Behind the Lens: Paul Cameron, ASC
CreativeCOW presents Behind the Lens: Paul Cameron, ASC -- Cinematography Feature All rights reserved.

Paul Cameron, ASC--the cinematographer known for creating the look on such memorable films as director Michael Mann's Collateral and Tony Scott's Man on Fire--recently finished working on Henry's Crime. The film, directed by Malcolm Venville (44 Inch Chest), written by Sacha Gervasi (The Terminal, Anvil! The Story of Anvil) and starring Keanu Reeves, James Caan and Vera Farmiga, is a comedy of a man unjustly sent to prison for a robbery he didn't commit who, when he's released, targets the same bank he was accused of robbing.

Cameron, who studied at State University of New York's Purchase College Film School and joined NABET (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians) while he was in college, started his career shooting commercials and music videos. In 2003, he won top cinematography awards at both the Clio Awards and AICP Awards for his photography on the BMW featurette Beat the Devil with director Scott. He won another Clio--his third--in 2008 for the VW Golf Night Drive spot with director Noam Murro.

Paul Cameron, ASC
DP Paul Cameron, ASC

Transitioning to feature films, Cameron got attention for his stunning cinematography for Collateral, which was one of the first major studio films to utilize a digital camera. The film also earned Cameron a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award and the Los Angeles Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography.

Since then, he has shot Man on Fire and Déjà vu for Scott and Dominic Sena's Swordfish and Gone in Sixty Seconds. Most recently, he also completed the thriller Man on a Ledge, directed by Asger Leth, and he is currently working on director Len Wiseman's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's 1966 sci-fi classic We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, starring Colin Farrell.

Creative COW's Debra Kaufman sat down with Paul Cameron, ASC to talk about Henry's Crime and his other recent films.

How did you get on Henry's Crime?

I got on the film through the director Malcolm Venville. I'd done some commercials for him for a year or so. We just got along very well and he mentioned this project and how it would be an interesting project to jump into, with Keanu and Vera. There were some things about the movie that were interesting to me. The movie had very little money to shoot so it was a lot of compromises for the people involved; the writers and actors were interested in the project. It was a good alignment and felt right.

What camera did you choose and why?

I've shot a lot for Malcolm and on commercials with ARRICAM Light and Cooke S4 lenses. We both love the quality of the glass. Almost all the film was shot single camera, 3 perf 2:35. I shot Fuji 64D, 250D & Vivid 500T.

Did you consider using a digital camera, especially due to the project's limited budget?

Actually for this project, it never came up. We never thought about it. Although we had many conversations about it, it was never a preference. We wanted a particular look for the film, and by shooting film it helped to give us that look. The only struggle was whether to shoot 1.85 or 2.35.

Towards the end of the film, Vera is in a regional play and Keanu ends up getting a part in it. So there are a number of scenes especially in this part of the film with multiple characters on the stage. I felt it was more of a horizontal world so I wanted to go wide screen. Everybody agreed so we went 2.35.

Movie poster

What kind of look were you and Venville going for?

Malcolm comes from a photographic portrait world himself. He's a studied, static camera director and that's the approach he took with the film. He likes to let people move in frame. He has a very authentic and classic view of framing. We used a few specific dolly shots to punctuate some dramatic moments. But the rule of thumb is that actors move the camera. We also watched a number of films including The Apartment, Manhattan, and Annie Hall.

Henry's Crime is a fable of sorts. I decided to give the film a slight folkloric beauty. In prepping the film I was influenced by the frames of Edward Hopper, the composition and light of Walker Evans' Polaroids, and the elegant combination of all in Gordon Willis's cinematography. Challenged by a very small budget and only 32 days of shooting, I decided to structure things visually in a very simple way. The locations--like the bank and the theatre--were all picked for their almost storybook feel. These locations were almost cast like characters. There is a romantic aspect between the two leads Keanu Reeves and Vera Farmiga as well.

I almost felt it was like an Edward Hopper painting, that watching the characters play the scene out without a lot of camera movement within a simple graphic frame, was the style. You have to go with these characters' story points, so we kept the film visually simple. It reminds me of an older classic film as well. Certainly, Malcolm and Keanu talked a lot about Capra films and The Apartment, which for me was more how to treat locations with a little bit of stylized graphic look. They weren't worried about having multiple locations. It was how to make the locations they had work.

Where was the movie shot?

The film was shot in New York City for Buffalo, with a few days in Buffalo for the main sequences with The First Buffalo Bank and some exteriors. We also shot in and around Tarrytown, New York where we found the Tarrytown Music Hall, which was built in 1885 and which we used as the film's theater. The prison sequences were shot at Nassau County Correctional Facility, which is a functioning jail. Henry's apartment was in Tarrytown, New York, but Julie's home was in Brooklyn.

We shot on a soundstage in Yonkers for the final tunneling sequences and when James Caan climbs that telephone pole, we shot that in Astoria, Queens. There's also a night scene at Niagara Falls.

You say the biggest location challenge was Niagara Falls. What made shooting it a challenge?

There were two challenges. First, it was -20 Farenheit the night we shot there. Second, if you're familiar with the location, at night, it's lit from the Canadian side. So it has some lights hitting the waterfall at night that are quite nice but not enough to film under.

We had to coordinate with a Canadian company to provide additional lighting from across the river. We never met the crew. They used an LXR night light from the Canadian side along with the existing 18-4K Xenons also from that side, and we got them to refocus some of the existing park lights as well.

We also used a 120-foot condor with a large soft source of 2- Gaff air balloons wrapped in a white bed sheet over the Falls and Vera Farmiga. Another condor with 12K Pars bathed the frost-covered background. The wide shot from the observation tower was a great moment.

It was one of the most romantic moments in the movie, so we wanted it to have a special quality. Photographing one of the Seven Wonders of the World is always a good feeling.

What was the rest of your lighting kit?

Lighting on small practical locations with limited rigging was one of my biggest challenges. Working with gaffer Ken Shibata, we created top 3/4 soft light in all locations. Half Domes with 1000-Watt Tungsten bulbs surrounded most of the rooms and we used 400W Jokers by day. I wanted to create a shadowless directional 3/4 top back source for most scenes. The night exteriors and interior theater lent themselves to larger sources; we utilized the larger Lumapanels and Gaff Air Balloons when we could. I designed chandeliers for the theater set also employing the Lumapanels on chain motors for all theatrical scenes.

You mentioned you used Cooke S4 lenses. Can you tell me more about your lensing decisions?

The lensing was fairly basic on the film. Most of the close ups shot on the 65mm. Malcolm's simple rule is that unless it's absolutely necessary to make a correction with a camera movement or something where you have to make a significant change, he prefers for it to be static. He is an observationalist. He wants to sit in a chair in the middle of the scene, and turn to the right to see actors there. So it was very classic that way. When it comes down to it, you end up using three prime lenses, a 25mm 65mm and 135mm.

What did you do in the DI? Did you enhance or change the look?

We did the DI with colorist Tim Stipan at Technicolor. In this case, I tried to keep the DI as simple as possible. I did spend time at Technicolor, and we definitely enhanced the film visually with the DI, but it was pretty classic use. For example, we used neutral density windows to bring certain areas of the frame down in order for the actors to really pop out of the frame…things like that. We also added a slight color vibe to it and kept the film very rich. The most unconventional thing is that Henry's Crime is a black romantic comedy on so many levels, so we kept it richer and darker than a film like this might normally be.

I know you're working now on Man on a Ledge and also getting ready to do the remake of Total Recall.

We started on the DI of Man on a Ledge and I'm prepping Total Recall. Man on a Ledge was for me, photographically quite a challenge. We were 17 floors up on the Roosevelt hotel in New York City, and we cantilevered cranes over the set piece with the actors. I was strapped in, shooting on a ledge. It was a crazy challenge. We were tying in the ground action, interior action. It was completely different than Henry's Crime. I went from a little $12 million dollar movie to a big budget movie.

And here's a quick note about the project with director Len Weisman, the director. Although it's called Total Recall, it's not a remake on any level of the 1990 film. It's a new film unto itself, in the vein of what the writer Philip K. Dick did. The challenge is to make a film that has the remake title but has nothing to do with the original. The goal is to make a large-scale science fiction film that doesn't feel like science fiction but feels a lot more real, practical. We're creating a very real world, and I don't think people have seen a film like that. We're shooting Panavision 35mm Anamorphic with G, C & E Series Lenses. And, almost unheard of for a project this size, we're not doing it in 3D.

Henry's Crime Trailer



Debra Kaufman

Debra Kaufman

“I am thrilled to be joining the COW team,” said Debra Kaufman, newly named Associate Editor of Creative COW Magazine. “In an era in which so much coverage has shrunk to 300-word sound bites, I'm delighted to be able to cover the dramatic changes in our industry in depth. Additionally, I look forward to reaching a huge number of engaged readers working in production and post, in the U.S. and internationally. Publisher Ronald Lindeboom and Editor-in-Chief Tim Wilson early on understood the importance of a web presence, and have created an astonishingly large audience both online and in print.”

Look forward to more great stories from Debra in Creative COW Magazine, and online here at