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Michael Ballhaus, ‘The Departed’

Awards: Nominated for three Oscars, three BAFTA awards and one ASC award; slated to receive the ASC Intl. Achievement Award in February.

Tools: Arri studio cameras with Zeiss BP series lenses, Arri Ultra-Primes, Arri Master Primes and Angenieux Optima zooms; Kodak Vision 5217, 5218 and 5229 stock; and the Mo-Sys Remote Digital Head system.

Aesthetic: Ballhaus deliberately focused on “using a different style” from his previous collaborations with Martin Scorsese. “We tried to find different angles and colors for different scenes, with lighting that reflected noirish looks from movies that Marty showed us,” says Ballhaus. “I especially tried to find different colors for scenes. For instance, all scenes in (Matt Damon’s) office, I tried to keep on the cool side, a little bluish. Scenes with the romantic love interest, I did with different stock, softer and warmer. And then, for scenes with Jack Nicholson’s character, we stayed more neutral, with different shades of darkness, since he plays a very dark character.”

Visual references: “Marty gave me a couple movies to look at from the late 1940s, particularly ‘T-Men’ (1947) and ‘Raw Deal’ (1948), both shot by (film noir cinematographer) John Alton. They were a nice guideline for what he had in mind — how to accomplish the darkness and mood of those films.”

Challenges: “Probably the most difficult scene to shoot was toward the end of the movie, where the Costello gang is trapped by police in an old abandoned shipyard and they have a shoot-out. Marty and I had never really done a big cops-and-robbers shoot-out before, so it was fun, but hard to shoot. The location was huge, about the length of four football fields and 100 feet high. And because it was a big action scene, we used four or five cameras and very specialized light. Such places are normally dimly lit, so it starts off dark and then, when the police come in and the shoot-out starts, it lights up and gets very complicated.”

What’s next: Since lensing “The Departed,” the 71-year-old Ballhaus says he has been pondering retirement.

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