American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 96

Filmmakers' Forum

I

My Year in the Tadpole Trenches
By John Bailey, ASC

At first, I thought of 2012 as "The Year of My Alexa Hat
Trick." By early August, I had photographed three movies back-toback, all with the Arri Alexa and all at ProRes, a decision necessitated
by the limited production budgets. However, just as I was settling in
for a quiet late-summer harvest of my wife's home garden, I got a
phone call from a friend, director/writer Phil Alden Robinson. He was
prepping a film starring Robin Williams, Mila Kunis, Melissa Leo and
Hamish Linklater titled The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, and the cinematographer with whom he often worked had fallen out. Would I
be interested? Shooting began in a month.
I've photographed about 20 films in New York City, and Carol
and I have had an apartment near Lincoln Center for 30 years. I had
hardly shot anything in the borough of Brooklyn since Brighton
Beach Memoirs (1985), and certainly not in the newly ├╝ber-hip
enclaves of DUMBO and Williamsburg. When we wrapped The
Angriest Man in Brooklyn with a mid-October, nighttime epilogue
scene on a cruise boat in the East River, with the skyscraper lights of
Lower Manhattan as background, I had completed my fourth film for
the year. A celebration was in order. It was a personal best, but it
didn't compare to the six or seven pictures per year of John Alton,
ASC or Gabriel Figueroa in their heyday of the 1940s.
From the 1970s until about a decade ago, many studio
features had shooting schedules of 40-50 days. Typical budgets for
these rom-coms, dramas and non-VFX action movies came in at
$20-30 million; it was the routine fare released on thousands of
screens every Friday. The budget for the occasional star-studded
event film topped $60 million, but it was still a few decades before
behemoth franchises, reboots, zombie/vampire, graphic novel/superhero, bloated leviathans swept credible, character-driven movies off
the summertime screens. The industry trades proudly proclaim these
beasts "tentpoles." The movies I photographed last year are what
96

November 2013

producer Lynda Obst calls "tadpoles" in her new book, Sleepless in
Hollywood.
So, last year I photographed four tadpoles. The union
contracts designate them Tier 1, 2 or 3 pictures, with slightly escalating budgets - a fraction of that of studio features in decades
past. I read recently that the reshoot for the new ending of World
War Z cost $20 million. The combined budget of all four of my
tadpoles fell short of that amount.
The guidelines behind much of today's filmmaking revolve
around the roulette wheel of what I call "Casino Cinema." Tentpoles
are not made with the expectation of a low house return like, say,
Craps or 21. They're high-risk gambles, a movie embodiment of the
shell game that brought down the investment banks of Wall Street.
Even with the mixed box-office grosses from these summer tentpoles, it's likely that studio-marketing divisions will continue to place
their bets on the $100-million-plus line, a venture that would be
arguable if these films were part of a varied release package. But
there is little appetite for a balanced cinematic diet. The films I
photographed last year were all independently financed; none had
a pre-shoot distribution deal. Two of them, The Way Way Back and
A.C.O.D., were accepted to Sundance; since then, both attained
distribution by the "art-house" divisions of major studios. Of the
other two films, the drag-racing feature Snake and Mongoose had
indie distribution in September, and The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is
slated for a spring 2014 release. A decade ago, all four of these
features likely would have appeared on a major studio's release
schedule.
According to Obst, the ground began shifting beneath filmmakers' feet even before the millennium arrived. Since my days as a
camera assistant in 1970, I have watched a slow erosion of the fertile
topsoil. That was the beginning of an anomalous decade of renegade movies reacting to Vietnam and to the cynicism and malaise of
the Nixon era, and there was an eager audience for those offbeat,
outsider films. At the time, no one realized it was also the last hurrah

American Cinematographer

Photos courtesy of Entertainment Universe.

The author (left photo) on the set of the indie drag-racing feature Snake and Mongoose.



American Cinematographer - November 2013

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - November 2013

Contents
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 1
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 2
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 3
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 4
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - Contents
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 6
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 7
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 8
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 9
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 10
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 11
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 12
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 13
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 14
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 15
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 16
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 17
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 18
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 19
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 20
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 21
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 22
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 23
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 24
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 25
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 26
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 27
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 28
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 29
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 30
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 31
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 32
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 33
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 34
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 35
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 36
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 37
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 38
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 39
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 40
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 41
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 42
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 43
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 44
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 45
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 46
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 47
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 48
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 49
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 50
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 51
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 52
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 53
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 54
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 55
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 56
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 57
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 58
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 59
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 60
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 61
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 62
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 63
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 64
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 65
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 66
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 67
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 68
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 69
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 70
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 71
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 72
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 73
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 74
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 75
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 76
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 77
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 78
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 79
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 80
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 81
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 82
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 83
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 84
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 85
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 86
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 87
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 88
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 89
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 90
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 91
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 92
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 93
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 94
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 95
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 96
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 97
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 98
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 99
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 100
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 101
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 102
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 103
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 104
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 105
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 106
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 107
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 108
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 109
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 110
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 111
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - 112
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - Cover3
American Cinematographer - November 2013 - Cover4
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1218_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1118_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1018_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0918_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0818_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0718_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0618_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0518_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0418_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0318_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0218_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0118_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1217_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1117_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1017_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0917_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0817_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0717_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0617_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0517_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0417_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0317_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0217_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0117_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1216_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1116_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1016_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0916_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0816_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0716_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0616_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0516_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0416_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0316_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0216_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0116_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1215_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1115_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1015_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0915_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0815_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0715_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0615_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0515_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0415_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0315_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0215_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0115_v2
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1214
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1114
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1014
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0914
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0814
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0714
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0614
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0514
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0414
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0314
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0214
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0114
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1213
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1113
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1013
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0913
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0813
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0713
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0613
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0513
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0413
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0313
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0213
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0113
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1212
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1012
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0912
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0812
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0712
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0612
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0512
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0412
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0312
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0212
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1211
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1111
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1011
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0911
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0811
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0711
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0611
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0511
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0411
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0311
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0211
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0111
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1210
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1110
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac1010
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0810
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0710
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0610
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0510
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0410
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0310
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0210
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ac/ac0110
https://www.nxtbookmedia.com