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ASC Nominee Paul Cameron


When cinematographer Paul Cameron first met with director Michael Mann about shooting Collateral, he assumed the meeting had more to do with courtesy than employment. Though he’d had some early experiences with digital cameras and high-def filmmaking, he was hardly an authority on the subject.“In retrospect,” Cameron says, “everyone has finite experiences in the area. Allen Daviau has done groundbreaking work but it’s been directed for the internet, and films like Once Upon a Time in Mexico have strived to replicate the 35mm experience rather than create a new aesthetic. Michael was really better acquainted with the potential and problems of the medium than anyone he could possibly hire.”The preparation for the film was the most intense and challenging of Cameron’s career. It also required a degree of collaboration with the other key creative department heads and outside technical support that he doubts will ever be equaled in subsequent assignments. Because Mann didn’t want the film to look like anything that had preceded it and no significant film references existed, the prep process was extreme, concentrated and akin to plying one’s trade in a scientific lab.Cameron had asked for a two-week breather following completion of his work on Man on Fire. However, Mann asked him to look at a location the day after he returned to Los Angeles and he never looked back. Production designer David Wasco was already at work and costume designer Jeff Kurland would arrive a couple of days later.Mann favored a color palette at the blue-green end of the spectrum but within that range there were endless permutations. Cameron notes that the medium demanded more subtlety than the broader strokes available in shooting on film. The tasks at hand were made somewhat easier because the story took place over an eight-hour period and the characters wouldn’t have costume changes or require alterations in makeup and hair.“Michael is the sort of person that wants to see every possibility, even those he would never consider,” says Cameron. “He has a high-intensity personality and it’s really a testament to David and Jeff and Keith Hall, who did the makeup, that they were able to maintain both their stamina and patience in light of endless testing.”Cameron says a detail like the color of the taxi involved painting and repainting the vehicle 12 to 20 times over the course of the six-week prep period for tests. Wardrobe was endlessly filmed to accommodate different colors and textures, and the same was true for sets and hair. He has a fond memory of Mann personally taking scissors and continuing to cut and alter Cruise’s hair in the first few days of filming.The working conditions demanded a heightened collaboration between departments rather than more one-on-one creative relationships. It also required the development of a new lighting system to accommodate the unique qualities of shooting in HD and eventually electro-luminescent panels were created involving paper with phosphorous that was then laminated. Again panels were repeatedly altered to best capture color temperatures.“It was a pressure-cooker environment because there really wasn’t enough prep time to reinvent the wheel,” notes Cameron. “There had to be a balance of the scientific and the visceral to get things done because there’s still such an unpredictable quality to HD. People assume it has a depth of focus but it’s not true and when you’re shooting at night the challenge is ramped up. Everything is more difficult in a new medium and requires such enormous care and attention.”

Written by Len Klady

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