The most memorable sequences in Cinderella Man, the tale of Depression-era pugilist James Braddock who went from being a complete underdog to the heavyweight champion of the world, are boxing matches that rank with some of the best ever filmed. To get the remarkable in-your-face close-up shots in the various matches, director of photography Salvatore Totino not only was in the ring with his cameras but also took some tough punches himself.“We really wanted to make you feel what it was like not just to be in the ring, but to be right in the middle of the fight,” says Totino. “I put myself in the position of the other boxer seeing the swings coming—so I was wrapped in padding, and occasionally took some hits.” To get more verisimilitude, he used a World War II Eymo, a fairly light, rugged camera he was able to hold in one hand. It had uncoated Nikon lenses that would produce a flair effect that conveyed the boxer’s sense of disorientation as the rounds rang by. In addition, Totino filmed the bouts with a couple of cameras in the ring to catch the action from all perspectives. For director Ron Howard, another important element was to palpably convey the harsh reality of what it was like for a family struggling to survive during the worst years of the 1930s. Totino—working with production designer Wynn Thomas, who created a cramped basement apartment where Braddock, played by Russell Crowe, lived with his wife and family—shot with two and sometimes three cameras, all the while keeping the walls intact without removing any for setup purposes. After 12 years as a camera operator, Totino’s experience was largely in the realm of commercials and music videos when Howard asked him to be his DP on The Missing. He encored on Cinderella Man. Recently he finished shooting a third movie for Howard, The Da Vinci Code, with Paris’ Louvre Museum the setting for several weeks of shooting.
Written by Jack Egan