If Patrick Cady, the acclaimed cinematographer of Karyn Kusama’s debut feature, “Girlfight,” is any indication, then the fear that music video styles will swamp all others in the minds of young American filmmakers may be overblown.
Talk to Cady for just a few minutes, and though he will remark on gaffing for David Lynch’s favorite d.p., Frederick Elmes, on a Sean Colvin video, or with Darius Khondji for Madonna’s “Frozen” video, he will wax religiously on the influence he’s felt from early ’70s American movies.
“I’m 32,” Cady says, “and there are a bunch of young cinematographers like myself who think the really amazing movies are from the ’70s, when a lot of daring experiments with lighting and camerawork were done. Even studio films were done with small crews and lighter cameras, and they shot anywhere, taking advantage of ‘magic hour’ lighting, like in ‘Two Lane Blacktop’ or ‘Days of Heaven.’
“Boxing movies might have had an effect on how we shot ‘Girlfight,’ but I decided not to look at any of them before filming. Instead, the big influence was ‘The French Connection’ from 1971, with its feeling of being shot on the run, how you never know where the camera will move next.
“I felt the speed of featherweight boxers in Karyn’s film had more to do with car chases than standard movie boxing, so the idea was to keep the camera on the move with the subject, who can then be suddenly stopped, or suddenly change direction.”
This mobility went along with a raw look Kusama and Cady agreed that “Girlfight” demanded, which led to the unconventional choice of Fuji 500 stockpushed to 1200 ASA. Since there was only a little more than 100,000 feet of the phased-out stock available in the U.S., all of it limited to units of 400-foot rolls, every shot — depending on the duration — had to be done in a maximum of three takes.
“So there was pressure added to the pressure that this was Karyn’s first feature, and that we felt we had to prove the faith of John Sayles, who believed in her script so much that he personally put up the remaining money we needed to make it,” Cady says.
Having worked his way up the ladder of New York independent film production, Cady knows the importance of a tight, communicative crew: “On this, there was no margin for error. If the crew’s not on the ball, we’re screwed. But if ever a crew worked in sync, this was it.”