While the Hollywood community recovered from post-Halloween merriment, ASC Breakfast Club members were bright-eyed and bushy tailed, eagerly lining up thirty minutes before event time. Moments after the gates were unlocked and guests filed in, the event was filled to capacity.
Now in its second year, the ASC Breakfast Club welcomes guests to connect and network while enjoying coffee and a light breakfast on the ASC Clubhouse grounds, followed by an intimate discussion led by American Cinematographer associate editor Jon Witmer with the production industry's top cinematographers. (Previous speakers have included Wally Pfister, Matthew Libatique, and Roger Deakins, to name a few.) Wrapping the 2012 series was Claudio Miranda, ASC.
Witmer began the talk by highlighting Miranda's progression from electrician to cinematographer. Miranda described his approach to success as constantly arriving on set "open" and willing to absorb lessons. While he learned a great deal from the cinematographers he supported early in his career, he was particularly influenced by the way Harris Savides and Dariusz Wolski approached lighting.
"I learned about not perfect lighting," said Miranda. "There's an importance in letting an actor walk through a room without stopping him repeatedly to get the perfect setup."
Miranda’s path as a cinematographer began with music videos and commercials, including those helmed by David Fincher. His path was firmly cemented when Fincher hired Miranda to shoot "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Interested to learn how Miranda’s origins affect his hiring practices, Witmer asked Miranda what he looked for in a gaffer. Miranda laughed, and admitted he still keeps very close tabs on all the elements of the camera department.
"I control that. I control the camera," said Miranda. "I'm very involved with the lighting. I need to know about every single light."
While Miranda no longer focuses on music videos or commercials, he still gets involved if the content appeals to him. While some DPs may choose to experiment with new equipment on a commercial shoot, Miranda consistently explores new equipment hitting the landscape. He finds the greatest advantage in working these shoots is meeting new crew members. When he does find crew he enjoys working with, he'll recruit them as often as possible, bringing them from one project to the next.
Witmer ushered the conversation towards a selection of clips the DP provided to emphasize his use of lighting. The first clip, from "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," was a night time tugboat battle scene. Miranda discussed his decision to create a sharp moonlight glow, bucking the trend at the time to soften moonlight. He also discussed his introduction of a "bulb in a box" to light the interiors of the boat: 60 watt bulbs that provide sharp, piercing, controllable light.
"They are 60 watt bulbs clipped on," said Miranda. "We call them 'budget bulbs.' I'm a huge fan of practicals"
Miranda also used practical sources in "Tron: Legacy," illustrating areas of set dressing that provided strong light sources as well as color balancing challenges, illustrated in his second clip. He also discussed his thought process during pre-production when contemplating how light would exist in "Tron's" virtual world, including determining exactly what a light-less structure should look like.
In addition to discussing the experience of working with a 30 meter by 90 meter tank in “Life of Pi,” Miranda discussed the assortment of lights used in the film to recreate a natural light source. These included "Pi Lights" – a new lighting fixture created specifically for the shoot by Light Panels to capture water highlights. Miranda also discussed the use of aspect ratio throughout the movie. Miranda was very concerned about the appearance the 3D movie would have on a large screen, specifically in regards to lighting measurements.
"I did my homework," said Miranda. "I measured light levels in different theaters. A 185 ratio has a better chance of brightness than 235 -- 235 does have limitations in 3D."
Miranda's diligence in observing projection did not end in pre-production. For recent screenings of the film, he's tested projectors prior to the film's screening, including the projector used for the morning's Breakfast Club talk. Prior to the film’s world premiere screening at the New York Film Festival, seven different projectors were rejected before Miranda found one that projected the film accurately.
"Obviously I can’t look at the projectors before every screening of the film," admitted Miranda.
The presentation concluded with a Q&A with audience members, where attendees asked questions ranging from how Miranda tests equipment and how he obtains funding from a project to conduct extensive tests, as well as how he persuades directors to allow the use of practicals and how much time he devotes to working with a colorist.
The event was recorded and will be available to members of the ASC. If you would like more information about the ASC Breakfast Club, please visit: