Ready, Set, Shoot!
Any DP making a first move into digital cinematography might expect to have time to study the new format, running tests and experimenting with different approaches, before actually lighting a scene and rolling tape. But Beebe landed on Collateral with no ramp-up time. Two weeks of production had already been completed with cinematographer Paul Cameron (Swordfish, Man on Fire), whom Beebe was hired to replace. So he hit the ground running, calmly assessing how Mann’s decision to shoot digital would complement the story he was trying to tell.
"Certainly when you look at it on screen, the format is different from film," Beebe notes. "It’s a different result. Because you’re seeing a night world that is richly illuminated, with an enormous amount of depth, it’s slightly unsettling. It feels almost otherworldly, and it’s somehow a little bit alienating. I think that works so well with the storyline and with the journey of these two characters in this cab, because it becomes this alien landscape. You’re left with a different impression, certainly, than if it were shot on film."
The decision to switch between the Grass Valley Viper camera, Sony’s HDW-F900 camcorder and 35mm film throughout the shoot had more to do with practical issues than with aesthetics. For example, Beebe says the production favored the F900s, with their onboard recording, when the camera needed to be very portable— scenes shot inside the cab, for instance— and film cameras were used when action scenes needed to be overcranked, one area where digital cinematography still lags far behind the curve. The Viper’s main disadvantage was its umbilical-cord connection to the hefty HDCAM-SR decks that were used to record the data. ( Sony has since introduced the portable SRW-1, a streamlined approach to image capture that would have been welcome on Collateral.) But that inconvenience was outweighed by the Viper’s ability to capture a widescreen image across the camera’s full vertical resolution, rather than simply masking the top and bottom of the frame to the desired aspect ratio. In the end, Beebe says, the Vipers "did the bulk of the work."
Read the full interview here