When legendary movie star Robert Redford began putting together his latest film, The Company You Keep, the contemporary thriller presented the filmmakers with a raft of technical and aesthetic challenges — including using Vancouver to double for East Coast and Midwest locations, and a story that, while firmly set in the present, has its origins in the counter-culture movements of the 1960s. With a stellar cast that includes Redford himself alongside Julie Christie, Shia LaBeouf, Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci, it tells the story of a fugitive, former Weather Underground radical (Redford), who is forced to once again go on the run after a young reporter (LaBeouf) exposes his true identity.
The Company You Keep is Redford’s ninth film as a director, and is scheduled for release next year by Sony Pictures Classics. The film was shot by Adriano Goldman, ABC, whose extensive and varied credits include the gritty drama Sin Nombre, the legal drama Conviction, and a lush reworking of the classic Jane Eyre. It was his atmospheric work on Sin Nombre that first got Redford’s attention, after the ’09 Mexican-American thriller made a big splash at the Sundance Film Festival, winning Goldman the cinematography award. “A year later we met in L.A. about The Conspirator, and even though we didn’t end up working together that time, he promised me we would when the right project came along,” Goldman recalls.
The right project turned out to be The Company You Keep, and from the start, Redford and Goldman decided to shoot 35mm. “Of course, there were many digital cameras available, and they’re improving, so we did discuss that option but we both felt strongly that film was the best format for this story,” the cinematographer reports. “We both love film, and the look and texture of film. Since the nature of the story is a thriller, we both wanted it to look a little grittier and grainier than his previous films.”
Goldman shot the entire film with two ARRI LT cameras, except the intense opening sequence in which Sarandon’s character is arrested. He used three cameras for this segment “because of all the action taking place.”
Primarily shot on KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219, Goldman notes, “I always rely a lot on 5219 Film. I love the texture, and I think it’s probably the best stock that Kodak has ever made. It’s very fast but not grainy, so it’s perfect for all the day and night interiors, as well as night exteriors.”
Goldman used KODAK VISION3 200T Color Negative Film 5213 for his day exteriors. “It’s 200 ASA, and I’m just so used to the latitude and response it gives me,” he adds. “It makes me feel very comfortable on set.”
Indeed, Goldman’s comfort level with both Kodak stocks is so high that he’s using them again on the film he’s currently shooting in Oklahoma, August: Osage County, a comedy-drama starring Meryl Streep and Ewan McGregor for director John Wells. “It’s the same set up — the only difference is that I’m now using PANAVISION cameras,” he adds.
Principal photography on The Company You Keep lasted some nine weeks in Vancouver. Using the picturesque Pacific Northwest location brought its own challenges. “It had to double for the eastern coast of the U.S., and Bob’s character travels from New York to Chicago, so the main issue for us was figuring out how we make this work and look right. Yes, it’s a thriller, but at the same time it’s kind of a road movie too. Once he starts his journey, he never stops,” adds Goldman.
Finding and choosing the right locations was quite a challenge for Goldman and production designer Laurence Bennett, OSCAR® nominated for his work on The Artist. “We had to find places and interiors, like hotels in Vancouver, where American audiences would believe that they’re in New York City or Chicago,” he explains. “Same with street scenes and driving shots, and that’s very tricky sometimes.”
Although the film is set in the contemporary world, the team used stock footage from the ‘60s to establish the film’s ever-present back story and provide visual links and cues to the political subtext.
In terms of establishing a look for the fi lm, the cinematographer notes that he was “very familiar” with all of Redford’s films. “They all look so amazing, and don’t forget that Philippe Rousselot (ASC, AFC) won the OSCAR® for A River Runs Through It,” he points out. “But films like that and The Horse Whisperer are very much about exteriors and beautiful landscapes. The Company You Keep is a bit different from those, as it’s much more about the characters — and specifically Bob’s character and his journey to clear his name. This film is far more about medium shots than wide shots.”
To this end, Goldman designed shots where the camera moved continually with the characters, “to convey and emphasize that feeling of a journey and of Bob’s character being chased by the journalist,” he explains. Likewise, the film’s rhythms are “very different” from Redford’s previous movies. “The whole thing is darker, grittier and more realistic — a little less glossy, and Bob agreed and wanted that look and feel. It’s definitely less ‘Hollywood-like’ and more indie-looking.”
To further drive home that raw, stripped-down approach, Goldman also used a lot of handheld and STEADICAM system shots, and for the most part avoided using cranes. “The camera was always close to the characters, and that informed everything about our visual choices,” adds Goldman.
Although this film marked the first time Redford and Goldman had collaborated together, Goldman reports that he and the star quickly settled into a close working relationship. “Obviously this was a very exciting opportunity for me, and it was also a slightly different challenge in that Bob was also playing the lead while directing,” he says. “So for some days, Bob relied more on me and first AD Richard Graves to manage the set, as he’d be in makeup for a an hour or so every day. Then when he arrived on set, we were able to offer him various options. He’d adjust our suggestions and fine-tune them, and then he’d just switch from his directing mode to his acting mode so seamlessly. It was a joy to work with him.”
Goldman, who loves to operate, operated the B camera which shot for 70% of the time alongside the A camera, which was operated by Jim Van Dijk, who also did the STEADICAM work. “Our whole approach was to do it as a single camera show, so all the blocking and strategy inside a location, or even outdoors, was done for a single camera,” he explains. “And once we had that figured out for the A camera, we’d discuss what the B camera could do, and then go for those bonus shots.” This way, the team avoided cross-coverage and simultaneous over-the-shoulder shots for the most part. “That always compromises the footage, and you think you’re going to save time but you always end up rehearsing and lighting for two cameras.” And Goldman says he’s “very happy” with the final look of the film.