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AMERICAN HUSTLE

Getting The Shot
When David O. Russell directs a film, he stands just off camera, fine tuning the acting, rewriting and feeding new lines to the actors as the cameras roll, re-blocking scenes, sometimes directing the Steadicam operator with a new idea for the shot. "Life is unexpected - none of us ever know what's going to happen from moment to moment - and the scenes feel that way, too," says Gordon. "It's very unpredictable, but it's also extremely focused - David has an intention behind it all. We light the room, rather than the shot, and we do it on Steadicam, rather than trying to get traditional coverage. David doesn't sit by the monitors. He stays right with his actors, where the movie is. He grabs shots in the moment. He thinks like an editor - he knows all the angles he has. And the result is that when you sit down to watch the movie, you can tell within five minutes that it's a David O. Russell movie - it has that style, the specific language, the camera movement, the feeling of the world."

It was the film's director of photography, Linus Sandgren, who was responsible for capturing the images. "David used a few key words for the look of the film," Sandgren remembers. "He wanted the actors to be warm, interesting and sexy, and he wanted us to love being there with the characters. The aim was to make the world of these characters as sexy, cool and appealing as possible - in this crazy world of lies, honesty, conflicts, friendship, cheaters, lovers, good and bad guys, you would always want to be seduced and sucked into this world, hang out with the characters, and love them."

The way a director of photography brings this about is in the way he lights the scene. He explains. "I wanted the actors to shine the way you think of the enchanting part of the 70s. Everything today is so monochromatic, and I was really intrigued that David wanted the film to be colorful. So, gold was a major color in my lighting palette - and that was often the key light - and I always brought in complementary colors, greens and pinks, to complement the gold and enhance the colorfulness to the scenes."

It was a tremendous challenge for Sandgren to light a scene in which Russell could choose to pan to any actor at any time. He solved the issue in a creative way. "I would stand in the center of an empty set and work with Judy Becker, our production designer, and Heather Loeffler, our set decorator, to put practical light sources in the room, along the backgrounds and among the actors. This made our backgrounds juicy, moody and enchanting. Then, to make sure that any actor we panned to had enough light, my gaffer, Patrick Murray, hung a Chinese lantern from a sound boom, running by the Steadicam; we filled the lantern with dimmable LEDs, which gave us the ability to dial the color temperature from warm to cool. At first, I was worried that the camera would see the light moving in the scenes, but it's impossible to tell, because the camera and the actors are also moving. It was a great solution - we could pre-light the set in a proper way, and then control the light when we had to. It worked out."

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