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Phedon Papamichael

Walk the Line

Key credits: “Unstrung Heroes,” “Million Dollar Hotel,” “Sideways”

Connection: “I first met (director) James Mangold for ‘Girl, Interrupted,’ but the schedule of that movie got pushed and it didn’t happen for me. James brought me back for another chance (in 2003) for ‘Identity,’ and even then, ‘Walk the Line’ was his pet project. Finally, I was finishing up ‘Weather Man’ for Gore Verbinski, and James asked me to start prep (on weekends) while still on that movie.”

Equipment: “We used a Panavision package with two bodies: Millennium and Platinum. We shot Super 35mm using Kodak Vision 2 5218 tungsten stock and 5205 (250 daylight) stock. I used 5218 for interiors and all musical stage performances and night exteriors. Day exteriors and interiors were shot with 5205. Panavision provided some older Angenieux zoom lenses to create a greater amount of flares during music performances, and we used those extensively, along with older (Panavision SP series) lenses. The flares are something I noticed in documentary footage of Cash’s concerts.”

Challenge: “The musical stage performances were the biggest issue. One challenge was to light them realistically for the period. I looked at lots of footage from Johnny Cash concerts and got a feel for how the stage was lit — simple stage lighting, usually just a single follow spot, hitting him hard and frontal. At the same time, (Mangold) wanted to capture the feeling of being onstage with the performers rather than showing them mainly from the distant audience POV. So we covered them mostly handheld, and tried to get right in their faces to capture that intensity. We kept the lighting hard and real, and didn’t make any adjustments to flatter the performers.”

Setback and solution: “A big difficulty was the fact that we had a 48-day shooting schedule, and that the picture was shot entirely on practical locations in the Memphis area. With approximately 100 locations in the film, that translated into two locations a day or thereabouts. That meant we had to learn how to move very quickly. Occasionally, we ran into difficulties on particular days getting it all done.”

Creative mantra: “The plan was not to make a conventionally structured Hollywood biopic. You can’t avoid that entirely dealing with this genre, but we wanted to focus mainly on the emotions that made Johnny Cash tick, and the fact that he was such a romantic. We thought of it primarily as a love story, and for the most part, we shot it that way, and tried to keep it real and natural, especially during the musical performance sequences. It was important that those performance scenes played like a continuation of the dramatic scenes, and not as musical interludes.”

Upcoming: Recently wrapped “Pursuit of Happyness,” directed by Gabriele Muccino and starring Will Smith. Currently in pre-production on Brad Silberling’s “10 Items.”

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