"David Klein and I have always been able to push each other without knocking one another down. In production, we work so entirely hand-in-hand that most folks feel all we're missing is certificate of civil union. When we roll, he visually realizes my dopey ideas and fluently translates what's in my head onto celluloid. A DP is as essential to a director as oxygen is to a breather, because he's the guy or gal who dreams your dream for you. David Klein is my hero, because he's the magician who pulls my rabbits out of his hat."
Kevin Smith is a writer-director-actor-editor whose credits include Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl, Clerks II and Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
"Kevin is like a brother, keeping me on my toes by consistently surprising me and pushing me to create more specific, cinematic looks. I light comedies the same way I light dramas. Actors respond to the light you create, so I try to light very natural and real. Cinematography is my self expression. I work with directors to create a natural ambiance that helps them tell their stories. Films will always be an important form of communication."
David Klein has earned an eclectic range of some 30 cinematography credits since Clerks in 1994, including Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Clerks II, Good Time Max and Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
[All these films were shot on Kodak motion picture film.]
A Conversation with Kevin Smith and David Klein:
by Bob Fisher
A CONVERSATION WITH KEVIN SMITH
QUESTION: Where were you born and raised?
SMITH: I was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, and raised in that area.
QUESTION: What did your family do?
SMITH: My father was a postal employee. He worked from 11 o’clock at night until 8:00 in the morning. I think he was the guy that cancelled stamps. My mother was a stay-at-home mom until later in life when she went to work at a doctor’s office as a receptionist.
QUESTION: Did you have brothers and sisters?
SMITH: I have an older brother and an older sister. All of us were born in August. She was born five years before me, and he was born on the same day as me four years earlier.
QUESTION: Were you a movie fan growing up?
SMITH: We used to go to movies as a family all the time on weekends. My old man knew that I loved movies, so he would take me out of school on Wednesday afternoons, and we would go see matinees. Tickets cost about $1.50. The cinema was the first big multiplex in town. It was close to where we lived. When I was 15 or 16 some of my friends started driving, and we began taking trips into the city. That’s when I started going to the Angelica Film Center and places like that and discovered that they showed movies that didn’t play at our multiplex in New Jersey. By my 21st birthday, I was going to Manhattan every weekend to see movies at the Angelika and Film Forum.
QUESTION: Were you ever a still photo hobbyist?
SMITH: There was only one brief period when my kid was 2 to about 4 years old. I documented her early years, but I was never very good with the camera.
QUESTION: Do you remember what sparked your interest in becoming a filmmaker?
SMITH: When I saw Richard Linklater’s film Slacker on my 21st birthday it kind of crystallized everything for me. I was a big fan by then, but I thought movies were made by people who lived in Hollywood. I assumed you had to be born into the industry. When I saw Slacker, I realized that a guy who lived in Austin, Texas, made a movie about people in his home town. That really captured my imagination. I kind of dove head first into independent filmmaking. Spike Lee was also a big influence. I can still shut my eyes and see scenes from his film Do The Right Thing in my mind. It’s the same with films by Eric Rohmer, John Cassavetes and Jim Jarmusch. It wasn’t all independent films. Oliver’s Stone’s JFK was a huge influence for me … not that I’ve ever made a movie like that, but the power of JFK was remarkable.
QUESTION: How did you get started as a filmmaker?
SMITH: I was working in a convenience store in my home town when I read an ad in the Village Voice newspaper for the Vancouver Film School. There was an 800 number that was free. I called and they sent me their submission package, including an application. I decided to fill it out and submit it. When I was accepted, I remember thinking they must see something special in me, but I think they accepted everybody. It was an eight-month program. Scott Mosier and David Klein were also students. They finished. I didn’t.
QUESTION: Why didn’t you finish?
SMITH: I dropped out at the four month mark, because it was all about theory and no hands-on filmmaking. I went home and started writing Clerks. Scott (Mosier) and I had an agreement: The other guy would help whoever finished writing a script first make his movie. Scott and I called David (Klein) and asked him to shoot the film.
QUESTION: Why did you decide to become a director/writer and sometimes actor?
SMITH: Originally, all I wanted to do was write. I have always written. In high school, I wrote sketches for the talent shows and stuff like that. Vincent Pereira, a friend whom I worked with at the convenience store was a film buff. He kind of kicked me into gear. Vince was the first person I met who said that he wanted to be a filmmaker. Hanging out with Vinnie was kind of like going to a mini-film school. I remember telling him that I was writing a script, but what if everything gets changed around by the director? I had heard stories about that happening. Vinnie asked me why I didn’t just direct my own films, and I said I didn’t have any interest in being a director. He asked me why not, and said that the stuff I wrote was not complex. He told me I could pull it off. When I saw Slacker, I decided I can do this. On the ride home from Manhattan that night, Vinnie and I were talking about it and feeding off one another’s energy. I think that was the night I decided I could write and direct. There’s always that mixture of awe and arrogance. I remember sitting there watching Slacker and being awed by what I was seeing. But, after my conversation with Vinnie driving home that night, I was arrogant enough to think that I can do that as well.
QUESTION: Why was Clerks produced in black and white on 16 mm film?
SMITH: It was more of a budget decision than anything else. Dave broke it down for us. We shot Clerks after hours in the convenience store where I was still working. There were fluorescent lights in the store. Dave said if we shot Clerks in color, we would have to gel the lights, or turn them off and use our own. That would have cost more. It was also more expensive to process color than black-and-white film. We found a hole-in-the-wall lab that processed black-and-white film every three or four days. We did a cost comparison and figured out that it cost less to shoot in black and white.
QUESTION: It’s interesting because that was the perfect aesthetic for Clerks. That isn’t just our opinion. Clerks won awards at Cannes, Sundance and other festivals.
SMITH: I wish I could say that shooting in black and white was an intentional artistic decision … something like, we wanted the look of a security camera in the store.
QUESTION: What did writing and directing your first film teach you?
SMITH: One thing I learned is that sleep is something you do without when you are in production. I was working in the store from 6:00 until 11:00 in the morning. I would come back at 3:00 in the afternoon and work behind the counter until 10:30 at night when the store closed. That’s when we closed the shutters and shot the film. We worked from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. Then, I would go back to work in the store. I had from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. to sleep, but it was cool. I was never tired, because I was cruising on passion. We didn’t have dailies. We had weeklies. When we finished the film, we edited it on an old Steenbeck that we set up in the back of a video store which was right next door to the convenience store.
QUESTION: What happened after Clerks won awards at festivals?
SMITH: Clerks got picked up for distribution and people liked it. The reviews said it wasn’t much to look at, but it felt real and put the audience in the story.
QUESTION: Your next film was Mallrats. Tell us about that experience.
SMITH: Mallrats was produced by Gramercy (Pictures), which was part of Universal Studios. We had a $6 million budget, which was interesting, because we made Clerks for $27,575. It was a 35 mm color film about two guys who breakup with their girlfriends and seek solace in the mall. I was working with Scott and Dave again. We shot it in Minnesota.
QUESTION: Tell us about your collaboration with the David Klein.
SMITH: Our relationship is all about friendship and collaboration. Dave Klein has a talent for using light, camera angles and movement as a language for getting what’s in my head and in the script onto celluloid.
QUESTION: Are there any other memories to share from Mallrats?
SMITH: It was my first experience with having executives from a studio telling us how to make our movie. I was kind of green, so when they said, this is the right way to do it, I listened. The lesson I learned was to trust my gut instincts. I remember feeling an intense sense of guilt when Mallrats only made about $2 million at the box-office. I felt that we had failed, but later it found a cult audience in home videos.
QUESTION: You followed that movie with Chasing Amy. Tell us about that film.
SMITH: After Mallrats, we were kind of written off as one-hit wonders. There were zero expectations. I brought the script to Miramax, and said I wanted to make it with Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams and Jason Lee in the cast. They were all in Mallrats, and I had written the script with them in mind. I told them that we could make the film for $3 million and their answer was they weren’t going to give us $3 million to make a movie with our friends. I told them that wasn’t what it was about. I said we could make the film for $200,000 and if they liked it, they could distribute it. Harvey Weinstein’s reply was that they’d give us $250,000 so you could pay the actors to make the movie. Scott Mosier probably aged 10 years while we were making Chasing Amy trying to figure out how to pull it off on that budget. We got a standing ovation at Sundance and the film was well received by the critics and public. Chasing Amy was a big comeback picture for us. We had wonderful reviews for Clerks and horrid reviews for Mallrats. That taught me that you can’t believe your best or worst reviews. The truth is usually somewhere in-between.
QUESTION: Where do the ideas for new films come from before you write the script?
SMITH: Everything that I have worked on comes from a deep well of ideas that have been floating around in my mind, some of them since I was a kid. Those ideas mature as I get older. I could always direct somebody else’s scripts, but that doesn’t feel the same to me. I directed a film that was a pilot for a television series last year. It was called Reaper. I got to bring Dave Klein with me on that project. We had a good time doing it, and it was successful, but it felt a little weird directing a film that was somebody else’s idea. I don’t know how to describe it.
QUESTION: After Chasing Amy, three of your next films were in collaboration with different cinematographers. Dogma was shot by Robert Yeoman, ASC. Jamie Anderson, ASC shot Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC filmed Jersey Girl. How did that come about?
SMITH: Miramax wanted me to work with different cinematographers. They are all talented cinematographers, but I missed working with Dave. It was like being separated from my twin brother. We push each other. When we were preparing to produce Clerks II, I said there is no way I’m making a sequel without the guy who shot Clerks. There is a synergy between Dave and I that shows up on the screen. We hadn’t worked together for 10 years, but it was like yesterday. We had a shot list, but if Dave saw something, he told me and we improvised. We recently collaborated on Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
QUESTION: You have also had a long relationship with the Weinsteins.
SMITH: I’m grateful for their belief in us and the creative freedom they have given us.
QUESTION: We noticed that you also frequently work with the same actors. For instance, Ben Affleck has played roles in six films that you have directed. What attracts you to working with the same people?
SMITH: I love working with the same actors on different films. You develop a shorthand that affects everything and everyone in positive ways.
QUESTION: Please share a story about Dogma.
SMITH: Dogma was a very ambitious film with a $10 million budget. That seemed like a lot of money to me, but Scott Mosier was right when he said it wasn’t enough for what we wanted to achieve. It was a complex story dealing with angels, heaven and the future of mankind. We had a great cast, including Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Chris Rock, who had never been in a movie before.
QUESTION: Don’t forget your own encore performance as Silent Bob. What’s the impetus for your acting?
SMITH: Acting let’s me see and feel what it’s like to be on the other side of the lens. Dogma was actually the second script I wrote, but we didn’t produce it until after Chasing Amy because I didn’t feel we were ready. Dogma made $30 million at the box-office and DVDs are still selling. I get at least five emails from priests every year who use the DVD to help them connect with younger members of their congregations.
QUESTION: Tell us about your latest film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. What was your thinking behind the film, including the provocative title?
SMITH: It’s an idea that has been kicking around in my mind since around 1996, after we shot Chasing Amy. I wanted to make a movie about an average guy and gal whose relationship evolved from platonic to romantic while trying to resolve their financial problems by making a pornographic movie. That idea took on different shapes and forms in my mind over time. When we were in pre-production on Clerks II, Harvey Weinstein asked me what I wanted to do next. I told him I had an idea for a movie called Zack and Miri Make a Porno. He said you have a green light. I didn’t know who was going to be in it at that point, but I had seen 40 Year Old Virgin, and loved Seth Rogen in that movie and decided he would be perfect as Zack. Seth and I had a brief encounter while we were still in postproduction of Clerks II. I was walking out of a door while he was coming in and I shouted hello. After I finished writing the script for Zack and Miri, I sent Seth an email introducing myself, saying we met once very briefly, and that I’d written a script with a role I thought would be perfect for him. I asked him if he was interested in reading it. He returned an email in about two minutes, saying that when he was starting out in Los Angeles, an agent asked what he wanted to do, and he replied that someday he wanted to be in a Kevin Smith movie. Seth asked me to send him the script. At that point, I started seeing his face on billboards advertising Knocked Up. I remember thinking, we’re never going to get this guy. Thankfully, he liked the script and came onboard. It was a really great collaboration. He is very insightful about both filmmaking and comedy and a great guy to be around.
QUESTION: Is the script based on people you knew?
SMITH: No. In a way, it’s kind of based on how we made Clerks. We were rank amateurs trying to make a movie, which was a totally new experience for us. Zack and Miri are long-time platonic friends who are broke. They decide they can solve their financial problem by making a pornographic movie. They discover a passion for making films and also fall in love. There is off-color language and situations, but it’s also the sweetest movie we’ve ever made. Elizabeth Banks does a wonderful job of portraying Miri; she becomes her. Seth and Elizabeth are surrounded by a terrific cast playing vagabond type characters who come together to make a pornographic movie.
QUESTION: How do you deal with the subject of pornography?
SMITH: Pornography was the subject, but we had no intention of making a pornographic movie. The film is all about the relationship which evolves between the two main characters. There is an intimacy which plays on their faces that is very moving and powerful. When that happens, the whole rest of the world vanishes for them. That’s a testimony to their talent. You can feel both the heat and the love they discover that they have for each other. It’s very powerful and emotional in the midst of a bawdy comedy.
QUESTION: Why did you decide to produce this film in 1.85:1 aspect ratio?
SMITH: It began with a back-and-forth discussion between Dave and me. We discussed our visions for telling the story and came to a mutual decision that 1.85:1 felt right. There are exterior scenes on the streets of Pittsburgh and outside the mall in Monroeville, but
there are no sweeping vistas or anything like that in this film. We were shooting in the middle of winter, so there are snow covered mountain tops and run down houses in the backgrounds. You could make a case for a widescreen format, but I felt it would have been self-indulgent for this story. These decisions are always a process of discussion. There has never been an argument. It comes down to what’s best for the movie. Zack and Miri live in a very drab world in the beginning. Everything in their surroundings is either colorless or drab. The coffee shop where Zack works is kind of a drab brown tone, but we didn’t want it to look or feel like a black-and-white movie, so there are some brighter colors in their wardrobes. The underlying story is that they are ordinary people who are trying to do something unusual. As that happens, the colors in their environments get subtly brighter. I never used to think about things like that.
QUESTION: Why did you decide to produce this film in Pittsburgh in winter?
SMITH: Because it looks and feels like the last place and time when you would expect two people to decide to make a pornographic movie. Los Angeles would have been too obvious. There was no point in shooting there. New York seemed too metropolitan. Pittsburgh in winter felt right. The city shuts down at 6:00 at night. Restaurants close at 7 p.m. By 9 p.m. if you walk on the streets, you can count on being alone. It feels weird kind of like a ghost town even though it’s a major metropolitan area. It just seemed to me that this would be the last place in the world where you would decide to shoot a porno film. George Romero shot Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and other classic horror films in Pittsburgh, using the Monroeville Mall as a location.
QUESTION: This is probably an unfair question, but we’ll ask it anyhow. Are movies pure entertainment or is there more to it than that?
SMITH: It depends. Some films are absolutely pure entertainment and escapism, and other movies go beyond that and try to convey messages as well. The truth is that I love both ends of that spectrum. I love pure entertainment, but I also love films that make me think and do some soul searching. I strive for a balance between escapist fare with something going on beneath the surface that gives you something to think about. It could be something buried in the dialogue or characterizations. I don’t like to climb onto a soapbox when I’m making a film by being obvious about underlying meanings. I prefer to let people discover those meanings for themselves. That’s what works best for me. Filmmaking is kind of a weird way to make a living, because it is all about pretending. I write a script and then I stand behind a camera and tell people to pretend they are doing things. Other people make the costumes, design the sets, perform the roles, light the scenes and shoot the film. The actors are doing all the heavy lifting by translating words on paper into dialogue that feels real. Meanwhile, I’m usually off to the side trying to make sure that it looks and feels the way it did in my imagination when I was writing the script. I have tried to explain what I do to my kid, but she just doesn’t get it. What we do as filmmakers is a very tough concept to get across to other people.
QUESTION: Tell us how you deal with that?
SMITH: I let the audience figure out what the movie is about for themselves, rather than telling them by making it obvious. That leads to some people being dismissive about the types of movies we make, but I have learned to deal with that during the past 15 years. The truth is that I would like everyone to experience our films from my perspective, but the reality is that is never going to happen.
QUESTION: What’s next on your agenda?
SMITH: Our next film is Red State. It is kind of a combination horror movie and a film about politics. I should add it’s not a traditional horror movie. It’s 180-degrees different than everything we have done before. I just felt it’s time to leave the comfort zone of comedy and try something completely different. There is an element of Rosemary’s Baby. We are looking at it as a journey to a new place in our heads.
QUESTION: Do you have longer term plans or goals?
SMITH: I don’t have a five or 10-year plan. We make movies which feel right to us at the time. Somehow the past 15 years have gone by very quickly.
A CONVERSATION WITH DAVID KLEIN
QUESTION: Where were you born and raised?
KLEIN: I was born in St. Louis and raised in a small town just outside of Boise, Idaho, where my father was a doctor. He and my grandfather were both 35 mm still photography and amateur movie hobbyists. My grandfather shot a lot of 16 mm film and my father was a Super 8 buff. There were always cameras at family gatherings. I took still pictures of everyone and everything and processed and printed them in the high school darkroom. I didn’t know what a light meter was. I taught myself to judge exposures through the lens. That’s how I learned some of the basics. When I graduated from high school, my grandfather gave me an old 16 mm Bolex camera that he bought in a thrift shop. I bought 100-foot rolls of film and shot little movies.
QUESTION: Did you have any formal education as a cinematographer?
KLEIN: I saw an ad for a school in Vancouver, Canada, that had an eight-month program for hands-on training as a filmmaker. The first thing they did was put us into groups and taught us what the different departments did. I thought I wanted to be a director until I realized that I was thinking visually and responding to the lighting we did. Each of us in my group did everything from loading the camera to cinematography. Then, we did the same thing in the sound department. I think that was also important for me to learn.
QUESTION: How did you get started?
KLEIN: Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier were in my class at the film school. A few months after I completed that program, they called and told me about a script that Kevin had written. They mailed me the script for Clerks. It was an amazing story. I called them back, and asked when we could start?
QUESTION: Can you share some memories about Clerks?
KLEIN: Clerks was a reflection of Kevin’s life at that point in time. He auditioned and cast amateur actors who were in a local theater group. We shot Clerks in 21 nights at the Quick Stop convenience store in New Jersey where Kevin worked during the day. It was a 16 mm black-and-white film, because that’s what was affordable. I had an ARRI SR-1 camera and one zoom lens. The camera was as loud as a machine gun. I used leather jackets and blankets to muffle that noise. It was mainly static shots. I had three lamps and bounced a little fill light around. The negative was processed at a little hole-in-the-wall lab that didn’t have a screening room. We took our dailies to DuArt lab in New York, and pretended to be clients, so we could use their screening room.
QUESTION: The production of Clerks sounds like a Cinderella story.
KLEIN: Clerks was a hit at festivals, including Cannes and Sundance. It was distributed by the Weinstein brothers at Miramax. The following year, I worked with Kevin and Scott on Mallrats. That was my first 35 mm film. It was a story about two guys who break up with their girlfriends and seek solace at the mall in Minneapolis. About a year later, Kevin, Scott and I got together again on Chasing Amy, which we filmed in New York and New Jersey. Ben Affleck and several other stars were in both of those films. I was living my dream with Kevin and Scott, but it got put on hold.
QUESTION: What happened?
KLEIN: The folks at Miramax thought it was important for Kevin to work with more experienced cinematographers. That was hard, but looking back on it now, it was an opportunity to get experience with other directors. One of them was James Franco, who also co-authored the scripts and starred in Fool’s Gold, The Ape and Good Time Max.
QUESTION: Share some memories about working with him on Good Time Max.
KLEIN: Good Time Max was an interesting story about the relationship between two brothers who grow up together in Los Angeles. One brother becomes a successful surgeon and the other one is a self-indulgent drug addict who lives on the streets of the city. Good Time Max was produced in Super 16 film format in widescreen (2.4:1 aspect ratio) format. It was my first experience with digital intermediate (D.I.) postproduction.
QUESTION: Can you provide some insights into why those decisions were made?
KLEIN: We felt it was important for this film to be composed in widescreen, so the audience sees the brothers in their environments and also reacting to one another. We had a fairly modest budget, so we shot a Super 16 test, timed the film in D.I., and recorded it out to 35 mm film. Everyone was happy with the look. We shot Good Time Max in 25 days, mainly at practical locations in Los Angeles. James Franco played Max, the alcoholic brother. His scenes were meant to be somewhat harsher looking with slightly desaturated colors and a bit more contrast. It’s kind of a bleach by-pass look with slightly brighter highlights and occasional blown-out windows. In contrast, his brother’s environment looks and feels softer and more comfortable, but it wasn’t blatant or obvious.
QUESTION: Who was the D.I. colorist you worked with?
KLEIN: The D.I. colorist was David Cole at LaserPacific in Los Angeles. It took us about 40 hours. He projected the digital file of the final cut on a 33-inch wide screen, so I could see the film the same way the cinema audience would. It took about a day and a half to set the basic look and the rest was fine tuning. I would say things like let’s make this scene a little bluer and intensify the grain a bit. He would project the re-timed images in minutes. We tweaked some scenes to intensify the bleach by-pass look and made the grain look a little coarser and isolated skin tones and made them warmer or softer.
QUESTION: Ten years passed before you worked with Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier again. You shot around 15 independent films and episodes of several television series during that period. When and how did you begin working with them again?
KLEIN: Kevin insisted on us getting back together on the sequel to Clerks. Clerks II features the same main characters only now they are in their 30s working in a fast food restaurant. About 75 percent of Clerks II was filmed on a set built in a defunct Burger King restaurant in Orange County, California, with establishing scenes in New Jersey.
QUESTION: Clerks II was produced in 35 mm format in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. We understand that was your suggestion and that Kevin agreed. Tell us why?
KLEIN: I love shooting films in the widescreen format, but we all agreed that Clerks II should be composed in 1.85:1 because it is a story about people who feel stuck working in this restaurant. We wanted to confine them in a frame that feels a little cramped.
QUESTION: You also suggested doing a D.I. timed by David Cole. Tell us why?
KLEIN: There were a number of reasons why a D.I. was right for Clerks II. One wall of the restaurant was almost entirely windows. Timing the D.I. gave us the flexibility to keep shooting instead of stopping to gel the windows if the exterior light wasn’t right. That is just one example. There are no general rules, because every film is different.
QUESTION: You and Kevin Smith collaborated for the sixth time on a film with a provocative title, Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
KLEIN: Don’t let the title fool you. Zack and Miri is comedy with a heart of gold, because of the sweetness of the relationship between the two main characters. They are lifelong platonic friends who are down on their luck with no prospects on the horizon. Zack and Miri stumble onto what seems like a brilliant solution: make a pornographic film with themselves in the starring roles. Kevin wrote a brilliant script and Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen are great in their roles as Miri and Zack.
QUESTION: Why was this film shot in Pittsburg in the middle of the winter?
KLEIN: The main reason why Kevin chose Pittsburg in winter was that he wanted a cold, urban environment as the background for a warm love story. Pittsburg in winter is one of the last places where you would envision people making a pornographic movie, but that is part of the charm that makes it believable. Zack and Miri come across as likeable and somewhat naive, ordinary people in a believable setting. The architecture also gives you a sense of place. It wasn’t as cold as I thought it was going to be. We ended up adding a lot of artificial snow and moving shots to interior locations when the weather was too nice.
QUESTION: Did you approach shooting a comedy differently than a drama?
KLEIN: I never light a comedy differently than a drama. We wanted a very natural look. The visual style is consistent throughout the film, but some scenes feel a little moodier towards the end. That was dictated by the situations, sets and actors. The heart of this film is the relationship between Zack and Miri evolving from friendship to love. It is important for the audience to see that happening in their eyes. I used a lot of small sources to put a little light in their eyes. It’s very subtle, and just enough to get the audience to look into their eyes and see what they are thinking and feeling.
QUESTION: Do actors respond to the light you create on sets and locations?
KLEIN: Actors definitely respond to the light and moods you create for different scenes.
QUESTION: We noticed that there are a lot of emotionally charged close-ups of faces.
KLEIN: Kevin used a lot of singles that focused on one character’s face rather than over-the-shoulder shots. It was like watching a painter create works of art. A lot of what the characters are thinking and feeling can be seen on their faces and in their eyes. It’s a funny and entertaining movie, but it’s also a thoughtful portrait of the relationship between a man and a woman. Seth and Elizabeth are fantastic. They embody their characters. You can read a lot of meaning in their expressions and body language.
QUESTION: Please describe your collaboration with the digital intermediate colorist.
KLEIN: Zack and Miri was my third D.I. with David Cole. We have developed a short hand for communications, because he knows how I think and feel, and what I mean when I say make this shot a little darker. He rarely suggested an idea I didn’t like, and it was just as unusual for me to have an ideas that he didn’t like.
QUESTION: How is digital intermediate (D.I.) timing affecting cinematography?
KLEIN: It begins with properly lit shots that have the right contrast built into the exposed negative. If an actor is lit flatly, we can try to fix it in D.I., but it never looks as natural. I consider D.I. as an extension of cinematography. It is more about enhancing moods and things people are feeling than fixing technical things. We made exterior locations in Pittsburg look even colder than they were. I have shot television series where we did the same things in telecine, only now we are timing masters for film output.
QUESTION: This was your sixth collaboration with Kevin Smith since Clerks. Please share some thoughts about the evolution of your collaborations with him.
KLEIN: Kevin is always surprising me and pushing both of to create more cinematic looks that are right for the stories. He is like a brother who keeps me on my toes.
QUESTION: Are movies pure entertainment or something more?
KLEIN: Movies are entertainment, but they are also a form of communication about the realities of the world we live in and the people who cross our paths.