The Power of Teamwork

In late May of 1977, George Lucas was on vacation in Hawaii, partly resting after the grueling production of Star Wars, and partly hiding from the media after its unprecedented and largely unexpected success. There he met Steven Spielberg, who was taking a short break from shooting Close Encounters and had just hit box-office gold with Jaws two years before. It was the beginning of a beautifully profitable friendship.

Between them they claim 8 of the 20 top-grossing movies of all time, including their closest collaboration, a story that they discussed there on the Maui beach. Lucas had an idea to revisit the old film serials, which appealed to Spielberg’s taste for classic adventure. Together, they worked out the rough idea for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a few months later, they chose Lawrence Kasdan as the screenwriter for the project.

The interesting part is that they recorded their discussions as they worked over the story ideas and had them transcribed for reference. A few days ago, 126 pages of these transcribed conversations appeared on the web. You can read them here or download a pdf file here.

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Color Theory for Cinematographers

At this year’s San Antonio Film Academy, I gave two lectures on three Cs of cinematography, composition, contrast, and color. Color is often overlooked by beginning DPs, and it is an extremely powerful tool. I described color in cinematography as “the use of analogous or complimentary color tones to create contrasts between elements in the frame and communicate emotional ideas to the audience.”

Not a great description, but good enough for starters. Color can be used to communicate information to audiences in all kinds of ways. For example, the storyline in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic takes place in three different places, each of which is a very different color. Viewers can instantly tell where characters are and what part of the story they are watching. This is a very obvious way to communicate basic information.

Color can also communicate emotional information. Certain cinematic conventions have developed which help with this, for example warm lighting to convey safety and cool lighting to suggest danger are about as standard as shadows to convey mystery and brightness to signify security. Some directors, like James Cameron, stick to these conventions religiously, but others are willing to shake things up.

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