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ASC Nominee Bruno Delbonel


Parisian Bruno Delbonnel, AFC repeats as a nominee for the American Society of Cinematographers feature film award for his work on A Very Long Engagement. He was nominated in 2002 for Amelie, also directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Delbonnel described for Below The Line the complexities he and his crew faced in bringing the ambitious epic to the screen.Below the Line: What were your main challenges?Bruno Delbonnel: The main problem we had to solve on the shoot of A Very Long Engagement involved keeping continuity in the war and trenches sequences. According to the story, the battle episodes occur in just two days; with a few small exceptions. So we had to maintain light continuity during the six weeks spent shooting those “two days.”BTL: Did you shoot on location?Delbonnel: We shot in October in a part of France where the weather changes quite often during the day. I decided that to achieve the look we wanted we had to cut the sunlight as much as possible and relight the set after the sun had disappeared.BTL: Who were your main collaborators?Delbonnel: Over the years I have built a very strong relationship with my gaffer, Michel Sabourdy, and my key grip, Bruno Dubet. I often share my thoughts with them. On this film I was interested in trying out a big butterfly shade, the biggest we could afford, so I asked them what they thought. The main challenge was to be able to move as fast as we could when the weather changed.Michel designed a frame whose size was around 14 meters by 10 meters (45 x 32 feet). Inside of it we had several layers of tinted “silk.” The only option for moving this frame was to use a crane, a really big one. We went to Didier Martin of Martin Engineering, an equipment rental company. He decided that a 70-ton crane would be best, even if under certain wind conditions this crane couldn’t be used, because the frame was like a big sail.Our second use of this kind of crane was for the remote crane movement. We wanted to use a Supertechno crane, which is really heavy. At one point in the schedule, we had to do three crane movements in different places on the set. Bruno Dubet suggested that we should use a truck trailer, put the Supertechno crane on it and lift the whole thing including the 70 ton crane. We all laughed about it; Jean-Pierre, the director, thought we were out of our minds. He complained that we would have to spend hours to move the whole thing. But we went ahead, and I can’t remember how many times we saved the day by using this heavy equipment.BTL: It sounds too easy.Delbonnel: The key was to also be able to do a simple shot that didn’t require either the butterfly or the crane, such as a close-up I could relight easily, while the rest of the production circus was moving. That’s where Michel, Bruno and Didier Martin’s crew proved to very efficient. Half an hour later, the whole system was in place, ready to go.BTL: Talk about some other challenges.Delbonnel: The first AC on a Jeunet film faces quite a challenge. He likes wide lenses, as I do too, such as 18mm or 21mm. We quite often do a close-up using a 21mm which means the actor’s face is somewhere around two feet from the camera. The depth of field is quite limited, so if you add a camera movement to this, it makes life very difficult for the AC. Eric Vallée did a great job under such pressure.BTL: What about post?Delbonnel: My relationship with Ivan Lucas, the colorist at Éclair, as with all the people who work with me, is all about confidence. Usually he times the dailies. I try as much and as often as I can to send him Polaroids from the previous day. And I call him in the morning while he is watching the dailies and comparing them with the Polaroids. I tell him what I tried to achieve, and ask him what he could do to make those dailies “better.” Sometimes I even ask him to try taking a different direction in terms of grading than what we had first decided, just to see a different look. So the process is all about talking before and after the screening and trying different options. He has such a great eye that often his option becomes my own favorite one.

Written by Jack Egan

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