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The Right Color
The color tone and palette was integral to their vision of placing the action in the past. The film begins in a profusion of color as Washington celebrates Victory Day. "There were flags everywhere,” says Ivanov, "everything was primary colors.” As the assassination attempts are made, we see the rich and sumptuous colors of Ford's Theatre, Seward's home and the hotel where Johnson lived. "We wanted,” she says, "to show this rich palette and then slowly drain all color away” as the story moved to the prison and the trial and the gallows where more somber tones would prevail.

In addition, reports Ivanov, "Tom Sigel and Bob had the idea of de-saturating the film.” Redford explains that because "photography was relatively new at the time of the trial I had it in mind while Tom and I were discussing the look of the film, the color, the lighting. We looked at the quality of color and light in Vermeer and Rembrandt and we discussed autochrome. Although not invented until the early 1900's, this early form of color photography evokes the period of the film with subtle color, wide tonal gradation and quiet light.” Autochrome is a film developing process used in the early days of photography, invented by the Lumiere brothers. Color would be added or suggested to black and white photographs by using a series of black and white images and color filters. The multiple images would then be combined onto one plate from which the photograph would be printed.

"We knew we didn't want black and white or sepia tones. We wanted a different type of color than you're used to seeing, not just a sort of full spectrum Eastman Kodak contemporary color,” agrees Sigel, "This is almost a combination of black and white and color.” He describes it as a combination of selectively saturating the colors and then de-saturating them. And, he says, "I worked closely with the production designer and the costume designer because ultimately, I can't do more than what's in front of the lens.”

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