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Footnotes – James Planette


In Hollywood in the mid ’60s a bit of good fortune, and the proper genes, could get you on the set of Howard Hawks’ Land of the Pharaohs. And if you were lucky, your father might have been Homer Planette, who gaffed classic pictures like High-Noon, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Flight of the Phoenix. Homer Plannette was a gifted practitioner of the lighting crafts, as well as a fine mentor to his son, James.Fortuitous birthright aside, James Plannette was sworn to Local 728 in 1976, having fulfilled his permit obligations rigging at Warner Bros. “Gentleman Jim” (as he is affectionately known), though well pedigreed, is one “son of” whose work stands on its own merit. He has some 60 films to his credit, spanning a five-decade career.“Less is more,” he maintains. “When I’m lighting, I much prefer one instrument to two, or none at all, if possible.”Plannette’s work emphasizes natural-looking and richly textured illumination. Proving himself on tricky projects like Young Frankenstein, he controlled facial light while still retaining the look of classic horror films.Early in his career this gaffer’s real-light approach became his “Dogma 95” answer to the otherwise complicated task of supplying a film with light. Collaborating with the late DP John Alonzo on Tom Horn, Plannette displayed the utmost confidence in the minimalist technique. To his credit, he was also able to adapt his style to gaff effects-heavy films such as E.T.Over the next 15 years, Plannette continued to paint masterpieces with light on works such as Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King, as well as the epically proportioned Braveheart. Joining director-DP Steven Soderbergh in 2000, he has found an ideal environment for his lighting approach. On films such as Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven and The Good German, he and Soderbergh have practically patented the style of “two-stop, overexposed push,” so often copied these days.When asked about his motion picture influences, Plannette responds, “I appreciate DPs like Laszlo Kovacs, Gordon Willis, John Alonzo, and of course, my father.” Plannette’s son Paul, a focus puller in Local 600, continues the family line into a third generation.James Plannette, 66, loves what he does and how he is doing it. His true desire is to work to the end, he says. “I’ll never retire. Besides, I’ve just bought a new Sekonic!”

Written by Jim Udel

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