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The Light And Color Of An Era
"I am changing. Seeing everything so clear. I am changing. I'm gonna start right now right here.”

Bil Condon wanted to tell the story of "Dreamgirls” through a palpably real lens, with all the imperfections intact. Therefore, director of photography Tobias Schliessler's cinéma vérité-infused style carried over from the football epic "Friday Night Lights” brought precisely the kind of grit he wanted. "We were going for an urban, gritty look,” describes producer Mark. "Everything in this film, in a way, is choreographed. A musical, particularly this one, is about movement – not just of bodies, but of cameras, lights, sets, even storylines and character trajectories. The camera has its own moves, Tobias' cinematography has its own music.”

"I was excited by the visual possibilities of this film,” says Schliessler. "The realism leapt out at me when I first read the script. I hadn't even thought of it as a musical during that first read. I saw indications that the characters were singing, but it read to me that it was just dialog between characters. So, we wanted to keep it as real as possible, but still include the magic of a musical.”

The department heads all collaborated closely with Condon on representing the arc of fame, and the level of success attained by the core group of people in the film, for his part, Schliessler set out to let the raw feeling in the beginning of the film to give way to more stylization as the story progresses. When the group transforms – as Effie is cast out, replaced by Michelle – a schism occurs in the look of the film between the two parallel stories. "The break between Effie and The Dreams breaks the photographic style as well,” explains Schliessler. "In general, earthy colors for Detroit in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and pastel colors for ‘70s California.”

There was also the added challenge of creating naturalistic bridges between the gritty real world cinematography and the stylized musical sequences. "The camera should move naturally without being too obvious, but you have to let the audience know, through camera work and elsewhere, that they are also in a different world,” Schliessler explains.

To map out the camerawork for the musical numbers in particular, Condon and Schliessler took advantage of the breakthrough previsualization ("pre-viz”) process commonly used in films with heavy visual effects components. They executed rehearsal runs with three video cameras to predict how a number would play out with motion picture cameras rolling and fine-tuned the results. Storyboards were then incorporated into the live-action foortage, along with sections of dialog in voiceover , giving Condon and his team a head start in not only shooting but editing complete sequences.

"This pre-production exercise provided all of us with a better understanding how to transition in and out of musical numbers,” says Editor Virginia Katz. "We were able to see where the greatest challenges are and were also inspired to see how a given sequence would ultimately manifest itself.”

"Never ever felt quite like this Good about myself from our very first kiss. I'm here when you call. You've got it all And confidence like I never knew.”

As a counterpoint to the realistic approach taken with live action sequences for the musical numbers, Condon wanted to bring back all the glamour and fireworks that galvanized the original production. Only one team could achieve that level of perfection in terms of the lighting design – Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. "‘Dreamgirls' has a show-within-a-show aspect to it, and authentic theatrical lighting was essential to the look of the numbers,” says Mark.

"We were so lucky on ‘Dreamgirls' to have the best theatrical lighting team in the world,” says production designer Myhre. "It was an honor to collaborate with Jules and Peggy.”

Tony-winning theatrical lighti

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