THE RAMBLINGS OF A CRAZED CINEMATOGRAPHER
It’s 3:47 AM and my bloodshot eyes stare at the ceiling fan as I try to hypnotize myself to sleep. I haven’t slept in days and for weeks I have filled my body with an off-the-strip Vegas buffet of cough syrups, muscle relaxers, alcohol, and cigarettes. I’ve convinced myself there is no time for food. I love making movies. Then what could be keeping me awake? I’ve never been happier; my demons are well fed, and by all medical accounts should be entering a coma that no amount of banging at the door from my producers should I wake from. It suddenly uppercuts me like Debo did Red, I can hear Chris Tucker chanting “You got knocked the F*$K OUT!..." I feel paranoid and insecure. I’m knee deep in the shit of another film.
I navigate the mountain ahead. I’m prepared. This is what I love. This is what I’m made for. I recall the director has asked me so humbly “Can you make it look like American Beauty.” I for whatever reason answered “Yes. Don’t worry, it’ll be great. Know what I am sayin’?” In short “American Beauty” won 5 of 2000’s OSCAR awards, including Best Director, Sam Mendes, and Best Cinematography, Conrad Hall. What was I thinking? I’m good, experienced, talented even. But what the hell was I thinking! And what about the camera gear? My lens selection? OH GOD MY LIGHTING PACKAGE!!! What if I get to set and not execute this master plan! I will be laughed at and ridiculed. A man with a white beard, wearing a beret will barrel after me screaming through an iron megaphone “YOU WILL NEVER WORK IN THIS TOWN AGAIN!!!”… YIKES.
I do what any free blooded, half naked, covered in fast food Canadian would do. I turn on Netflix and search A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N... Success! I found it. It begins to play. Minutes go by. I tare up every scene into pieces, concentrating on every frames, angle and camera movement. Conrad Hall’s lighting grips my bloodshot eyes until they begin to water. I give up. What does it all mean? Why did he do that move? Where is that lighting coming from! Damn it Mena Suvari, you’re an angel! Also, those roses do not hold up over time. Just saying. Regardless, Conrad! Please speak to me damn it.
How will I ever compare? I know my current scripts, themes and motivations. I love each character and feel for them like they were real. I make comparison between them and my own family and friends. I can see them in my minds eye. But I don’t just love them, I hate them, they make me laugh and cry. The script has become as real to me as any memory from my own life. So why the insecurity? Why am I worried about every technical aspect and living up to Conrad Hall? Still, I must know how he did it. I recall a YouTube video of Sam Mendes and Conrad Hall going over the storyboards that I had never watched. I rip open my laptop, search and hit play. What I saw and heard will forever stay with me. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUckAgEgYbw)
I encourage you to watch the entire video, but to sum things up I have selected these two quotes. Of many elaborate and well worded explanations, Sam Mendes says to Conrad Hall: “You take what is a seed in the storyboard and you give it a kind of soul, you know, with light...wouldn’t you think.” Conrad Hall responds “Well uh, uh, while I agree with everything you said, uh, except I don’t think of it...you intellectualize it, I don’t…I just feel it.” In short Sam Mendes is what scares me. That everything shot must be intellectualized and explained with reason. I’ve never had the ability to do that consistently. Conrad Hall, on the other hand, gives me hope and inspiration. He speaks in my language. To go with your gut, trust in your director’s vision and shoot what you know deep inside is right. No amount of training, video essay’s or YouTube tutorials on camera and lens comparisons will trump your natural artistic vision. I didn’t follow any sort of procedure or manual when I kissed the love of my life. I grabbed her with both arms and kissed her like I’d never seen something more beautiful. I did what felt good, what made me happy. Sometimes the technical issues, fear of others opinions and success’s get in the way of my creativity. But I’m ready for sleep now. I will film this movie because I love it. It makes me happy. I will experiment, fail, and try again. And when all is said and done I won’t be able to tell you why I did it that way, I just felt like it. But what I do want to know is how does it make you feel?