Robert Elswit

Good Night, and Good Luck

Key credits: “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “Punch Drunk Love”

Awards: Los Angeles and Boston Film crix kudos for “Good Night”

Connection: “I was shooting ‘Syriana,’ and halfway through, George Clooney asked me if I was interested in ‘Good Night.’ George planned on using Tom Sigel, who shot ‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,’ but he was working on ‘Superman Returns.’ Equipment: Two Panaflex XLS cameras with zoom lenses; high-speed color 5218 stock. “The plan was to always print in black-and-white. The reason why we didn’t shoot in black-and-white is because black-and-white stocks are slow and grainy. Modern stocks are faster and need less light. Through the digital process we mimicked the contrast and structure of 5231 (film). The lighting wasn’t trying to imitate black-and-white cinematography, but the photojournalism of Robert Frank and Cartier Bresson. Shooting with a fast film, high-speed lenses and available light gave us a naturalistic feel.”

Challenge: “There were two scenes where Clooney wanted to shoot close-ups of Murrow (David Strathairn) and Sig Mickelson (Jeff Daniels) when they first meet William Paley (Frank Langella). Clooney wanted to do these over-the-shoulder shots where two cameras are pointed at each other — one over Strathairn’s shoulder, the other over Daniels. With these type of shots, it never feels like the camera is in the right place; the lighting sucks, and there’s always a bit of a compromise. The reason why directors like these types of shots is because they can overlap dialogue between actors. It’s a great way to free your actors up as they don’t have to worry about matching their dialogue in separate shots.”

Challenge: “The most difficult thing for me was that we had to wrap up quickly. It was a 30-day shoot. Ninety percent of the production was on one big stage at the CBS Radford Studios. I was hoping we’d get to dress the sets, do tests and an extensive pre-light. The sets weren’t finished in time. As such, I did a half-assed pre-light and figured out everything ad hoc.”

Creative mantra: “We attempted to re-create 1950s television lighting in the CBS broadcast booths and studios. The four times we see Edward R. Murrow in ‘See It Now,’ we tried to make each scene look different. His face gets brighter each time, almost like a flashbulb going off in his face. Light is the metaphor for understanding truth. As such, it’s the light shining in Murrow’s face. … When we first see him in the screening room, it’s the flickering of the movie screen that’s lighting his face. It’s the darkest we ever see him. In the rest of the film we were trying to re-create the naturalism of the photojournalism from the ’40s and ’50s.”

Upcoming: “‘Michael Clayton’ — a thriller with George as a Mr. Fix-it New York attorney. Film is in the same vein as ‘The Verdict’ and written by the same screenwriter who did ‘The Bourne Identity,’ Tony Gilroy.”

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