Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher (Photo credit: Karen Ballard ©2012 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.)
Caleb Deschanel, ASC, winner of the 2010 ASC Lifetime Achievement Award, has the luxury of choosing his projects carefully. His most recent feature film, Jack Reacher, appealed to him because it embodied the straightforward, honest values of a classic western.
Tom Cruise stars as a former Army MP trying to get to the bottom of a crime spree in which five people are shot dead by a master sniper. The cast also includes Robert Duvall, Rosamund Pike and Werner Herzog.
“It was like making a western set in modern times,” Deschanel says. “The main character does the right thing and lives up to his word. I was familiar with Christopher McQuarrie’s work as a writer (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie), and I thought he had done a great job directing The Way of the Gun. I really liked the script a lot, and I thought it would be an exciting, interesting project. I’m pretty well hooked on the novels of Lee Child now.”
Deschanel is a five-time OSCAR‰ nominee whose credits include The Right Stuff, The Natural, Fly Away Home, The Passion of the Christ, The Patriot and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. When he first discussed the visual tone of Jack Reacher with McQuarrie, they looked at many of the gritty, action-oriented films of the 1970s. But these films were more a point of departure for discussion than a model. “You have your guidelines about what you want it to look and feel like,” explains the cinematographer, “but then you go out and respond to the situation, and figure out how to shoot each scene. It’s not locked in stone. You live up to the style as you go along, and it infuses the film.”
One important factor in the look was the filmmakers’ decision to shoot Jack Reacher in 35mm anamorphic format. “We were both excited about shooting this movie on film,” he says. “There’s a certain vernacular to film. Digital has made advances, but I don’t think we would have gotten the same kind of homage to those classic films if we had shot digitally. We even pushed some of the night scenes a bit so we could get a feeling of grain and add to that filmic quality.”
Deschanel used PANAVISION cameras and KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 and KODAK VISION3 200T Color Negative Film 5213. The lenses were a combination of PANAVISION G-series, E-series and others, mostly in the middle range of focal lengths. Deschanel says he loves how the anamorphic lenses make lights in the background change shape and fall out of focus.
“They just give the image a wonderful quality,” he adds. “Also, you’re shooting with less depth of field for the same width, so you can use selective focus to draw the attention of the audience around the frame. Getting the same width of frame with a longer lens is much more becoming on an actor or actress than shooting close with a really wide-angle spherical lens.
“I also like that the anamorphic lenses are not perfect,” he says. “There are slight aberrations at the edges, for example, and I think those look really cool. There is a wonderful threedimensionality to the newer ones. We had a lot of great cooperation from Panavision.”
The shoot took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Deschanel praises the local crews, who had their hands full with a wide variety of car rigs and other equipment for capturing the shots. Pursuit Systems and operator Greg Baldi made important contributions. Deschanel says the camera was “always moving in interesting ways.” Cruise did all of his own stunt driving, which meant it was important to get some exposure on him. Deschanel used tiny LED strip lights on the rearview mirror and elsewhere in the car interior, and dialed the intensity up or down.
The digital intermediate was done at Technicolor with supervising digital colorist Mitch Paulson. “We didn’t do anything fancy in the DI,” says Deschanel. “I basically tried to pretend that we were going to post photochemically. Obviously, you take advantage of the fact that you have a DI in which you can brighten and darken certain corners of the frame. But for the most part, I just tried to get it to look as much like film as possible. I have to say, the film out prints just look better than the DCP. There’s just something about the darker areas. They have a kind of life to them that you don’t get with digital projection. You don’t feel that there’s any space there — it just ends. The film print looks really good — in the blacks, you feel like you’re seeing forever.
“This movie really lived up to the potential of the script,” Deschanel concludes. “Tom’s demeanor and acting chops make him bigger than life, in a way. It was a really cool, really fun movie to do. We just felt good doing it.”