's belief is that DIs look like DIs, that there is a certain texture he didn't want," says the cinematographer. "I don't totally agree with that because I think it depends on how you use [the technology] -- 8 Mile was a DI, but I don't think it looks like it. But in this case, I thought it was appropriate not to do a DI; the philosophy of the movie was simplicity, so I thought we should make it the old-fashioned way. I also didn't feel we needed the enhanced control of the digital suite, because most of the time we'd been able to wait out the weather." Finishing the picture photo-chemically affected Prieto's choice of print stock. "We wanted good, deep blacks, but we also didn't want the image to be too colorful. We tested [Kodak] Vision and felt the blacks weren't deep enough. Then we tested [Kodak] Vision Premier, and although we liked the blacks, it was just too colorful overall." Instead, Prieto printed on Fuji 3513 DI, which has "good blacks and less saturated color. The one thing we lost a bit of was the saturation of the foliage; we could have gotten that with Premier, but then the reds would have been too saturated as well." Summing up his work on the picture, Prieto says, "I only hope the cinematography helps tell this story of deep human emotions that touch everyone, regardless of nationality, religion, politics, or sexual orientation." TECHNICAL SPECS 1.85:1 Arricam ST, LT Cooke S4 lenses Eastman EXR 50D 5245, Kodak Vision 250D 5246, Vision 500T 5279, Vision2 500T 5218 Printed on Fuji F-CP 3513DI

Offline jackster

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2006 article about filming BBM
« Reply #1 on: Mar 12, 2012, 08:01 PM »
O.M.G.
Amazing.
Thank you so much chowhound.
 (:*  (:*  (:*  (:*
we get to drinkin' and talkin' an all

Offline myprivatejack

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  • It could be like this,just like this...always
2006 article about filming BBM
« Reply #2 on: Mar 13, 2012, 09:32 AM »
O.M.G.
Amazing.
Thank you so much chowhound.
 (:*  (:*  (:*  (:*
What he said!  :t)
Ennis’s eyes gone bright with shock, mouth opening then closing again. “Love?” Ennis said finally, voice strangling in his throat.

Jack smiled sad. “Yeah, Ennis. Love.” Leaned forward and kissed Ennis’s temple, whispered, “What’d you think it was, all this time?”
("If I asked")
                         ----------------
Heathcliff Andrew Ledger (1979-2008)/Rajel Karen Ashkenazi (1986-2008)
You will be forever in my heart,friends.

Offline BBMsheep

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2006 article about filming BBM
« Reply #3 on: Mar 13, 2012, 10:57 AM »
O.M.G.
Amazing.
Thank you so much chowhound.
 (:*  (:*  (:*  (:*

I agree with jackster and mpj! Thanks for posting chowhound ^f^
It could be like this - just like this - always

Later, that dozy embrace solidified in his memory as the single moment of artless, charmed happiness in their separate and difficult lives. Annie Proulx

Offline chowhound

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2006 article about filming BBM
« Reply #4 on: Mar 14, 2012, 09:40 PM »
Hi Jackster, BBMsheep, and myprivate jack,
   A friend has kindly reformatted the article I posted a couple of days ago so as to make it easier to read. I thought I'd repost it in this new format in case you wanted to reread  it or save it for future reference:


 American Cinematographer magazine January, 2006 Peaks and Valleys by John Calhoun Brokeback Mountain, shot by Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC, traces the emotional arc of an impassioned relationship between two cowboys. The two protagonists of Brokeback Mountain are in many ways classic American cowboys -- strong, silent types. As director of photography Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC puts it, "When they talk, they don't adorn what they say with fancy words; they're direct. [Director] Ang Lee and I felt the camerawork had to be like that as well. Ang said he wanted to shoot it very much like the characters are: very stoic in a way, and simple." Lee says it was Prieto's virtuosic work on Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's films Amores Perros (see AC April `01) and 21 Grams (AC Dec. `03) that caught his eye. "We met and talked about Brokeback Mountain, and I felt the talent there, and the energy," says Lee. "And then I asked Rodrigo to [work in a style] that was quite the opposite of why people want him."

Yet the visual simplicity Lee proposed appealed to Prieto, who was nearing completion on Oliver Stone's Alexander (AC Nov. `04) when he got the script. "Brokeback Mountain was the antithesis of the extremes of Alexander, which had many different visual styles, many cameras, big lighting setups and many characters in every scene. This was a complete 180, and that's one of the things that attracted me to it, as I enjoy looking for new challenges with each project." Another thing that made the film attractive to Prieto was its unusual subject matter: what makes main characters Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) atypical cowboys are their romantic and sexual inclinations, which are directed toward each other. Adapted from a short story by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain is a rarity in American cinema: a tragic tale of thwarted romance between two characters of the same sex. The story opens in 1963, as Jack and Ennis meet while tending sheep on the titular Wyoming peak. It goes on to cover the next 20 years of their lives, as the men marry and establish families but periodically reconnect. Throughout the relationship, they attempt to recapture that initial moment of happiness symbolized by Brokeback Mountain, but are held back by social restraints and fear. "I think every once in awhile, we need something fresh to tell the oldest story, in this case a romantic love story," says Lee.

"It's harder and harder to find obstacles for romance." Prieto adds, "When I read it, I knew I had to participate in it. This is the 21st century, and there's still quite a bit of intolerance toward homosexuality. This script really makes you feel empathy for these characters." Lee reveals another reason he wanted Prieto for the job: the cinematographer is known for getting dazzling results with limited time and money. "This was a very low-budget film, but it's not written like one," Lee says of the story, which spans two decades and encompasses several distinct settings. "I needed someone who uses natural light smartly, who sets out the shots without changing them and gives most of the time to the actors." Just as important, he adds, "I needed someone like myself, with fresh eyes for the American West." For inspiration, Lee, Prieto, production designer Judy Becker and other key crew studied a number of visual references during prep, including Richard Avedon's In the American West book of portraits and William Eggleston's stills. The latter interested Prieto because of the "limited color palette and sometimes strange but simple compositions."

The lighting and compositional styles of painters Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth were also influential. Lee was drawn to Ansel Adams' classic photography of small Western towns in which "the frame is kind of off, with a lot of things on the sides and a lot of contrast." "Ang is very specific about framing and lens choice," says Prieto, who has shot movies for Julie Taymor, Curtis Hanson, and Spike Lee, among others. "He'd ask for a specific lens, look through the director's viewfinder, and then we'd mark where he was. Ang has a great eye, and he meticulously looks for the angle that best tells the story." The director's eye was apparent to Prieto during testing. The cinematographer's plan was to "do things that were very subtle in terms of film stocks, framing and filtration -- things that I hoped wouldn't be noticeable but would make a difference.

Ang is very keen on those subtleties, and he noticed every little thing: the grain texture of one stock versus another, or the subtle difference between a Zeiss Ultra Prime lens and a Cooke S4. I presented him with options, and he had very specific opinions." Selecting the proper lenses for the picture required a collaborative attention to detail. "Ang originally wanted to use Cooke Panchros because he wanted a softer image," recalls Prieto. "He didn't want something really hard-edged and stark. I usually use Ultra Primes because I like high contrast and very, very sharp images, so we did side-by-side comparisons of Ultra Primes, Panchros, and Cooke S4 primes. We concluded that our best bet was the S4s; they have a wider gamut of lenses than the Panchros, and they match better from one lens to another. The S4s also felt a tiny, tiny bit less harsh and a touch warmer than the Ultra Primes. It was hard to see -- we had to A-B project them over and over! If we needed a little extra softness, we used a bit of diffusion."

For example, scenes late in the film involving Jack's wife (Anne Hathaway), a heavily made-up Texas woman, were shot with Schneider Classic Soft filters. Elaborating on his use of lenses, Prieto continues, "We were mostly staying on the wide end, but I wouldn't say wide angle. We wouldn't use the 14mm, but we did use the 27mm, the 32mm, and the 40mm and 50mm. I like the way a 40 or 50mm feels on a close-up -- it looks more intimate, as the camera is physically close to the actor." He shot the picture with the Arricam system, using the lightweight LT as his A camera. "Peter Wunstorf [ASC, CSC], who shot second unit, would take the ST into the mountains," he says. With a chuckle, he adds, "Peter did all the shots people will remember as being the photography in the movie!" Wunstorf had very precise guidance, however: "When we scouted the mountains, I took stills of everything," says Prieto. "When we printed the stills, Ang would draw on top and say, `Frame it like this.' Peter and I would then discuss the ideal time to shoot for the light on the peaks."

Choosing film stocks was even more complex than choosing lenses, because the filmmakers wanted to establish a subtle visual distinction between the early scenes of Jack and Ennis on Brokeback Mountain and most of what follows. Lee explains, "I didn't want to divide it in terms of `The days on the mountain are great, and off the mountain sucks.' But I knew the mountains should be romantically photographed. That's why the film is called Brokeback Mountain -- everybody has a Brokeback Mountain, a yearning for romance or the illusion of romance. When Jack and Ennis are off the mountain, they want to go back but are never really able to. The landscape gets drier and drier as we go along and gradually becomes a backdrop." In the towns, the framing often includes the sky; in addition to the story's intimate scale, this emphasis on the mountains' vertical scope is why the filmmakers decided to shoot in standard 1.85:1. "We wanted to visually separate the men's everyday lives in Wyoming, where Ennis lives, and Texas, where Jack lives, from their experiences on Brokeback Mountain," says Prieto.

"For day-exterior mountain scenes, I used [Eastman EXR 50D] 5245 because I wanted those images to feel a little crisper and cleaner -- I wanted the air to be more transparent." Daylight scenes down in the towns were filmed on Kodak Vision 250D 5246 to achieve "a touch more grain and a touch more contrast," he continues. "Judy Becker's production design featured muted colors, and we wanted [the town] to feel a little grayer, a little harsher than thte mountain scenes." He also used 5246 for dusk and dawn scenes on the mountain, when he needed more speed. When Jack and Ennis rendezvous on the mountain in subsequent years, the stock is once again 45 -- until the men begin to argue over their relationship. "When things get a little ugly, I go to 46.

Throughout the picture, 45 is the stock for when things are good." Prieto used Vision2 500T 5218 for all night material except the sequences set in Texas; there, he used Vision 500T 5279. "I find 79 a little more saturated and contrasty than 5218, and I wanted brighter reds and a little more color in Texas." Most of the picture was shot in the Canadian province of Alberta, and the 10-week shoot was subject to all the predictable difficulties of practical locations and high-plains weather. "Ang talked a lot about the type of weather and time of year he wanted throughout the story," says Prieto.

"I broke the script down scene by scene, listing the film stock and special equipment I wanted to use, as well as notes about weather, time of day, mood of lighting, and specifics about color. We tried to stick to it, but [this kind of shoot] is never what you want weather-wise -- the skies in Alberta are full of huge clouds and the sun comes in and out all the time, which is every cinematographer's nightmare. The movie depends so much on exteriors, and we knew we weren't going to finish with a digital intermediate [DI], so we just waited for the light." Or they did their best to fake it. "We had to shoot one long dialogue scene that was set at dusk in the middle of the day. I created a fire effect on the actors' faces that was really, really bright to compete with the daylight in the background. I used an 81D filter plus heavy NDs on the lens so the background would look slightly blue and soft-focus, as though the day was about to end. We blocked the daylight from the actors with a black 12-by-12 overhead frame, and I brought up the exposure of the firelight effect on their faces to the same level as the background daylight, then underexposed everything to make it feel like dusk."

Night exteriors were an even bigger challenge, especially outside the artificially lit towns. "It's easy to bring in a Musco for moonlight, but I'm a little obsessed with making [nighttime ambient light] really look like it's moonlight or firelight," says Prieto. "The trick was finding a way to do that without a big budget." Several key sequences early in the film find Jack and Ennis getting to know each other by firelight or, in one crucial case, only the moon. "The problem with moonlit scenes in the countryside is that the moon will light to infinity, so if your eye can see the mountains in the distance, they should be moonlit as well.

We had to find locations [to set the action] that were a little bit enclosed, with trees or a little hill -- something that would block the view of the far distance. "We couldn't afford to create moonlight with helium lighting balloons, so my gaffer, Christopher Porter, brought in weather balloons, and we bounced light off those," he continues. "We had rigging electrics climb 40 or 50 feet up in the trees and tie up 12K and 6K HMI Pars to blast the balloons, and that was our moonlight fill. We gelled the lights with 1/2 CTO and 1/4 Plus Green so the light wouldn't have any real color to it. On wider shots, we used three or four weather balloons and I underexposed the footage." In one scene, Jack is lit by the campfire and Ennis is seen approaching from a 50-yard distance, lit only by the moon. "I was underexposing the moonlight by about two stops, whereas Jack by the firelight was on key. I wanted you to be able to see Ennis, but just barely." For firelight, Prieto used 8'-long wood batten strips with 100-watt household bulbs attached every 6" or so. "We used Socapex connectors and had the bulbs going off in different rhythms to create a shimmering, flickering effect," he says. "It's a big, soft source with many, many bulbs, and we dimmed them way down to create an orange glow." In another scene, when Jack invites a shivering Ennis inside the tent, the campfire has gone out. This scene was shot in two sections. The first part is an exterior location that was chosen partly because of its proximity to a hill.

"In that case," says Prieto, "I had a 24-lamp Dino gelled with 1/2 CTB and 1/4 Plus Green way, way off on a 100-foot Condor. That barely gave me an exposure of T1.4. Our lens was T2, so it was underexposed by a stop. Then we had our balloons filling out the foreground a little. I wanted all this to look like a single source, so we positioned the balloons so their illumination would seem to continue the light from the Dino." The portion of the sequence that unfolds inside the tent was shot on a small stage in Calgary, and it was no less tricky to illuminate. "Those tents are made of thick canvas, so when you go inside and close the opening, there's no light," says Prieto. "We had to be able to see inside, yet the illumination had to feel natural -- I couldn't have high contrast, because where was the source?" He created soft ambient light in the tent by directing Kino Flos and 2K Fresnels through the canvas.

"I had to add more blue to the [moonlight] gel pack because the canvas was quite warm; we used Full CTB instead of 1/2 CTB." The scene was underexposed by 1-1/2 stops "and printed down even further -- we wanted to see the faces, but barely. It was kind of scary to work in such low light, but I thought it would also help the actors; I wanted Jake and Heath to be in a dark environment in the tent to help with the intimacy of the scene." The only other set the production built onstage was a motel room where Jack and Ennis have their first rendezvous after a separation of several years. Otherwise, practical locations around Calgary were used. "It's always a challenge to work in tight spaces, but I really do feel it helps," says Prieto.

"When you're limited by reality the lighting feels more realistic, because that's the way light behaves naturally. When you're onstage and can move a wall out or put a light through at any point, it can look good, but it's fake. This applies to camera positions as well. Even for the tent scene, where we took one side of the tent out so we could fit the camera through, we made sure the lens was inside -- we were right in there with a 32mm. In the motel room, we took a wall out, but again, the camera was inside, where the wall would have been. "We were trying to base everything on reality, with light sources that made sense but also helped create the mood we wanted for each scene. That meant working very closely with Judy [Becker] on light sources, be they windows, or streetlights, or lamps." Of course, that's not to say subtle stylization wasn't at work with the lighting.

At night, when Jack and Ennis are shown apart, Prieto created a slight color separation with lighting. Night exteriors with Ennis, the more tortured character, "had a little more blue influence," he explains. "I generally used Steel Green gel on the streetlights to make them feel more like mercury vapor or metal halide. For Jack's world in Texas, I either used straight tungsten white light or introduced a bit of warmth, an amber color that suggested [the sources] were sodium vapor. Jack is a little more energetic; he has a little more vibration." That vibration is nowhere to be seen during a scene late in the movie, when Ennis visits Jack's parents. Their farmhouse is "very stark, with grayish-white walls," says Prieto.

"I tried to do something very simple but with a powerful contrast, which is difficult to achieve in a white room, so I blew out the windows and made them bright spots while keeping dark shadows on the faces. For this scene, we were inspired by the work of Vilhelm Hammershoi, whose paintings are very moody but devoid of color. We used an 18K HMI as the main source, lighting from a large window next to the table where Jack's father talks with Ennis. The light was diffused with a 12-by-12 full grid that was as close to the window as the framing allowed in each shot. We had two 6K Pars over the smaller windows coming in as direct sunlight through the sheer curtains, and a 4K Par through the small window in the door. For close-ups, I added an Image 80 on the ground to give a sense of light bouncing off the floor, plus a single 2-foot Kino tube wrapped in 216 under the lens for a very slight glint in the eyes. The goal was to suggest that Ennis feels uncomfortable in the stale, monochromatic atmosphere."

Throughout Brokeback Mountain, the camerawork is possibly the simplest visual element. "Most of the time we were shooting with one camera," says Prieto. "Sometimes Damon Moreau was operating, and sometimes I was." Lee marvels at Prieto's facility in this role. "I've never worked with a better operator," says the director. "Rodrigo breathes with the scene -- the framing goes along with what's happening, it goes with the flow, whether the camera is on sticks or handheld." Actually, according to Prieto, there's only one handheld shot in the movie, during a fight scene between the two men. Dolly shots were nearly as scarce, and cranes were nonexistent.

"There was a temptation sometimes to do a nice camera move," says Prieto, "but the story didn't need it." One of the picture's rare Steadicam shots finds Jack prowling among the male prostitutes on a back street in Mexico. The companion he chooses is played by none other than Prieto. "I was starting to light the scene, and Ang said he wanted to ask a big favor," recalls the cinematographer. (Lee, who explains that the actor originally cast turned out to be too short, notes, "Rodrigo will do anything for a director, including putting himself in a dark alley!") Prieto continues, "They whisked me off to hair and makeup and wardrobe, and God, it was horrible. The worst part was, it was a complicated lighting setup. The camera starts with Jack going down one street that was lit with tungsten units gelled with 1/4 CTO, and then turns onto a street where all the prostitutes are. I wanted to transition into something seedier there, so I went to mercury vapor; the light changes from a warmish hue to blue-green with some yellow and red spots coming out of doorways.

The camera was seeing in 360 degrees, so I had to contain all the sources within the buildings or overhead and had very little time to do it -- and on top of that, I had to endure makeup and hair!" Prieto color-timed Brokeback Mountain at Deluxe Toronto, right after he finished supervising a three-month DI for Alexander in Paris. "Ang's belief is that DIs look like DIs, that there is a certain texture he didn't want," says the cinematographer. "I don't totally agree with that because I think it depends on how you use [the technology] -- 8 Mile was a DI, but I don't think it looks like it. But in this case, I thought it was appropriate not to do a DI; the philosophy of the movie was simplicity, so I thought we should make it the old-fashioned way. I also didn't feel we needed the enhanced control of the digital suite, because most of the time we'd been able to wait out the weather."

Finishing the picture photo-chemically affected Prieto's choice of print stock. "We wanted good, deep blacks, but we also didn't want the image to be too colorful. We tested [Kodak] Vision and felt the blacks weren't deep enough. Then we tested [Kodak] Vision Premier, and although we liked the blacks, it was just too colorful overall." Instead, Prieto printed on Fuji 3513 DI, which has "good blacks and less saturated color. The one thing we lost a bit of was the saturation of the foliage; we could have gotten that with Premier, but then the reds would have been too saturated as well." Summing up his work on the picture, Prieto says, "I only hope the cinematography helps tell this story of deep human emotions that touch everyone, regardless of nationality, religion, politics, or sexual orientation." TECHNICAL SPECS 1.85:1 Arricam ST, LT Cooke S4 lenses Eastman EXR 50D 5245, Kodak Vision 250D 5246, Vision 500T 5279, Vision2 500T 5218 Printed on Fuji F-CP 3513DI

Offline ethan

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Re: 2006 article about filming BBM
« Reply #5 on: Mar 15, 2012, 04:44 PM »
Very interesting article to read. All those little details that made BBM a masterpiece. Thanks, chowhound.
Remembering Pierre (chameau) 1960-2015, a "Capricorn bro and crazy Frog Uncle from the North Pole." You are missed