Bazelli creates new look - Kodak

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Bazelli creates new look - Kodak

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focus on film

Hairspray, the 1988 cult classic directed by John Waters and

shot by David Insley, was a scruffy, endearing call for social

tolerance, packed with B-list stars and a healthy dose of Waters’

trademark irreverence. Fourteen years later, a theatrical musical

based upon Waters’ movie arrived on Broadway and won eight

Tony Awards. The newest Hairspray is a musical movie based on

both the original film and the Broadway play.

Hairspray’s film-to-stage-back-to-film lineage has maintained

the same setting, storyline, and characters. Tracy Turnblad

(Nikki Blonsky) is a rotund high-schooler who dreams of

dancing on the city’s coolest TV dance party, The Corny Collins

Show. Tracy’s mom Edna (John Travolta) warns her daughter to

temper her dreams, given the conservative nature of the times.

However, after wowing Collins at her school dance, Tracy not

only wins a spot on the show, she becomes a sensation.

Director Adam Shankman chose cinematographer Bojan

Bazelli to handle the visuals on the project. Bazelli says that the

film’s early ‘60s look was inspired by the cover of a book by

photographer Robert Polidori entitled Moods of La Habana.

“This film’s era needed a very specific look that I felt needed

to come from a negative,” Bazelli says. “I wanted to have a very

clean, one-on-one point of origination for the image, where I

could see in advance how it printed on a release stock. I did not

want to create the look in the DI.”

After extensive testing, Bazelli opted for KODAK VISION2

200T 5217 film, underdeveloped one full stop. “The printing

light range that best suited the DI film-out was around 25-28,

which in most cases would be fairly low,” he says. “The goal

was to create a range of transparent blacks that was consistent

with the period. This was the opposite approach they used in

Dreamgirls, where the blacks were very deep and contrasty. With

our approach, you can almost put your hand into the blacks and

find details across every corner of the frame. The same thing

Bazelli creates new look

went for the color palette. While the movie is filled with vivid

costumes and production design, the overall palette is much

less saturated than a contemporary feel, because we did not

want to exaggerate the image through contrast. The look was all

determined in advance on print stock, without regard to the DI.”

More than two dozen scenes include choreography. Bazelli,

who had not previously photographed a musical feature film,

used a minimum of three ARRIcam ST or LTs for each dance

scene. “Adam has an uncanny ability to know the best point

from which to experience his choreography,” Bazelli says. “He

wanted everything to focus completely on the dancing, and

was not overly concerned with the technical aspects of lighting

and camera. That meant we had tremendous freedom, given

how much he trusted our team. It also meant that I needed to

understand every rehearsal in order to figure out where all the

cameras would go.”

“We had thirteen weeks of pre-production, and I was able

to learn every dance number by heart and what each featured

dancer was doing in each scene. I basically had to learn how to

be a dancer in order to shoot this film,” he laughs.

Bazelli’s team included Roger Finlay and Candide Franklyn

operating, and Russel Bowie and Darren Spriet as first and

second A.C. respectively. The crew had 64 days to accomplish

the film, mostly on locations in and around Toronto.

One of the most challenging song and dance numbers was

at Tracy’s high school gym. White and black students dance

segregated, until Hairspray’s diminutive heroine crosses the

color line. The high school location had no overhead lighting

grid, and was a historical landmark. As a result, despite the

40-foot ceilings, equipment was limited. The spot was chosen

for the quality of its wood parquet floors, which could not be

reproduced on a stage. To hide lights, Bazelli asked production

designer David Gropman to create bannered scaffolding in each

corner of the gym.

Hairspray.indd 1 30/5/07 12:06:42


The real challenge, however, came from the wood parquet

floor, which was located on the building’s second level. “During a

rehearsal, with our camera up on the crane,” Bazelli recalls, “we

realized the entire gym was shaking when 100 people started

dancing. Without using a remote gyro stabilizing head, the

footage would have been unusable. The problem was there was

only one Libra head in all of Toronto, and we needed a minimum

of four heads, given all the coverage we needed to shoot the

scene in two days.”

Bazelli was able to round up three more Scorpio and Libra

heads, which was a good thing because the rehearsal’s action

paled compared to the energy sixty dancers and seventy high

school extras produced on the day of the scene. One added

bonus was that the gyro stabilizing heads absorbed so much of

the gym’s kinetic energy, no dolly tracks had to be laid.

Bazelli’s team used a combination of old and new lenses.

Cooke S4 Primes were supplemented by 40-year-old Cooke

Panchros, which are softer and less contrasty than modern

optics. Ultra-sharp ARRI/Zeiss Master Primes were employed

for nighttime exteriors that did not feature any dancing, where

exposures could comfortably be set below T1.6 and extend dusk

40 minutes or more. Shankman had shot all his previous films

with anamorphic lenses, but Bazelli steered his director toward

using Super 35mm, which results in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.

With the aid of modern prosthetics, Travolta spent four to

six hours every day to put on a “fat suit” all made of plastic.

The suit generated so much heat that the actor broke into a

sweat within 20 minutes. “After an hour, you could see the suit

start to decay,” Bazelli recalls. “We had to shoot all of Travolta’s

close-ups right away, and they had to be lit softly to hide the

suit’s blemishes and give the skin texture like a real person. The

greatest difficulty was when he started dancing.”

focus on film

“I basically had to learn how to be a

dancer in order to shoot this film.”

Several flashback

sequences required

different looks. One

example is a tango

sequence, where

Bazelli shot the

entire scene with a

red filter, and used

yellow as secondary

background color.

“Gels take three

to four stops of

intensity so you need

2

big lights to get an

exposure,” he says.

“For that shot we used six 20Ks, and eight 12-light Maxi-Brutes

with diffusion. We had to start with very large sources just to get

the soft period feel we wanted.”

Bazelli says he took great pride in seeing the entire period

look of the film already present as designed when he began the

DI timing. “The only additions we may make are a one-half to

three-quarter of a stop differentiation between the corners of

the frame and the center,” he says. “It’s a very slight vignetting

process to further enhance the period feel.”

Looking back, Bazelli says he was surprised nearly every day

by what was uncovered on the set. “On the first day of shooting,

the actors opened their mouths and songs came out instead of

dialogue,” he recalls. “You realize, okay, I’m going to have to think

on my feet because the traditional approach may not apply.

Because Adam gave us so much latitude and freedom to create

the film’s look, the risks taken on this film were as much about

having the courage to trust my intuition and experience as they

were working in a brand new genre.”

1 Cast and crew prepare to shoot a night scene for Hairspray. 2 (Left) Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli takes a meter read on the set of Hairspray. © 2004 Photos by David James/newline.wireimage.com

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