On "Dream With the Fishes," his first feature as writer-director, Finn Taylor wanted a new look that actually hearkens back to an older cinematographic style. "He talked about not liking how clean and nice and almost video-like the new film stocks are, how accurate in reproduction," says director of photography Barry Stone. "He had a hankering for some of the older stocks which distanced the viewer from what he was looking at, that mythologized the image in a sense. We looked at films like 'The Last Detail'--very high-contrast films, not a lot of shadow detail. And we looked at films with Technicolor prints, which he was very keen on."
Though Technicolor has plans to renew its long-lapsed printing process, it was certainly not available to Taylor and Stone during the production of "Dream With the Fishes." "I thought the closest I could come was to introduce a layer of contrast that would bring back the lack of range some of the earlier film stocks had," the cinematographer says.
The film, starring David Arquette and Brad Hunt as two desperate but wildly different San Francisco men who establish a bond over the course of a tumultuous few days, is divided into two distinct narrative and visual chapters. The first half takes place in the city, and is marked by the extremely contrasty and grainy look the filmmakers desired. In the second part, the two friends retreat to the coastal community of Pescadero, and there is a sudden visual shift to a more conventional, low-contrast style.
The look of the movie's first four reels is the result of Stone rethinking the uses of various Eastman Kodak stocks. "I decided to experiment with the interpositive," he says. "Instead of using 5244 [the traditional Kodak interpos stock], I experimented with 5386, which is a regular projection print stock, and 5385, now 5381, a telecine transfer print stock." The same principles were applied to the film's internegative. "Besides 5244, I decided I could use 5272, which is a low-con interneg stock, often used for black and white, to reduce the contrast. We had four combinations--four levels of contrast for different parts of the movie."
Within the two main sections of "Dream With the Fishes" there are consequently variations. Early scenes involving the Arquette character's voyeuristic activities with binoculars were struck on 5386/5244, while most of the surrounding scenes employed the heavier 5385/5244 combination. An acid trip sequence (talk about retro!) was cross-processed with 7239, a daylight reversal stock.
When the scene shifts to Pescadero, "we tried pre-flashing and post-flashing," says Stone, "but we didn't really need anything, because the other look was so strong. We decided to keep it basically untouched--we just timed it a little bit hot so it was kind of low-contrast."
At the end of the movie, there's a return to the San Francisco setting and to the high-contrast look, but there's a startling further shift when Arquette encounters a woman he's been spying on. "He walks toward her, and we changed to the light look, the regular 5244/44," the DP says. "We did that as an optical, because we had to marry the two interpositives to get a new interneg."
It was while fiddling with this sequence, in fact, that the filmmakers came upon some of the printing techniques that they then backed into the earlier section. Three days before the film's Sundance Film Festival premiere in January, they had a new interpositive struck for the first four reels.
In terms of lighting, Stone, a British-born DP with a Canadian passport and US resident status, says he mostly worked in a conventional manner on "Dream With the Fishes." "I knew I'd be losing a lot of the shadow detail on purpose with this high-con interpositive," he says. "I didn't put specifically more light into the shadow areas, I just overexposed my negative 1/2 to 2/3 of a stop, so I would have more information on the negative." As it was, Stone had a "very small lighting package," relying to a great extent on strategically placed smaller units, especially Dedolights.
Stone, whose other features include "Rude;" "Paris, France;" and the upcoming "Pale Saints," long headed a production company for commercials and industrials, which gave him a wide range of filmmaking experience. "If your main income is as a DP, I think it's very useful to have a broad background," he says. "You can put on your producer's hat and say, 'I'd love to do this crane shot, but I know it's going to cost too much money.'" "Dream With the Fishes" was released in June by Sony Pictures Classics.