HE LOVES THE STEADICAM IN 'CARLITO'S WAY' AND THE WAY DE PALMA DOES THOSE SHOTS
Lorenzo Senatore, the cinematographer for Rod Lurie's latest film, The Outpost (which, like the bulk of Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia, was shot in Bulgaria), began his career as a steadicam operator in Italy. The Outpost, "set at a military camp in Afghanistan completely surrounded by steep mountains," according to The Wrap's Joe McGovern, includes several long takes and sequences. Senatore recently talked to McGovern, who eventually asked Senatore about his favorite long shot:
Do you see a lot of potential in cinematography thanks to how lightweight cameras have become?
Well, in a sense. But I was influenced a lot on this film by things I saw many years ago in “Das Boot,” the Wolfgang Petersen submarine film. It was a huge inspiration for me as a DP. I was obsessed with knowing how they got the camera to go through the really small bulkhead doors in a submarine. They had built the submarine on a soundstage but they had built it with all the real dimensions. You can cheat all you want in movies, but they didn’t do it. So it was the camera operator who was running through these tiny doors, holding the camera by hand, not on the shoulder, kind of like a hybrid between handheld and Steadicam. It worked fantastically.
The cinematographer’s job is to light things, but there are a number of scenes in “The Outpost” that take place in near darkness.
It’s a natural instinct, for sure, to light scenes properly. If you’ve seen my previous work, you always have a clear sense of what’s going on, so I had to force myself a bit here. Rod was really pushing me for the darkness. We had a lot of real veterans on the location and even in the movie. They were all telling us that at night, they wouldn’t even start fires or shine lights. They would not go outside the barracks if there was a full moon. If it was total darkness, they only had little glow lights around their neck. We wanted to preserve that for the film, but it’s very challenging. Anyone who looks through their iPhone camera at night can understand that. So I did a lot of tests on the night lighting. And then after we finished shooting the night scenes, I still dropped the exposure down a bit in post-production.
The battle sequence is really 45 minutes of relentless combat. It’s not quite done in real time but it’s very visually consistent. How did you manage that?
It was an all-location shoot, obviously. Unfortunately, we had an accident in pre-production when one of the actors (Scott Eastwood) broke his ankle badly. But it meant that we got extra time to spend as production shifted back a bit. I did a lot of brainstorming – first splitting up the whole big puzzle of the battle, then assigning each piece to the best part of a day to shoot, and then reassembling it all. So one morning we would shoot the first part of a shot. But we’d save the second part of the same shot for the next morning, so we would have consistent light.
Were those long shooting days?
Well, we were shooting without lunch breaks. That’s actually a big plus for us in the camera department. You keep the momentum going. When everybody takes a break for an hour, by the time you get the machine going again, it’s already late afternoon and the lighting is completely different. It meant a lot that we were able to complete a sequence with the same look from beginning to end.
Also some of the shots in the ambush sequence are lengthy.
That was the other big advantage. We were shooting long shots and when you are doing that, it’s a big plus for continuity. You definitely dedicate more time in planning and rehearsing and choreographing the shot. But then when you start shooting, you get the result in this little window, after two of three takes. There was a period during the final sequence where we were shooting only two shots a day.
What’s your philosophy about long takes? Do you love the challenge or is it too much trouble?
It makes the job more complicated but I love it. My background is in Steadicam and long takes are part of the magic of Steadicam. Also, when I began working, I was doing a lot of longer Steadicam shots and that’s how I built my career. I would just be called in for a day, because it was extremely expensive 20 years ago to have a Steadicam on set all the time.
What’s your favorite long shot in movies?
I love Brian De Palma and the way he does them. Spielberg is a master as well. There is one in “Carlito’s Way,” Al Pacino is hiding from some guys in Grand Central Station in New York. That was done with Steadicam by a camera operator named Larry McConkey, who’s one of the legends in the movie business.
Do you still strap on the Steadicam?
From time to time. I didn’t on this movie because it was very physically demanding. I didn’t want the physicality of the operating to interfere with the goal we were going for. I had an incredible operator from Canada called Sasha Proctor, who was in much better physical shape than I was. I did it for 20 years, so I’ve got the scars on my back.