WWI: Filming ‘The Hateful Eight’

The Hateful Eight is a self-contained drama set mostly within the confines of a remote cabin. Director Quentin Tarantino uses his characteristic blend of action, humour and over-the-top violence while at the same time demonstrating a growing maturity in his craft both in terms of directing and screenwriting. Richardson keeps pace with the witty dialogue, quick retorts and fast-paced verbal drama as the film builds to its violent conclusion. His use of framing and quick camera move transitions complement the film’s narrative and embed the imagery of the story in the audience’s minds. Having worked with Tarantino on five other separate occasions, this collaborative process seems more finely tuned than previous instalments as the pacing and subjectivity of each sequence matches what we can assume Tarantino’s original vision to be. The maturity of this relationship allows them to make wild and bold decisions as they build on their knowledge of each-other’s past. Richardson has adopted a new approach to the film-making process to this more confined theatre-like production.

Richardson is well-known for operating almost all camera-moves himself and The Hateful Eight is no exception. His signature technique as a DP is to tide on an old-school riding crane made by Grip Factory Munich GF-16. As opposed to having a remote-head he is physically operating the camera on it’a platform. The inertia and movement at the end of the crane help to inform the framing and movement used. At the beginning of the movie we start with a close-up of a Jesuit sculpture over two-three movements as a stage-coach tears through the perspective. An M9-D is used to light the figure to accentuate the edges while Richardson pans back from an extreme close-up. The exteriors used in this film were a blue colour correct, likely being white or grey in reality. This adds tone and a grabby look to what otherwise might not be present. The following shot includes a human silhouette in the distance. Richardson makes use of our accumulated knowledge of such silhouettes to create an obscured figure. This is played against using the contrast of the white snow level with the horizon axis. The perspective is held down by a tree in the foreground for reference. The ulterior purpose of this tree is to emphasise the strong atmospherics. The contrast seen on the tree is juxtaposed against the background.

Minutes later the camera does a cool booming down shot to reveal Jackson’s character so that he comes from the bottom of the frame. We start with a shot which is essentially just the stage-coach and as it pans down the new character reveals itself. In this sequence the colour correct is more gentle in the reverse of this shot as it compromises to match and suit the skin tone. The highlights and shadows of the background are still fairly highly tinted.  This adds tone to make it more cinematic and painterly unlike a pure white which can be strong and off-putting used in the wrong way and especially when shooting with digital. This helps bring the focus back to Jackson. Then it switches to an overhead shot in typical Tarantino style. The framing sensibility and focal length used in this shot capture the extent of the action using the props and practicals as reference.

When Jackson and Russel arrive at the barn we see a poorly lit wide-shot back-lit by the white snow. The exposure has not been balanced by Richardson so that the shot from an interior out to an exterior appears balanced and well-composed. Although an edge light could have been used Richardson relied solely on the silhouettes to achieve a sense of character ambiguity.  Richardson was able to operate the riding crane with the aide of a microphone so that he could order the crew to boom up or slow down or boom up higher as well as when to start dollying live. Moreover, some of the more complex shots could be orchestrated by him with this voice-piece remotely and without it being picked up by sound. Communicating with the crew requires clarity and collaboration so that orders can be given in short form using common language and live-updates as to the action of the operator is able to clearly inform the timing of his crew counterparts. This demonstrates a high level of professionalism and flexibility.

A K5600 Alpha 18K Bounce spotlight Mole-Beam is used to achieve a wide light throw when capturing the first encounter with the cabin. This is used to bounce into a 12×12 ultra-bounce to add a fill light to the big day-light. The dolly used is a Leonard Chapman Pi Wi. This same technique is used to introduce Jackson’s character as a visual cue marking minor plot-points in this first act. The difference between the two is a lot more filling is done to light his face and eye-light under the hat and crucially to highlight his expression. During the initial interaction between Russel and Jackson a simple tripod looking in on the stagecoach is used so that this first dialogue is allowed to shine in and of itself. This demonstrates an awareness of when to sue style and substance in camera-work on Richardson’s part.

Richardson adopted a very unique approach to filming indoor scenes. He would use a hot back light with a low bounce.  Jackson is lit with a Parcan back light highlighting the rim of the hat and the fur on his hood. It is back-lit over by two stops using an Ersa 4K without a front fill. The result is that the piano keys are being blown up by the light with the hot back-light. This camera is able to capture the reflection of this light onto his face by capturing under and over exposure simultaneously.  The introduction of the fourth character uses the same approach, his face being lit by the reflected hot back-light upligting his features. Richardson had to be careful with how much hot-light was being released set against how much was being captured in the bounce. It could have resulted in a blown-out back-light and no fill which would not be as engaging.  To balance this he sues a light meter. This measures the bounce of the overhead so that the exposure is on par. For example if he read a T5.6 on a table surface then he would adopt a 4/5.6 setting on the camera and add more lighting on one side to bring up the exposure. This could be read by identifying what is centre-frame and positioning the metre at that exact spot facing the camera. At times a direct source would be used to help give the impression of this reflection. This would mean that the image was only two stops over and would solidify that the composition is remarkably engaging while being partially blown out.

Once all central characters are introduced we see a wide shot from the far side of the room facing the open doorway with three hot spot spotlights splashed around contrasting against it’s blue cooler exterior light. The window practicals accentuate this colour. In the reverse of this shot we see two characters sat by a fire releasing a warm-light to complement the orange colour correct. This contrasts against the window light which is colour corrected blue to their right. To do this post-production and the DP identify a qualifier or separation where the blacks transition from warm to blue in the frame. The combination of lighting and colour correction to achieve these frames indicates Richardson’s affinity for combining the two in his more modern work. Moreover a shift in framing underlines the presence of an imminent conflict.

A similar technique is used to show growing tensions between two separate individuals. A hard hot-light bounces off Jackson’s white beard to illuminate the face of Russel in a closeup that fills the frame with inward facing heads. To uplift Russel’s visibility it is possible Richardson used a clean, low-exposure beauty light but the majority appears to come in the reflection. Alternatively a Parcan is used coming down hard on Madsen, his hast keeping it off his face as the return-light does the rest of the work. A Pannavsion 70mm was used for the entire duration of the shoot as a throw back digital tool reflective of an older time and therefore more tonally consistent with the contextual influences. When researching the camera it was realised how much of a cinematic benchmark it had been having been used in films such as Ben-Hur. Such a camera created very interesting lens flares and low contrast footage while also being high resolution. To support this a giant Excel 2 was used attached to a Chapman Hussler. The film’s interior scenes being mostly shot on a stage this proved an apt description of the needs of such a set. Much of the time for a lower shot a compound arm was used to get the head lower while maintaining the same dexterity and camera equipment.

The Ocona 126 and the RED pan-arm was used by Richardson alongside a Preston as an alternative set-up when shots required a wider frame and more horizontal dexterity. Wooden Barton strips were used with average household lights assuming the responsibility of Tungsten bulbs in providing a wide scatter light source. This helps to balance and optimise the film stocks. The purpose of this was for Richardson to be able to capture appropriately lit skin for a more naturalistic lighting. This is achieved by using this bulb over others to achieve a more fiery effect as the filament glows much like the films of decades past.

In conclusion, Richardson has adopted a series of cinematographic techniques which are bold and striking both in terms of lighting and equipment choice to demonstrate how he thinks outside the box as a DP without having a jarring effect on it’s final product. His mastery of matching shot-type with narrative pace and ability to articulate intention in lighting, framing and movement with such specificity in each shot is remarkable. While not as progressive as other DPs Richardson has stood his ground and explored fascinating new cinematographic territory by combining techniques new and old.

WRITING WITH IMAGES: ‘THE HATEFUL EIGHT’ CINEMATOGRAPHY

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