Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sometimes the only way you can tell something is art is because it was made by an artist.


How's the weather up there, Mr. Lincoln?
Did you see 'Lincoln'? Go see it. 

Not the whole thing. The first five minutes will do. Go ahead. I'll be here when you get back.

Okay. Notice anything… funny? I'll give you a hint. It's the scene at the beginning, where Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) is talking to the soldiers. Lincoln is sitting on a covered platform; the soldiers are standing on muddy ground. Tents are pitched around them. Campfires burn.

When we're looking at Lincoln, it's raining. Hard. That backlight thing Steven Spielberg likes so much –– with shafts of light that illuminate the weather –– makes it impossible not to notice. But when we're looking at the soldiers Lincoln is talking to –– same time, same conversation –– nary a drop is falling.

It's tempting to call this a mistake. It isn't. 

It's not a mistake because while in real life, we have to put up with whatever weather we're given, as directors we get to make whatever weather we want. 

If we want rain –– even if the forecast calls for a 90% chance –– we bring in water trucks and hire crew members to build and operate the rigging necessary to make it look natural. 

If we don't want rain it's a little easier. It takes a serious downpour to register as rain on film. Still, if there's money in the budget and we're not shooting in Southern California, we bring in tarps or silks and rigging and hire crew members to build and secure the rigging and light through and/or around it. 

That's what we do. We make daytime look like night, winter look like summer, and sunny look like cloudy. 

This goes a long way toward explaining why movies are so damn expensive to make. 

When the UPM and the Assistant Director (Susan McNamara and Adam Somner) broke down the script for 'Lincoln' with Spielberg, they went through every single scene and asked Mr. Spielberg, among other things, whether he wanted any special weather effects. That's their job.

It’s the UPM’s job because it affects the budget. Rain takes trucks and water and rigs and all sorts of ancillary characters that need to be added to the number of people to be wrangled and fed and provided parking spots and restroom facilities on that day. It’s the AD’s job because it affects both the shooting schedule and the safety of the crew members and actors. The three of them have more than 100 films under their collective belts. This ain’t none of them's first rodeo.

Then there's the script supervisor whose job it is to make sure that continuity is maintained. When Anna Rane showed up on the day they shot that scene, she would have asked Mr. Spielberg if he was sure the scene was going to cut, what with rain when the camera was pointing in one direction and no rain in the other. You don't get to be script supervisor for Steven Spielberg by letting huge continuity lapses happen. 

And don't forget the crew. As in the entire crew. The gaffers who lit the scene. The grips who rigged it. Maybe they didn't all notice, but I'll bet some did. I guarantee you Ryan Cole did. He's the sound recordist who had to fight the sound of the rain in one shot and didn't have to deal with it in the reverse. 

I figure one of two things happened here: Either a) somebody made an announcement to the entire crew that yes, they knew the rain gag was going to be inconsistent, but that's what they were going for or b) Spielberg had to contend with a relentless parade of helpful people pointing out to him that they were shooting rain when there wasn't rain before or that they weren't shooting rain when there was rain before. 

I mean, seriously, if you were one of the more than 60 production assistants on this show –– even if it was your first time stepping onto a film set –– wouldn't you go out of your way to be helpful in hopes that you’ll impress someone enough be invited to the next one or get promoted to a better, higher-paying job?

No, I'm certain this scene was shot just the way Spielberg intended it to be. And it must have worked for the members of the Academy, too, because he got nominated for Best Director.

All of this is leading up to a point and the point is this: I don't get it.

I don't get what he was going for. I don't understand why you'd shoot a scene that is so clearly discontinuous. 

I suppose it's art. To me, it smells a lot like Kool-Aid.