Tools: Panavision and Arriflex cameras with Panavision C-series anamorphic lenses; Kodak Vision 5246 (250D) and 5279 (500T) stock.
Aesthetic: “In my mind, the two movies are twins — the same story reflected,” says Stern. “We wanted some continuity between the two. In that sense, I viewed it as just one long film. With my history of doing lighting for (director) Clint (Eastwood), we always do things dark. He asked me if I remembered how dark we did it on ‘Bird,’ which of course I did since I was that film’s (lighting consultant). He asked me to try for darker than ‘Bird.’ But the trick with that is, it is not really darkness — it is really about refining blacks and building off that. With so much CGI stuff, and the digital intermediate thing maturing, we knew we could use a variety of techniques in-camera and in post to desaturate it. We tried to emulate the best of the (photochemical) ENR process digitally and go further with it during the DI (at Technicolor Digital Intermediates).”
Visual references: “It was mainly historical still photos from books that we used, along with combat footage. Principally, still images are what I like to reference, rather than other films, because I don’t want to specifically do something someone else has already done. We did not show everything happening in a perfect or correct way, like they often try to do in historical films.”
Challenges: “There were lots of technical challenges, but solutions are always more accessible than with creative challenges. Lighting in caves was really hard, for instance. But the biggest thing was not to lose the individual human emotions in the middle of all the battle stuff. ‘Flags’ is the story of three characters, and ‘Letters’ is the story of two characters primarily — the general and the young conscript. Finding ways to highlight their performances in the middle of everything else going on was the main thing.”
What’s next: Stern has shot two films slated for 2007 release — “Tenderness” and “Things We Lost in the Fire” — and is about to start filming Alison Eastwood’s directorial debut, “Rails & Ties.”