First day of shooting "In the Picture"
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Michael J. Cahill. Article and all the photos are Copyright ©
Tondeur (our Camera assistant) holding the
Cinerama Slate. (Note that Dave did not want to erase the chalk date from
1957, the last time this slate was used. So he just taped the new info over
I am standing here face to face with an actual Cinerama camera.
We’re adjacent to the Ventura Freeway, and across the street from the
Hollywood Bowl flanked by green grass, palm trees and pin oaks. Here on the
other side of Highland Avenue is a spacious yellow clapboard building
reminiscent of a frontier general store. A clever soul might recognize it as
the livery stable from the TV show “Bonanza”. It is also in fact the
original “Barn” — the very first movie production studio in Hollywood, used
by Cecil B. DeMille to create the first feature length film made in tinsel
town, “The Squaw Man”. The Barn is currently kept in good stead as an
historic landmark and houses the Hollywood Heritage Museum; who by the way
has been gracious enough to permit filming.
|More in 70mm reading:|
"In the Picture" - Now
in70mm.com's Cinerama page
"How The West Was Won"
"Keepers of the Frame" -
complete press kit
See behind the scene footage on YouTube
Sittig, Exec producer, checks out the second shot of the day with the
It is Saturday January 14, 2012 and today the Barn is the centerpiece for a
brief scene in an all-new short film for
Cinerama called “In the Picture”,
produced by Anthony Saenz and directed by Dave Strohmaier.
It’s an odd configuration of hardware for anyone unfamiliar with a Cinerama
motion picture camera. And yet, once you get your mind around the optical
physics of how Cinerama is projected, studying this camera becomes an
appreciation of sheer simplicity. This equipment is sixty years old if it’s
a day. And yet there’s an elemental elegance to this design that
incorporates what is essentially three separate cameras unified by a single
master control and a singular super-widescreen vision.
Dave Strohmaier using the director’s
viewfinder to line up the second shot of the day.|
I had previously seen photos of this mechanical behemoth and understood the
novel concept of Cinerama, having enjoyed their most celebrated production
"How The West Was Won". But seeing it up close gave me an unanticipated
You must understand that Cinerama is not merely “widescreen”. Any
triple-image, curved screen encounter, when well executed, is a thrilling
event. When you’re so immersed in a film that literally surrounds your
senses, it quickly becomes apparent that the peripheral nature of human
eyesight has been sorely underappreciated, and underutilized, by the film
industry as a whole.
The crew and some of the actors just before Dave calls
“Action” on the first take of the day.
And with the megaphone far right is Randy Gitsch, Associate Producer on this film and stepped in at the
last minute as Dave’s A.D. Randy also produced “Cinerama Adventure” with
This three-panel process may not be everyone’s cup of java. But in the grand
scheme of epic filmmaking, Cinerama stands squarely at the head of the crowd
for sheer entertainment value and spectacle.
Camera and crew vehicles arrived around 9:00 and by 10:40 the massive
Cinerama camera has been uncased and set up on a balloon-tired dolly. The
camera’s three mouse-eared magazines mounted at carefully calculated
adjacent angles are reminiscent of the blades jutting from the back of a
Triceratops. The camera’s tall flat rectangular face sports a single bow tie
shutter opening near the top. When the extra wide shutter blade is open you
can see the three perfectly aligned 27mm lenses just behind it.
Dave posing with the Cinerama camera crew.
Fellow with the moustache is Ken Stone, the second
fellow from the left is David Tondeur (camera assistant). Kneeling in front
of the camera next to David is our Doug Knapp (DP). Next to David and
holding the viewfinder is Dave Strohmaier (Director). Standing behind Dave
in the green shirt is Lance Fisher (camera operator).|
The camera, its magazines, three batteries, cables, tripod, massive
director’s viewfinder and triple slate are all original hardware provided by
Cinerama for this production. The only crucial piece of non-Cinerama gear on
loan today is the four-wheeled dolly, which has its own unique history. This
particular dolly was used by Paramount studios on the original “Star Trek”
TV show. There’s something mildly ironic about all this equipment that fifty
years back in one way or another represented futuristic, bleeding edge
technology. Now half a century down the road is it still in perfect working
Though this girthy contraption lacks the muscular and aerodynamic lines of
more contemporary cameras, the design carries with it a sort of sturdy
confidence. It’s not a cruiser; it’s an aircraft carrier doing triple duty
with delicate synchronicity.
Once upon a time the few Cinerama cameras remaining had suffered from
disuse. But thanks to the mechanical ingenuity of Ken Stone, this particular
camera was rebuilt and fully restored to its original state of rock solid
Doug Knapp (our D.P.) using one of the viewfinders
from behind the Camera.|
The cinematographer operating in the DP position today is Doug Knapp who
works closely with fellow camera assistant David Tondeur and camera operator
Lance Fisher. The entire camera crew is in concert with director Dave Strohmaier’s vision of the scene at hand.
In defiance of every cliché’ about “sunny California”, this particular
Saturday is hung with a powder gray canopy, meaning the crew will not be
fighting the hard yellow light and contrasty shadows inherent in Hollywood.
Thanks to a veil of stratospheric diffusion, we’re favored with nice even
The first shot is a dolly move, a gentle push to establish the locale. Film
archivist and historian Stan Taffel has wrangled about 30 background
players, many of whom happen to be Cinerama aficionados—the smiles in every
shot are genuine. I’ve been on more than my share of film sets and this one
had the constant hum of pleasant chatter and an overall easygoing demeanor.
Watches are checked regularly but nobody is hurrying. We want to get this
Dave is in constant motion, positioning the players and giving them bits of
business for the shot. He walks the scene through five or six rehearsals,
each time tracking the action with a specialized three-lensed director’s
viewfinder. (This is in fact the very viewfinder once used by Henry Hathaway
and John Ford on
"How The West Was Won".) Strohmaier puts you at ease right
away and is quick to joke and smile. The company responds well to his lead
and is anxious to please.
The back of the Cinerama camera with all
three film magazines removed. You don’t see this every day. And the fellow
in the green shirt is camera operator Lance Fisher.|
Dave confers with the camera crew to double check the technical side of the
set up. In classic Cinerama form, the camera will film at 26 frames per
second. And the crew is careful to make certain the composition doesn’t have
any actors or key elements straddling the frame lines where the two side
panels meet the middle one. Though the cloud cover provides some nice
diffusion, its density shifts with the wind and light levels tend to drift.
So Doug keeps referring to his light meter and adjusts the aperture so that
all three lenses match perfectly.
Slating the first shot is a quite something to see. The Cinerama slate is a
larger than normal affair with three separately marked slates, hinged
together with handles on the bottom of the first and third (or the “A” and
“C”) slates. The contraption is about 14-inches high and, when extended,
spans about four feet across. Today camera assistant David Tondeur is pulling
double duty, earning the honor of pre-slating the first shot and then
running the camera’s master control for the actual takes. He must angle the
slate so that each panel is perpendicular to its appropriate camera lens.
The Cinerama triple lens director’s viewfinder
(used by John Ford and Henry Hathaway during “How the West Was Won”.|
Firing up the camera itself is yet another treat for the senses. This thing
makes some noticeable noise with its massive shutter flying in front of all
three lenses while three belt-driven magazine spindles are whirring their
little carriage motors like crazy. Add to this mix the low-pitched and
precise ratcheting chitter of three film transports simultaneously clawing
hundreds of sprocket holes through the three film gate housings and you’ve
got a fairly exhilarating little mechanical symphony going on. Once this
trio of meticulously interlaced camera systems begins working in perfect
concert you start to notice more smiles behind the camera than in front.
When we finally roll on the first take I am reminded that once upon a time
live music was played while shooting silent films to set the mood for the
Dave Strohmaier in front of the Cinerama
camera holding the three way viewfinder.|
One imagines that a massive blimp for this camera must have been employed
for any dialogue scenes in the original Cinerama films. But since everything
we’re covering today is MOS (or “mit out sound”, as Michael Curtiz might
say) then the camera’s native vocalizations serve as a tonic for this cast
and crew. It is welcome mood music indeed. The camera rolls and we know we
are in heady company.
There is no “on” switch for a Cinerama camera but rather a master control
box hard cabled to the camera body. On Doug Knapp’s command to “Roll
camera”, David Tondeur turns the frame rate knob from zero to a precise 26
FPS and carries the master control at the end of an umbilical as he walks
along side the camera during each take. At “Cut!” he backs down to zero.
Care must be taken that all three camera batteries carry a full charge to
insure synchronicity among all three film carriages.
A nice view of the Cinerama camera’s magazine array. The
gentleman in the black shirt is film archivist and historian Stan Taffel. He
is a very good friend of Dave’s and was responsible for wrangling the
background players for the shoot. Stan is also featured in the scene at the
Barn as well as being a board member of Hollywood Heritage.|
The rehearsals have paid off and after a couple of good takes and a safety,
we restage for a closer shot on the Barn’s front porch. Again all angles are
carefully calculated. What exactly is the range of view for all three camera
lenses? Actor positions are adjusted accordingly to insure effective
placement and natural activity. The director knows an audience’s eyes will
be roaming every square foot of Cinerama’s super sharp screen and it must be
well populated with appropriate action. Dave takes the time necessary to
detail his performers’ on-screen business.
A viewfinder extension tube resides atop the camera and is dialed left,
center and right as a ballpark reference to check “A”, “B” and “C” panel
framing. The unusual design of this system does not allow for
through-the-lens reference during a take. A film magazine must be removed
and the special viewfinder extension is attached to the back of the lens to
precisely frame a shot and set focus. For a fairly close static shot like
the next one, this means the camera must not move once the focus is set.
Again, light meter readings are taken and the aperture and focus are
painstakingly set so that all three lenses match precisely. If the clouds
shift and the light changes before a shot can be pulled off, everything
stops and this process must be meticulously repeated. It’s a good deal of
work and requires much more patience than that required on modern film sets.
But the result is well worth the effort.
Strohmaier calls “Action” and after a few more takes this location is
wrapped. Seeing the camera torn down and crated inspires just a tinge of
melancholy. Hard to say why. As the crew stows the gear and prepares to head
off to the next setup, grabbing footage of the Disney Concert Hall in
downtown Los Angeles, everyone reflects on the morning’s work and there
seems to be a pleasant buzz in the air — as though we had all been involved
in something akin to magic.
Cinerama enjoyed a raucous hey day in the 50’s and 60’s. And though many of
Cinerama’s original three-panel films have fallen into disrepair or gone
missing, they are by no means lost. In September of this year, the Cinerama
Dome at the ArcLight Theatre in Hollywood will be running completely new
restorations of all the Cinerama films, including many thought to have been
lost. And at this festival Dave Strohmaier will also premiere his short “In
the Picture”, the latest addition to the Cinerama canon.
In an increasingly digital age there are many who pine for the nostalgic
days of celluloid cinema. With this latest film, classic three-panel curved
screen filmmaking seems to have once again found its footing. In September,
the fortunate few who come to Hollywood for this epic revival will be
I shall be among them.
the Picture” in 3-strip Cinerama - Cast & Credits|
“In the Picture” in
3-strip Cinerama - Scripted Locations
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