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Gordon Willis, was Further thoughts on the Camera Evaluations

Gordon Willis, was Further thoughts on the Camera Evaluations

Mitch Gross

A further note on Gordon Willis. Godfather, Part III was shot with a thick negative. The Technicolor IB process was no longer available to him like it was on the earlier films, so Willis exposed differently knowing that he couldn’t get the thick blacks he wanted from standard printing of thinner exposures. 

It’s good to know your workflow. 

Mitch Gross
Cinema Product Manager 
Panasonic Systems Solutions Company of North America
New York

On Jun 23, 2018, at 3:18 PM, Geoff Boyle <geoff.cml@...> wrote:

A quote from CH, it’s only roughly what he said my memory is …


“the secret to good photography is contrast and there are many ways to create that”


You mention films he shot that were apparently low levels of exposure, or were they?


The example Art gave of RT3 was in fact the exact opposite of what he wanted to say, with printer lights averaging 36 the DP was not exploring the limits of low level exposure but was in fact exposing foe a full fat negative and printing down, it’s in the numbers.


I know that GW did indeed underexpose but a lot of very dark scenes by other DP’s are like the example given of RT3.


CH also used very heavy exposure, Searching for Bobby Fisher, Butch & Sundance are two films where he was going for a VERY heavy neg.


It’s not just how its exposed, it’s what you do with it later.


It’s also the illusion of darkness created with contrast.


Now can we either start a new topic or get back on subject.




Geoff Boyle NSC FBKS





From: cml-raw-log-hdr@... <cml-raw-log-hdr@...> On Behalf Of Art Adams
Sent: 23 June 2018 18:14
To: Cml-Raw-Log-Hdr <cml-raw-log-hdr@...>
Subject: Re: [cml-raw-log-hdr] Further thoughts on the Camera Evaluations


Neither Gordon Willis nor Conrad Hall "underexposed" their images. They exposed them exactly the way they wanted them. Sometimes that meant working in the toe. There are several sequences in Jennifer 8 (Conrad Hall) shot in a school for the blind that take place at night and are lit almost entirely by flashlight, but if you pay attention you'll see that there are the subtlest hints of light illuminating the odd wall or hallway. There may be someone with a flashlight down at the end of the hall, but the facing wall of an adjoining hallway in the foreground will be lit to four or five stops under exposure to contrast with the actual darkness. You can barely see it, but it's there, and it's intentional. It doesn't look this way on video, but on film... wow.


Jennifer 8 is an amazing film if you like darkness and want to see a master DP living on the edge of exposure.


Gordon Willis spoke about exposing at the limits of the film stock because he wanted to make sure it was printed exactly the way he wanted it. He also said he went too far a few times.


In an interview with Jack Green on Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, he said that underexposure in the style of Conrad Hall scared the hell out of him, so he rated his stock a stop or two slower and printed down for the dark scenes.


My first "big" feature (well, not incredibly low budget) was the critically acclaimed "Texas Chainsaw Massacre III" (19% on Rotten Tomatoes, from back when RT ratings actually meant something). It was shot by Jim Carter, and I wish I'd had more time to pay attention to what he was doing because it's an incredibly dark yet beautiful movie. I can't suggest that anyone ever watch the film due to the nature of the content, but Jim played a lot of it right on the edge. He told he did this for the same reason the others did: the director wanted a dark movie, so he made sure it couldn't be printed up.



From memory: 5296 rated at EI 400, T2, printing lights of 39-43-26. (It's funny how you remember printer lights 25+ years later after writing them 100+ times on camera reports.) Key lights were almost always at -1.5 stops (incident).


So, are those bottom couple of stops usable? Sure. Under the right conditions, absolutely. There may not be much down there, but as long as there's just enough contrast to discern between the tonal steps, and the viewing conditions are right (OLED, HDR, high quality projection, etc.) someone who knows what they are doing can make them work. You're not going to be able to make them brighter without introducing tons of noise, but you don't have to use them that way.


Not everyone will want to use them. Not everyone will be able to use them. But it seems wrong to ignore them as "unusable."



Art Adams

Director of Photography

San Francisco Bay Area


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