In America

Jim Sheridan’s semi-autobiographical “In America” chronicles an Irish immigrant’s journey to New York City in the early 1980s with his wife and two young daughters. As the family moved into a Hell’s Kitchen tenement, the man pursues an acting career while they all try to overcome the traumatic loss of an infant son, who had died of a brain tumor.

The challenge was: how do you coax an audience to sit through such potentially depressing material?

“Declan Quinn made a choice,” says d.p. Owen Roizman of the film’s cinematographer. “He didn’t let the movie get too gritty and grungy and so realistic that it was ugly. There was a poetic quality to it; there was always something uplifting about the way things looked.

“The lighting of the faces and the rooms, the somewhat mystical things like the moonlight on the balcony — they weren’t realistic at all. It was controlled and modeled and almost pretty.

“It took it above reality and that was the right choice because that could have been a very depressing otherwise.”

Snapshot
Key tools: Panavision XL cameras. Film stock: Kodak 5279 for the interiors, and Kodak 5274 for the exteriors.
Aesthetic: “The memory that (director) Jim Sheridan and I have of living in that Hell’s Kitchen tenement building neighborhood in New York in the ’80s has a definiite mood and vibe and atmosphere that’s quite dark and foreboding. We wanted to evoke that without it being too scary for the audience. I used the colors — fluorescent light mixed with tungsten light mixed with daylight — to create a colorful palate within that dark world that made it nice to look at as well as giving it the texture and mood of the time.”
Challenge: “To keep an open mind. I might have had some preconceptions about what scenes should look like and how they should be shot. Then Jim would change his intentions for the scene and I had to keep my mind open enough to make an adjustment and light it a different way. I had to keep the crew also loose and not too locked into things.”

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