While Jason Bourne may have escaped the clutches of the crumbling Treadstone project, a covert operation of “enhancing” a field operative through experimental pharmaceuticals, there were others who were part of the program too. Aaron Cross was one of them. With doubts about his past growing, he wants to get the truth behind what had been done to him in Universal Pictures’ The Bourne Legacy.
Written and directed by Tony Gilroy, who scripted the first three Bourne features—Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum—The Bourne Legacy is an overlapping storyline that plays in the complex Bourne world. Robert Elswit, ASC, who segued from one globetrotting spy thriller in Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol into another in The Bourne Legacy, took the cinematography reins from Oliver Wood, who had photographed the first three Bourne films. And, Elswit was honored to do so.
“Oliver Wood and Doug Liman really changed what serious adult action or thriller movies look like,” Elswit says with a touch of admiration. “It was a combination of the handheld, independent film quality and the fly-on-the-wall documentary styles that brought the genre to life. Everybody’s been stealing the style from it ever since! Oliver Wood did a brilliant job.” (Doug Liman directed The Bourne Identity and produced Supremacy and Ultimatum, which were directed by Paul Greengrass.)
Elswit and Gilroy followed the Bourne handheld aesthetic but didn’t imitate it exactly. Elswit says that a better description would be that they “quoted” stylistically from the first three films. Still, The Bourne Legacy was shot in Super 35 with two handheld Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 cameras and liberal Steadicam, but at a little less frenetic pace than the previous films so as not to call so much attention to the camera operation. Panavision Primo primes were the lenses of choice, used particularly for the handheld work, in addition to Angenieux Optimo short zooms.
For exterior work, Elswit relied on KODAK VISION3 200T Color Negative Film 5213. Interiors were all KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219. “The grain structure is a very nice part of these movies, and I think film lends to the quasi-documentary style and look,” he says.
Elswit also paid close attention to Wood’s lighting approach in the previous films. “The great achievement of Oliver Wood’s lighting in the Bourne movies is that it always managed to impart a strong dramatic quality to every scene while at the same time never calling attention to itself,” he explains. “Oliver's non-theatrical, almost completely naturalistic lighting is as important to the style of the Bourne movies as the handheld, documentary-style of camera operating, and it's actually a lot harder to do. It was this naturalistic lighting style more than any other visual element that I hoped we could carry over into Legacy.”
Despite the new characters played by Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton, audiences will experience very much a continuation of the Bourne series, with Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Albert Finney reprising their roles. In fact, the crossover goes so far that shots from one office command scene in The Bourne Ultimatum were lifted, placed into Legacy and then expanded to lead into the Aaron Cross storyline, a storyline that features just as much heart-pounding action.
Elswit brings up one particular action sequence that presented quite the challenge photographically, involving a rural, three-story, late 19th century house owned by Rachel Weisz’s character, Marta, a Treadstone doctor, to whom Cross turns for help. Agents have tracked them down and attacked them on all floors. For the interior day sequence, the three-story structure plus basement was constructed as a stacked set on stage with greenscreen backgrounds. Complicating matters was that the “house” was undergoing a complete renovation—so there were, few, if any, practical lights in the mostly bare residence. And because it was daytime, they weren’t turned on anyway.
“It was a daunting, complicated thing to try to make that feel like a real house illuminated entirely by overcast, gray sky light coming through open windows—just ambient light,” he recalls.
Elswit turned to gaffer Andy Day and key grip Richie Guinness, who built large box units consisting of frameworks of tungsten space lights hanging vertically and then morphed them into heavily diffused 15 feet or 18x12-foot book lights. The boxes were positioned around the set on chain motors so they could be raised or lowered as needed. “We moved them up, down and around depending on which rooms we were in,” Elswit says. “We had to have them high enough so that if you look out the window you see the greenscreen, and having a giant light really far away is the only way to get light soft enough that it feels ambient, but you can’t expect that to work for the entire room, especially if you have to turn around in your coverage.”
Having the main source of light coming through the windows runs the risk of silhouetted actors, so Elswit continued the ambient sky lighting inside the house by hanging heavily diffused one-, two- and four-tube tungsten Kino Flos in various parts of the rooms.
Elswit knew that the 5219 was well suited for this extreme-latitude situation. “The shadow and highlight range went beyond the range of what telecine can capture, so I printed a lot of that film for that very reason,” he says. “I wanted to make sure I was seeing enough shadow detail. Working with greenscreen sometimes can make that harder to judge, especially when an actor is almost in silhouette, and I didn’t want to overfill.”
The Bourne Legacy begins rolling out to theaters in August.