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James Muro

Crash

Key credits: “Open Range,” “Roll Bounce,” “Flicka”

Connection: “Since shooting (d.p. debut) ‘Open Range’ for Kevin Costner, I was sent lots of independent projects to consider, and ‘Crash’ came across my agent’s desk. A mutual friend who used to shoot for (‘Crash’ director) Paul Haggis told (Haggis) he should consider me. I was working with (‘Crash’ star) Thandie Newton on ‘The Chronicles of Riddick,’ and I had also worked with (producer-star) Don Cheadle in the past. Also, there is a multiracial family in the story, and I had two Korean babies, so I really wanted to do it. What I learned was, the more you bug the director and the people in power and explain your interest, the more they will respond to you. I told Paul I needed to do this movie, that I felt this connection. Eventually, he blessed me doing the job.”

Equipment: “We were one of the first films to use Kodak (Vision 2) 5229 stock. Night is what drove the look and style of the picture, so I was pleased to figure out that 5229 has such a smooth color palette, and was not as blue as (other nighttime stocks). There is not as much latitude on the high or bottom ends, but in the middle there is incredible color value. We shot with (Panavision) Millennium XL bodies in order to do a fair amount of handheld work and ramping, and we stumbled into some great looks using older-style, super-speed lenses from Panavision.”

Challenge: “Explaining our economics (to executives) and why we needed certain things was a huge stumbling block. We had budgeted only for a certain amount of film. But Paul is excellent at getting performances since he writes the material himself, and that meant we had to adjust, shoot more film and then explain later. The executives saw where we were going, though, and it worked out. That is also how we got to do a digital intermediate (at IO Film, North Hollywood), which I had to campaign extensively for.”

Setback and solution: “I learned a lot about dealing with labs, and how to get images consistent. They often print everything, not just selected takes, and that makes it harder to do quality control. We had a few problems like that, where we didn’t have good communication with the lab at night for telecine.”

Creative mantra: “We studied lots of films, and were influenced somewhat by ‘Traffic.’ But at the end of the day, Paul knew he would get his dialogue and performances, so he was very open to the cinematic approach we developed. I told him I thought we should go with the reality vibe, develop a unique take on nighttime in L.A., and go handheld most of the time. Paul storyboarded the car wreck and a few other things, but mainly we went handheld and let performances drive the cuts.”

Upcoming: Currently serving as co-d.p. on “X-Men 3,” alongside Dante Spinotti (who replaced Philippe Rousselot).

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