In­side the cin­e­matog­ra­pher’s stu­dio

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week -

Two films shot by Ellen Kuras, win­ner of the Santa Fe Film Fes­ti­val’s Ko­dak Cin­e­matog­ra­pher’s Trib­ute award, are be­ing shown at the fes­ti­val. Sum­mer of Sam (1999, di­rected by Spike Lee) screens at 9:30 p.m. Fri­day, Dec. 4, at The Screen, and Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006, di­rected by Jonathan Demme) screens at 2:15 p.m. Satur­day, Dec. 5, at The Screen. Kuras talked about some of the spe­cific chal­lenges and goals of th­ese two films with Pasatiempo. On Sum­mer of Sam: For me, what was chal­leng­ing about lighting Sum­mer of Sam was that part of the movie took place dur­ing the black­out [that af­fected New York City on the evening of July 13, 1977]. So all of the street­lights were off, and any mo­ti­va­tional source of light was off. How do you light the scene in a way that you can see the ac­tors at night without hav­ing lights on them? I had to be very re­source­ful and use lights like flash­lights and car head­lights. There was the scene where they had that rum­ble and we ended up shoot­ing it with ac­tual car head­lights, and then I would aug­ment the light on the side to give the ap­pear­ance that it was car head­lights— but I was ac­tu­ally us­ing lighting as well.

Spike re­ally wanted it to feel hot, like the hottest sum­mer ever. And I wanted it to not look like Do the Right Thing, be­cause I didn’t want to copy Ernie [cin­e­matog­ra­pher Ernest Dick­er­son], and I wanted to de­sign my own look for the film. So I ran a se­ries of tests about how to make it look hot, and that ex­tended into re­ally ex­plor­ing the film medium in many ways: cross-pro­cess­ing the film, us­ing a spe­cial cam­era lens to film it, flash­ing the film, re­flash­ing the film, us­ing the lights without the lenses on them. Sum­mer of Sam was one of my most creative films. And that was largely due to Spike, be­cause Spike re­ally en­cour­aged that. On Neil Young: Heart of Gold: For me, Heart of Gold was a re­ally im­por­tant film to make, be­cause I wanted to make it like a se­ries of paint­ings. I wanted the vis­ual as­pects of each song and the way it was lit and the feel of it to be a metaphor for what Neil was singing about. For ex­am­ple, there’s one song where I imag­ined Neil stand­ing on a planet, al­most like the Lit­tle Prince in a way, and looking at an­other planet. You know, when the sun hits a planet or hits the moon— the light has a cer­tain feel­ing to it. I wanted to cap­ture that sen­sa­tion of some­one peer­ing down into the cos­mos and see­ing that light. So that’s what I worked on with my gaffer. And I tried to do that for all of the songs, as much as I could.

I had never re­ally lit a con­cert be­fore. There are dif­fer­ent peo­ple for it and it’s a dif­fer­ent kind of lighting. But I didn’t want to make it con­cert lighting. I wanted it to be dif­fer­ent. And I wanted it to be ana­log. Neil is an ana­log guy. He works in a dig­i­tal world, but he’s an ana­log guy. He uses ana­log mi­cro­phones and speak­ers. And I’m an ana­log type of per­son too. And I wanted it to keep it very or­ganic, in a way. ... I didn’t want it to be flashy. ... I didn’t want the lights to be mov­ing in the shot. I wanted it so the light was gen­er­ated by a bulb and not by an elec­tronic source. And the color re­ally makes a big dif­fer­ence. And so we ended up us­ing a lot of the lights that ex­isted in the Ry­man Au­di­to­rium.

— R.B.

Neil Young: Heart of Gold

Sum­mer of Sam

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