“nicely composed cinematography”
— The Boston Globe, November 28, 1997
— Variety, June 24, 1996
Never Met Picasso is a feature-length film written and directed by Stephen Kijak with an ensemble cast including Alexis Arquette, Georgia Ragsdale, Margot Kidder, Keith David and Don McKeller. The film is most easily described as a unique alternative family values drama. I worked as the cinematographer during production and as post-production supervisor during post-production.
The film screened at numerous festivals throughout 1996 and 1997 including the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and OUTfest ’97 in Los Angeles, where it earned awards for “Best Screenplay” and “Best Actor” for Alexis Arquette. Beginning in the Fall of 1997 and through 1998 Never Met Picasso made theatrical art-house runs in several U.S. cities. It was released to Home Video in 1998 and is available in VHS and DVD. Many video stores with good “alternative” selections have it in their inventory.
Stephen asked me to go for a painterly look for the film, and I borrowed a lot from Caravaggio. Given the tight schedule and limited shooting ratio, we often tried to cover scenes with at most two angles, shooting traditional coverage was out of the question, though we would have liked to have done it for some scenes were we wished we could have given Anjelica, the editor, more choices, but the film stock and processing budget was tight in spite of the impressive cast and production design.
We shot the film using Kodak 7293, a ‘medium speed’ stock known for it’s tight grain characteristic through a blow-up, 7293 provides a pleasing balance, both in terms of speed and contrast, between 7248 and 7298 (the new medium speed Vision stocks were not available at the time).
In the photo, left to right: Stephen Kijak (director), Patrick Quinn (1st A.C.), Beck Hoehn (2nd A.C.) and myself. Key crew not pictured: Rolf Solstad (Gaffer), Michael Dynice (Key Grip), Alec Jarnagin & Jeff Silverman (Steadicam Operators).
Cineric made the 35mm blow-up interpositive from the Super 16 negative as well as the 35mm internegative. The quality of their work was excellent. The Super 16 silent answer print (which was required in order to make a scene-to-scene timed blow-up interpositive) and 35mm answer prints were made at Technicolor New York with Mark Ginsberg as the color timer. Since Cineric produced a very even 35mm internegative it made it easy for Mark to nail the timing on the 2nd answer print. It is typically more expensive to make a carefully scene-to-scene timed blow-up interpositive, however, it’s essential for the highest quality blow-up and the production team felt it was worth the additional expense.
We chose an Arriflex SR-3 camera (Aaton feature packages are hard to find in Boston), camera support was primarily a Chapman Super Pee-Wee dolly, however, for the party scenes and the gallery opening we chose Steadicam for it’s unique fluidity. Two of the scenes called for hand held work. The camera was provided by Boston Camera, a Boston gem when it comes to film camera rental companies.
A large portion of the film was lensed using a 25mm Zeiss Super Speed and a 35mm Zeiss for close-ups. Some of the wider shots required the use of a 16mm prime, primarily due to space constraints on location, though I preferred the feel of the 25mm lens for this story. On a couple of rare occasions, reluctantly, I used a 12mm prime. Not that I had anything against wide lenses, but it was not the look the director and I wanted for this particular film. The cinematography in this film is 100% zoom free with no artificial additives or effects.
Given the sensual yet natural ambiance we were after, and the tight schedule we had to adhere to, the lighting package was, by design, small and lean, yet quite flexible. It consisted of a 2500W HMI PAR and three 1200W HMI PARs complimented by something akin to a 3 ton tungsten lighting, grip and electric package which was customized for this production. On some days, when we needed it, we had a 4K HMI PAR and a 6K HMI Fresnel which facilitated shooting night for day interiors. In addition, theatrical lighting instruments were used for the gallery opening scene as well as the theater scenes. The lighting and grip package was provided by WRG, Inc.
We shot 837 “takes” during 23 12-hour production days, rolling over 40,000 feet of Super 16mm film in total. Super 16 can provides a higher shooting ratio compared to 35mm in some cases. The mobility of smaller cameras is also a delight. We shot every scene which we had on the schedule and then some, completed the production on time. The weather gods were kind to us, on the exterior days that called for an overcast sky the sky was overcast, and on the exterior day that called for bright sun we had bright sun, imagine that. There is such a thing as a charmed production and this was one of them.
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