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‘Nightcrawler’ Sets Dark Mood With Atmospheric Lighting

For Open Road’s “Nightcrawler,” which bows Oct. 31, writer-director Dan Gilroy used a whopping 40 locations in 26 days, with the vast majority of the shooting at night.

Cinematographer Robert Elswit said homework was the key. “Danny and I spent weeks prepping the movie. The goal was to light as quickly as possible, so Danny (in his first outing as director) could spend more time with the actors.”

The film is atmospheric with an eerie beauty. A primo example is the climactic confrontation (spoiler alert!) at Chinatown Express, where the shootout is viewed from the POV of crime-scene paparazzo Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), not from inside the restaurant.

“That was Danny’s decision,” said Elswit. “I think it was a brilliant choice. He wanted the lighting to look naturalistic, not overlit. We replaced all tubes inside the restaurant, lit a relatively small area in the foreground, and accented the background.”

To save time, the filmmakers picked locations that didn’t require elaborate background lighting. “That’s the great thing about digital,” Elswit added. “With the Arri Alexa camera, you have a longer exposure range, so you can blend into available light and just light the foreground, and the background will almost take care of itself.”

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