Monday, April 11, 2011

Total Pre-Call, Part 9

Richard Dix stands triumphant following a Last Man barroom brawl, as uncredited Charles Ogle (far right) looks on. Ogle was the first actor to play the Frankenstein monster on film (in Thomas Edison's 1910 Frankenstein) and starred in the forerunner to the first movie serial, What Happened to Mary? (1912).

In those early days of filmmaking, bulky electric generators were never lugged to remote locations, so scenes had to be lit with sunlight. In the 1986 book Film Lighting: Talks with Hollywood’s Cinematographers and Gaffers, cameraman James Wong Howe told how he had to improvise the lighting of one sequence in To the Last Man. “Victor Fleming wanted to go up the side of a mountain to get a full-figure shot of an actor on horseback looking down into the valley. He said to me, ‘Jimmy, leave the reflectors here; we will just get a long shot silhouetted against the sky. We will take only the camera and our lunches up there.’ So we did. We went with a reduced crew and we shot the silhouette of the rider. But the director said, ‘Oh, Jimmy, I am sorry, but I’ve got to have a close-up of him and a shot of the valley where he is looking. It wasn’t in the script but action dictates it.’ So I said, ‘Well, look, we left all the reflectors down there and I don’t have any lights.’ ‘Will it take long to get them up here?’ he asked. I said, ‘Yes, we have to send the men down and the reflectors are very heavy to carry up. Do you have to get this close-up?’ He said, ‘Yes, I have to have it.’ I suggested that he could shoot the close-up later somewhere else, but the director insisted on having it done up there.

“This was in the days before we had paper cups and there were a lot of tin cups in which we were drinking coffee. This gave me an idea. I asked [one of the crew], ‘Vic, how many tin cups can you pick up and hold in your hand?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I can hold maybe four or five.’ I said, ‘Fine, see if you can hold eight or 10 cups and reflect the sun on the face. And I need four or five fellows over here with cups doing the same thing.’

“They couldn’t hold the cups still but it was all right, and on the screen it looked like the sunlight was coming through the leaves and giving an unsteady broken pattern.”–––Joe McNeill © 2011 Bar 225 Media Ltd.

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