American Cinematographer - April 2017 - 48
Between Heaven and Hell
Top: "God" appears before Custer's congregation. Bottom: Backed by a greenscreen, actor Mark
Harelik is readied for action on his heavenly throne.
machine at the Battle of Gettysburg -
steps inside a sleazy Ratwater saloon
and shoots the welcoming preacher,
having no love for men of the cloth.
Drawing two pistols, he demands that
the singer (Adam Wang) and piano
player (Ben Ziegler) finish their song.
From the Saint of Killers'
perspective, the camera tracks in on the
singer as the cowboy shoots every
patron in sight. The camera stops, the
Saint of Killers enters the frame, downs
the piano player with a headshot and
steps out again. The singer believes he's
been spared, but the cowboy reappears
and beheads him with his sword.
To achieve this single take, the
crew removed the back of the set to
make room for the camera - which was
on a crane and Talon remote head - to
move in from a wide shot of saloongoers being felled, over to the singer's
face. McTavish stood beside the camera,
mock-shooting the stunt performers
who are blown to the ground as blood
squibs explode in a sequence that stunt
coordinator John Koyama rehearsed for
days. When the singer is killed, Wang
crumpled to the ground; his head was
separated later in visual effects.
Key grip J. Patrick Daily rigged a
system for the overhead bird's-eye views
employed throughout the series. He set
it up for the saloon scene, with pulleys
connected through a window and the
camera operated from outside by a grip
watching a monitor. In this case,
however, the shot ended up on the
While there were a couple of
practical electrical lamps on the wall
behind the singer with added flicker to
simulate the look of oil lamps, most of
the lighting in this and every other
scene came through windows.
"I don't like to clutter up the set,"
Grillo says. "I don't like stands and flags
all over the place. I like to light more
naturally and give the actors room. I
think it helps their performance to not
see so many lights around. And the
cameras are so sensitive that you don't
need very intricate lighting. You end up
mostly trying to take light away rather
than adding it."
His minimal setup in the scene
included 18Ks - with 4'x4' frames of
Opal Frost diffusion - pumping
through the windows, which had sheer
curtains that were slightly parted, simultaneously generating hard light and fill.
General fill was also provided by an Arri
4K HMI Par on a balcony that was
directed into muslin on the ceiling.
"I wanted it to feel like it would
have back in the day," Grillo says. "It
couldn't have been very bright inside.
We wanted that feeling of darkness,
which also plays better for the Saint of
Indeed, when the latter makes his
grand entrance, he's backlit in front of
the saloon doorway, which is blown out
from the crew's lights, leaving him deep
in shadow. Rogen and Goldberg
insisted from the get-go that the character's face should be obscured, gradually becoming more visible as we learn
more about him.
As for the modern scenes, which
had the lion's share of screen time,
Grillo says the dirt and browns and