Dion Beebe recalls having lunch about a year ago with cinematographer John Seale, ASC and Phil Rayden of Technicolor in which Rayden made mention of director Michael Mann shooting his next film with new digital cameras. The idea of using the new medium to shoot a major studio release that wasn’t effects-oriented intrigued Beebe and the three men chatted casually about tests and potential hurdles involved in the process.So it was a bit of a shocker when the phone rang a couple weeks later and Mann asked him to take over the cinematography on Collateral.“It was a Friday,” recalls the Australian-born and trained Beebe. “Michael was about two weeks in and had just let his cameraman (Paul Cameron) go. If I agreed, it meant looking at locations Saturday and starting in on Monday. Part of me was ready to pass but another voice said ‘what a great opportunity to learn and work with a gifted filmmaker.’”Beebe was able to wade into the process as his first 10 days involved shooting the Korean nightclub set in 35mm. As Collateral was a night shoot, he spent his days looking at the first week’s digital footage and combing through a mountain of digital photos Mann had shot over eight months that comprised the picture’s storyboard. He’d been to digital demonstrations conducted by the guild but had no formal experience in the medium or prior interest. But he credits Mann’s incredible knowledge and the assistance of technician Dave Canning for easing him into the digital world.The visual mantra of the film became: make the fill light your key light. There was a photo of a man in the street that stuck in his mind because the conditions and the exterior neon lights underlined how difficult it was to determine the light source. Beebe refers to the look as anti-noir because of the lack of shadows and a quality of invisibility.“It was a difficult shoot in the sense that it required making a lot of decisions and interpretations as you were filming,” says Beebe. “You’re basically dealing with an aesthetic that hasn’t been defined so there aren’t a lot of preconceptions. And that sort of freedom can be very scary until you begin to embrace the technology and what it delivers.”While the bias was to capture picture during filming, he stresses that digital provides more options to manipulate the image both during the shoot and in post-production. He says the situation will only get more user-friendly and he can already see a slow thaw among cinematographers who have viewed the new technology with suspicion. Beebe is currently filming Memoirs of a Geisha with director Rob Marshall and many of the same people who, like himself, worked on Chicago.
Written by Len Klady