Helmer/d.p. employed handheld camera to snatch shots

On Election Day, 2010, it seems appropriate to consider the cautionary words of “Fair Game” director Doug Liman.

“I was aware of the Plame affair when it was happening, but I was working on ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ and, like the rest of the world, I went back to worrying about my own life,” he said. “On a primal level I understand that general apathy toward politics comes from a greater concern with the stuff immediately in front of us, like our jobs, live life and family.”

The Plame affair in 2003 centered on the administration of President George W. Bush leaking Valerie Plame’s status as a CIA operative to get back at her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, for revealing that the government’s arguments for invading Iraq were based on falsehoods.

It was part of the tangled web of lies, truths and intrigues the government used to rationalize the Iraq War, which was well underway when Liman read a script about the affair written by scribes Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth.

Liman asked, “Is this all true?” Then he signed on as producer and director — and also gave himself the position of cinematographer, a role he had taken on two indie films he helmed in the 1990s, “Swingers” and “Go.”

“I hired myself as d.p. based on the look I was going for,” he said. “I do one particular style very well … I design shots that tell the whole scene in that one shot. It doesn’t mean I don’t add edits later, but I can play my shots back and get a sense of the scene as a whole. If material will only work once it’s been edited, it’s harder to tell if you got it right.”

Liman does a lot of handheld work, sometimes as a guerilla tactic, as he did in “Bourne Identity,” when he stole shots with Matt Damon in Paris’ Gare du Nord train station. “We’d have maybe 60 seconds before the police would come; there was no time to set up.”

Those same techniques paid off in Baghdad. “We weren’t worried about the police, but rather that people would kidnap us. We had to move very quickly.”

“Game” is the only American film to have shot on location in Iraq in recent years. Liman went there for authenticity, but also because — paradoxically — it was cheaper to do so. On a low-budget film “it’s less expensive to go to a place than to re-create it. We hired local crews wherever we went.”

Liman shot on the Red camera, which he operated himself. “It’s one the reasons I’ve been able to return to the style of filmmaking that I was doing before ‘Bourne,'” he said. “With Red I can use long lenses and not worry about keeping them in focus — it’s hard to work on the performance and the focus at the same time.”

Liman found other efficiencies in his dual role. “Extra time for lighting means less time for performance, or fewer shots for editing, thus for pace or tension,” he said. “You’re always trading off. Having it be a debate just with myself is easier. I know which shots it’s OK to compromise on. A d.p. would light everything, quote-unquote, properly. We didn’t have the luxury of time for that.”

Signings & Bookings

WME has signed vfx supervisor Sheena Duggal (“Sex and the City 2”); production designers Kirk Petruccelli (“The Incredible Hulk),” Jaymes Hinkle (“Shark Night 3D”), Jane Stewart (“Sideways”), Suzuki Ingerslev (“True Blood”), Elizabeth Mickle (“Drive”) and Clark Hunter (“Piranha 3D”); d.p.’s Alexander Gruszynski (“For Colored Girls”), Adam Arkapaw (“Animal Kingdom”) and Erik Wilson (“Submarine”); 2nd unit director and d.p. Mark Vargo (“The Way Back”); costume designers Jason Alper (“Bruno”) and Jill Newell (“Hamlet 2”); editors Julian Clarke (“District 9”) and Jonathan Corn (“Entourage”); and line producer David Koplan (“Leaves of Grass”).

Sandra Marsh & Associates has signed d.p. Jean-Francois Hensgens (“Dark Tide”). The agency changed its moniker following the departure of agent Claire Best. Recent bookings: producer Bennett Walsh on Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”; 1st asst. director Steve Andrews on Peter Hedges’ “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”; production designers Sophie Becher on Tanya Wexler’s “Hysteria,” Brigitte Broch on Daniel Espinosa’s “Safe House,” James Merifield on Terence Davies’ “Deep Blue Sea,” Kevin Phipps on “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”), Wynn Thomas on “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” and Charles Wood on Jonathan Liebesman’s “Wrath of the Titans”; and costume designers Hope Hanafin on Charles Martin Smith’s “A Dolphin Tale” and Carlo Poggioli on James McTeigue’s “The Raven.”


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