Collateral truly challenged Dion Beebe, ASC, ACS, because it was his first experience shooting with a digital camera. And he came onto the shoot several weeks after filming started, replacing cinematographer Paul Cameron who had done most of the prep work. Director Michael Mann’s tale of a hit-man who commandeers a cab for a night of mayhem in Los Angeles stars Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx.Beebe hit the ground running, thanks to the skilled crew. Gary Jay, the “A” camera operator, had worked with Mann ever since 1992, on The Last of the Mohicans and was therefore intimate with Mann’s aesthetic. “He is brilliant with the handheld camera and has a great sense of camera movement—and there’s nothing Gary won’t do,” says Beebe. One lasting impression: “Gary camera in hand, and Michael, both crammed in the trunk of the taxi cab, heading down the 405 freeway.”Jay was joined by “B” camera/steadicam operator Chris Haarhoff in tackling the movie’s unique requirements. “Much of it takes place inside a moving vehicle and we were always shooting hand held,” notes the Australian-born DP. “But the Viper camera we used is not specifically designed as a hand-held camera. So they did a great job under the circumstances and both contributed a lot towards the look of the film.”1st AC/steadicam operator John Grillo and Glen Brown both had their work cut out for them. “Although digital cameras have more depth of field than conventional film cameras, the incredibly low light levels and increased gain, made focus very critical,” explains Beebe.“What was fascinating about working in this format was the process of pulling focus remotely while watching the action on the HD monitors instead of watching the action directly,” notes Beebe. “It is a bit disconcerting to see both your focus pullers at the monitors, but it worked because we had very high resolution images and they had the skills to pull it off.”Seconds, E.J. Misisco and Chris Cuevas, plus loader Niles Roth “all stayed on top of a multi-camera and two-format show,” says Beebe. The camera crew carried multiple Panavision film cameras, two F900s and two ViperCams. “The night we staged the stunt when Max decides to crash the cab we were running 12 cameras, four HD cams, four operated film cameras and four crash cams.”Gaffer Felix Rivera and key grip Scott Robinson “adopted the mantra that there are no problems, only solutions,” says the DP. “The big challenge for all of us was lighting and working in this new format. When you are shooting at light levels that you can barely make out by the eye, you have to take a different approach.” During the filming of the climactic sequence in the office building, “Felix was on all fours, desperately trying to stay out of the shot and light Tom Cruise with a special light wand we had made.”When shooting in HD, “it’s essential to get to know your digital imaging technicians, because you’ll need them” says Beebe. “We could not have shot at the pace we worked at, on multilpe HD cameras, always on location at night and in moving vehicles, without the genius of Dave Canning and his team of Eddie Viola and Dominic Bartole.”In Beebe’s first venture into the world of HD photography, “David Canning was my ‘go to’ guy—he’s simply the best DIT in the business.” Mann and Beebe would discuss color and contrast on the set and “Canning was always able to respond fast and show us the results.”Digital Intermediate Company 3 colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld “is another example of Michael wanting to work with only the best in the business,” says the DP. “Stefan has great technical skills as a colorist, but I think what sets him apart is his ability to interpret the intentions of the filmmaker: He is not just an imagemaker, he’s a filmmaker.”Lately, Beebe has been shooting Diary of a Geisha in Japan. The movie reteams him with director Rob Marshall, who did Chicago. Beebe received an Oscar nomination for his cinematography work on the movie musical and Marshall won the Academy Award for best directing.
Written by Jack Egan