Jack White and Conan O’Brien. Photo credit: Will Becton/Team Coco
Kees Van Oostrum, ASC got an interesting call recently from producer Richard Middleton, whose credits include The Artist and Hitchcock. “Richard and I go way back, and he often calls me when he has something unusual or challenging,” says Van Oostrum. The EMMY®-nominated cinematographer has compiled more than 70 narrative credits, including Gods and Generals, Return to Lonesome Dove, and the forthcoming Civil War-set feature Copperhead.
Middleton told Van Oostrum about an interview project for Serious Jibber-Jabber with Conan O’Brien, a non-comedic chat show on O’Brien’s website. The interview subject was to be the GRAMMY-winning musician/producer Jack White.
White, who is well known as a connoisseur and collector of things analog, makes his music recordings using tape and tube technologies, insisting that the resulting sound is warmer, less harsh, and fuller. White had agreed to the interview on one condition: that it be done on film.
Normally the Jibber-Jabber interviews are done on a stage with electronic cameras. The Jibber-Jabber format emphasizes lengthy interviews with minimal interruptions.
Van Oostrum originally recommended shooting 35mm, 3-perf. “When we thought about it some more, we realized we only need the center extraction, which actually made 2-perf an even better option. We found a system designed by PANAVISION that used 2,000-foot mags. We thought that if we could combine the 2,000-foot mags and the 2-perf format, we would have 32 minutes of run time.”
PANAVISION got onboard and set up some PANAFLEX bodies with 2-perf movements. The cameras were equipped with 11:1 zooms. The film stock was KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219.
“The next thing we knew, we were shooting 2-perf with three cameras on the stage as Conan interviewed Jack White,” says Van Oostrum. “The interview went 110 minutes, which we shot with two magazine changes. It worked brilliantly. They ran quietly, which was important because it was a pretty small room.”
Bill Bennett, ASC operated one of the other cameras. The third camera was handled by one of the shows regular camera operators. The cameras were mounted on film-style dollies as opposed to pedestal-style dollies that are standard for talk show production. The interview plays out against a black background a la Charlie Rose.
Van Oostrum and Bennett joked with O’Brien that in 100 years, this could be the only trace left of his television legacy. It was a reference, of course, to film’s archival stability, and digital’s short shelf life, both in terms of storage instability and format obsolescence.
FotoKem did a simple color correction under Van Oostrum’s eye, and extracted the 16x9 image from the 2.4:1 2-perf frame. “We emulated their normal look in terms of the black,” says Van Oostrum. “It looked identical, except it was film, so it was much gentler and not so sharp and harsh as video.”
The wide-ranging interview covers White’s early musical endeavors, and the effects of a Catholic upbringing and a background in upholstery on his work.
O’Brien was reportedly enthusiastic. “At first, it looked daunting, and we needed to work out the issues in terms of mag length and run time,” says Van Oostrum. “But in the end, it was absolutely smooth, and everyone was excited about the results.”
See the entire interview: