×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film calls all the shots in ‘Lincoln’

Eye on the Oscars: Below the Line

While shooting digital may be the prevailing trend for everything from micro-budget indies to blockbuster tentpole releases like “Skyfall,” it was never an option for “Lincoln,” as far as director Steven Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski were concerned.

“This movie needed to be made on film because that’s how we make movies,” says the Polish-born Kaminski, who has shot every movie for Spielberg since 1993, winning Oscars for that year’s “Schindler’s List” and 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan.” “As long as film emulsion is being made, we will make it with film emulsion.”

For “Lincoln,” Kaminski used a high-speed film with visible grain for the interiors, and a less grainy film stock for the exteriors evoking the cold crisp air of the film’s winter setting.

“I just like how grain emulsion looks,” Kaminski says. “I’m not too crazy about grainless images.”

But the high level of grain in “Lincoln” had a higher aesthetic purpose, which was put into sharp relief when Kaminski showed production designer Rick Carter a shot demonstrating what the film would have looked like had it been shot digitally.

“If you’re working on a period piece, digital image has clarity to the point of almost distraction,” says Carter, who has worked with Spielberg on seven previous films, including 2011’s World War I drama “War Horse.”

“The Civil War era was the first photographic era, the first presidency in America recorded by cameras,” Carter says, so we think of the period as having a “grainy black and white sensibility. While we didn’t go black and white, the very clear imagery would have distracted from your submersion into that period.”

Carter says the brightness and clarity of digital would have also clashed with the dark reality of those war years, both visually and emotionally.

While people in the Civil War era didn’t live in a black and white world, their environment was a gritty one. “There was no pavement so there was a lot of dirt and dust, as well as coal smoke,” says Carter, who earned an Oscar for his work on the digitally shot “Avatar.” “So this is a pretty monochromatic period to be evoking, especially those three months in the winter when the film is set. And after four years of Civil War, the toll on the people and the places is so horrendous.”

Carter and Kaminski worked together to make sure the colors and the tones in the background stayed relatively consistent, ensuring that elements didn’t pop out as too light or recede into darkness.

“For instance, when I started painting the trim in the White House, (Kaminski) asked if I would tone it down so it would balance with the (darker) wallpaper,” Carter says. “Even the maps that we had on the walls were all toned down. That’s something you could still do in digital, but I think you’d have even more problems, because it would tend to heighten the contrast, and the amount of post-production that would have been required to degrade it or make it more atmospheric would have been more difficult to achieve.”

Such post-production tweaking is “great when you’re creating a landscape from Mars or you’re turning people into 18-foot aliens,” says makeup designer Lois Burwell, but not an a more intimate period movie like “Lincoln.”

Nonetheless, Burwell faced other challenges during production: the film’s 35mm film stock added too much magenta to the skin tones. “It wasn’t apparent on the set but it did bounce out when you looked at the rushes,” says Burwell, an Oscar winner for “Braveheart” who worked with Spielberg four times previously. “The best thing to do is to remove as much magenta from the skin tones (with the makeup) as you possibly can.”

The end result of all these artistic efforts is a film that strikingly captures a dark era in U.S. history that gave re-birth to the nation.

Eye on the Oscars: Below the Line
Pros restage Mideast woes | Revolutionary spirit drives ‘Les Miz’ biz | Vfx team dares to take tiger by the tail | Film calls all the shots in ‘Lincoln’ | Bin Laden compound rebuilt, stormed again

More Film

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Steven Spielberg Remembers 'Friend and Early Mentor' Stanley Donen

    As news of the death of prolific director Stanley Donen spread Saturday, the industry was quick to remember the helmer of so many classic musicals. Donen directed such hits as “Singin’ in the Rain,” co-directed with and starring Gene Kelly; “Funny Face” with Audrey Hepburn; and “Charade,” with Hepburn and Cary Grant. “Stanley Donen was [...]

  • Aubrey Plaza Spirit Awards

    How to Watch the 2019 Spirit Awards Online

    The Spirit Awards are taking over television Saturday from Santa Monica, Calif., but viewers don’t need a TV to tune in. Hosted by “Parks and Recreation” star Aubrey Plaza, this year’s Spirit Awards are set to air on IFC at 2 p.m. PT and again on Feb. 24 at 9 p.m. ET. However, indie lovers [...]

  • Mandatory Credit: Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

    Oscars, After Repeated Tumbles, Take Center Stage in Hollywood

    At least the weather will be sunny for Sunday afternoon’s Oscars ceremony following one of the stormiest —  and strangest — awards seasons in memory. Expectations have been turned upside down in key categories amid a historic lack of consensus among guild and critics groups. The 91st Academy Awards will be the first in three [...]

  • Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his Night

    Box Office: 'How to Train Your Dragon 3' Speeding to Series-Best Debut With $58 Million

    Universal’s “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is far and away the box office champ for Academy Awards weekend with an estimated debut of $58 million from 4,259 North American locations. Three holdovers and an expansion will make up the other top four spots, with the sophomore frame of sci-fier “Alita: Battle Angel” [...]

  • Stanley Donen

    Stanley Donen, Director of Iconic Movie Musicals, Dies at 94

    Stanley Donen, the director of such stylish and exuberant films as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Funny Face” and “Two for the Road” and the last surviving helmer of note from Hollywood’s golden age, has died at 94. The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips tweeted that one of his sons had confirmed the news to him. Confirmed [...]

  • '2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live

    Film Review: ‘2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action’

    The Academy skewed dark in its choice of live-action shorts this year, selecting four films to slit your wrists by — each one featuring child endangerment in a different form — and a fifth, about a diabetic on her death bed, that finds a glimmer of uplift at the other end of life. If that [...]

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in an Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content