In Runner, Runner, Justin Timberlake plays Richie, a needy, ambitious grad student who pays off his college tuition bills with money he wins gambling. When he thinks he has the system figured out, he risks it all at an unregulated offshore gambling website — and loses. He decides he must confront the entrepreneur who cheated him, and that man, played by Ben Affleck, offers him a job. It seems like a dream gig, but eventually the party turns ominous. He realizes too late that he is so far in that he might not be able to get out.
Mauro Fiore, ASC and director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer, The Take) turned their cameras on this story in Puerto Rico, which stood in for Costa Rica because it was a U.S. territory and offered more of an infrastructure for filmmaking. In 2009, Fiore won an OSCAR® for his work on Avatar, and his other feature credits include Real Steel, The A-Team, Smokin’ Aces, The Island, Tears of the Sun, and Training Day.
The story unfolds in two basic environments. The college scenes are set at Princeton in the wintertime and were filmed, with the exception of some aerial exteriors, at older buildings in San Juan. The images emphasize cooler, blue tones, and the settings tend to be smaller and darker. The Costa Rica scenes, in contrast, feature a slicker, more colorful look with many bright, warm and slightly exotic exteriors.
Partly because of those exteriors, the filmmakers chose to shoot film, in the Super 35 4-perf format for a widescreen finish.
“Brad and I agreed that film would be the best medium to capture the colors of this Latin world,” says Fiore. “We really wanted to shoot film right from the beginning. My initial instinct was anamorphic, but we felt that spherical might be a little easier given the location. The 4-perf format meant that we had a little more leeway.”
Fiore credits Furman with consistently making choices that were visually interesting. “As I read the script, the story was going to be in hotel rooms and casino resorts,” he describes. “Brad really brought a fresh approach, and fought to stretch it out, to take it further than your typical feature film. We worked very hard to seek out locations that had much more of a street vibe, with the color and character of the real places. That was a symbol of what Justin’s character would use to fight back for himself — the common, working class people of that country.”
Ivan Block, Affleck’s character, was always framed with geometric forms, in angular locations, with straight line moves to emphasize his inhumanity and lack of emotion. The type of existing street lighting also factored into the location decisions.
“As far as the exteriors are concerned, I really like to work with whatever is there practically, and enhance that,” explains Fiore. “We chose specific streets because they were sodium vapor or mercury vapor. Richie’s exteriors were planned as sodium vapor, and anything with Block was either white or mercury vapor. We carried those colors as a motif throughout the film.”
The roughly 50-day shoot took place almost entirely on locations, with the exception of a handful of built sets. One particularly elaborate party, where Richie first meets Ivan, was filmed at an old fort in San Juan.
“We had a lot of big night exteriors, and there were quite a few large-scale parties,” he says. “At the fort, I used a lot of LED fixtures and combinations of moving lights for a carnivalesque effect. It was an interesting challenge to light this archaic architecture using new technology.”
Fiore used KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207 extensively in daylight situations. “It’s one of my favorite film stocks,” he says. “I like the contrast. The light and shadows are very important to me, even in day exteriors. I’m usually adding contrast rather than taking it away. I use a lot of negative fill. But the film stock itself already has contrast built in, which I really like.”
KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 was the stock of choice for night and tungsten-balanced situations. The film was sent to Technicolor in New York for processing, which also provided a calibrated projector.
The lenses were PANAVISION Primes and Primo zooms, including the 3:1 and the 11:1. ANGENIEUX zooms, including the 15-40mm and the 28-76mm, were used for STEADICAM or handheld shots. Often the zooms were helpful in tight locations.
Two cameras were often employed with a longer zoom on B camera. “The PANAVISION 3:1 zoom is just a really great zoom lens,” says Fiore. “I like to shoot with two cameras, but not necessarily shooting at the same angle. The B camera might be at a completely off angle with profiles. Sometimes it’s almost as if the B camera is handling subtext, and A camera is handling the text. That way we’re able to really isolate specific little details.”
The A camera/STEADICAM operator was Kirk Gardner, and B camera was handled by Maurice McGuire. “That team is very important to me, because they’re also creative on their own,” Fiore notes. “It’s not like they’re just taking orders from me. I feel like it’s a collaborative relationship. And that goes for the gaffer, Jack Coffen, and key grip, John Janusek, as well. I was lucky to be able to bring a lot of crewmembers who work with me often.
I have a really strong base crew, and we have a tight collaboration with each other.” Looking back, Fiore says the decision to shoot film was in harmony with the overall visual strategy, and suited to the logistical challenges of the project.
“Traditionally, images have been created on film, and that means a lot to us,” says Fiore. “But on Runner, Runner, there were practical reasons to shoot film as well. We didn’t have to have a lot of gear traveling with us, and we weren’t traveling with an extra DIT. We weren’t trying to do color correction on the fly. There weren’t a lot of people around involved with trying to make the image look right. If we wanted to film inside a car, we just took the camera and went inside the car. There was nothing needed besides a battery. It was a much easier, much more flexible format to deal with.”
Runner, Runner begins rolling out in theaters in September.