Turning natural settings into epic environments


When it comes to cinematography, there's no set greater than the great outdoors. But Mother Nature's lighting is not always perfect. Sometimes it has to be augmented by three Musco Light trailer rigs parked atop a bluff.

That's what it took for Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins to put a soft wash of moonlight over a valley strewn with corpses and bullet-riddled vehicles left over from a drug deal gone bad in Miramax's "No Country for Old Men."

"(Musco Lights) are actually made for lighting sports events and stuff like that, but they've been used for films a lot," Deakins explains. "They were the only thing I could move in quickly that would give me that kind of throw and width of light without building a huge rigging."

Director Andrew Dominik wanted a different type of lighting scheme from Deakins for a scene in Warner Bros.' "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" -- for which Deakins received a second Oscar nom. When James (Brad Pitt) takes reluctant gang member Ed Miller (Garret Dillahunt) on a long nighttime ride, the inky blackness is broken by a shaft of soft light.

The bulk of the film was shot on location in Alberta, Canada, but unrelenting bad weather forced them to move the scene to Southern California. Deakins placed a dozen 10-kilowatt Fresnel lamps on a hillside, enabling him to focus the light. Then he hung a large piece of black cloth approximately 100 feet in front of the actors, cutting the light from the ground but allowing it to hit the two riders and their horses in the distance.

"(Dominik) wanted the characters to kind of be luminous within blackness, and having the light in a horizontal line gave us sort of a soft light effect wrapping around them," Deakins says.

Even in the wilds of Canada, it was difficult finding a horizon unspoiled by modern architecture. Oscar nominee and American Society of Cinematographers Award winner Robert Elswit had no such problems on

Paramount Vantage's "There Will Be Blood." The film takes place at the turn of the century in the California burg of Little Boston, which production designer Jack Fisk built on Maguire Ranch in Texas, laying out the structures as they would be in a real town. That way anywhere Elswit pointed the camera, he could get a shot that made dramatic sense.

"When you have a place where everything exists in line of sight, it helps the actors and all of the rest of us feel there's a real community, a real town," Elswit says.