JOHNNY DEPP as Barnabas Collins in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ “DARK SHADOWS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Peter Mountain
Dark Shadows was a daily daytime soap shown on US TV in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel together with director Tim Burton have teamed up to produce a movie version that not only radiates affection for the original but also pays homage to several other horror films and B-movies.
“It’s difficult to define exactly what sort of look we were after for the film,” says Delbonnel “but I guess ‘twisted’ would sum it up nicely. The story of the maid, Victoria who is the reincarnation of Josette, a ghost-cum-vampire brought to my mind the image of Kim Novack in Vertigo, a beautiful portrait, a little bit overlit but so poetic and elegant. And then there was the Technicolor in Vertigo. It seemed to me that combining these two elements would be a good starting point for the look of the film. I ultimately suggested this kind of look to Tim Burton; an overlit film, (as the soap operas were) with very saturated primary colors (as the colors of the 70s) on top of desaturated muted secondary colors.”
Dark Shadows was shot on film. “Tim Burton thought that this would better re-create the 70s feel,” continues Delbonnel, “My reasons were slightly more technical. When I compared my digital tests with the same tests on film, it seemed to me that the color dyes were more subtle than pixels, not to mention that you can say that on film you have all the billion colors of the world as opposed to the RGB pixels world which is just an interpretation. For me, the digital versus film equation comes down to the question of why should I give up the billions of colors that film offers for something that seems to me less subtle?”
“I used KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 which I pushed to 800ASA,” says Delbonnel. “Since Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince I have generally used just this one stock, 500 ASA tungsten, even for exterior scenes. It makes sense when you are dealing with big sets; using the same stock in some ways makes everyone’s life easier. You use less light and the post-production department don’t have to deal with a different curve. In addition to the 2/3 stop push, I overexposed one full stop to get a very rich negative.”
Although he is clearly a fan of film, Delbonnel is prepared to see the other side of the argument. He concluded “I have been lucky so far in that directors I have worked with have considered me sufficiently responsible and professional to choose the best tool available to shoot a specific movie. All of the last three directors I have worked with, Alexander Sokurov, Tim Burton and the Coen brothers raised the question of using digital cameras but with all of them we ended up using film. There were various reasons; they loved the texture of film, they didn’t think using digital was cheaper (because of the costs of post-production) and they weren’t familiar with the ‘language’ of a digital image. For me, the language aspect is the right question. We have been used to film with its evolutions and failures for over a century now so we know what it looks like. I will continue to choose film as long as the movie I’m prepping dictates it and as long as the color range of digital doesn’t please me.”