Janusz Kaminski Visualizes a Gritty Future for Minority Report

A cinematographer's primary task may be to realize the director's vision. But certain DPs, Janusz Kaminski, ASC, among them, are simultaneously able to inject a personal note. In Minority Report, his sixth collaboration with Steven Spielberg, Kaminski's feelings about the issues being raised inform his work. The movie, set 50 years in the future, depicts a society that polices and thereby eliminates crime prior to the fact. Among other techniques, the director of photography used a bleach-bypass process to drain color from the images. “We did that to make the movie void of certain colors, just as it's void of certain emotions,” says Kaminski, a native of Poland who has lived and worked in the US for two decades. “We wanted to reflect the kind of sterile world perhaps we will end up living in at some point. In some ways we already are — I was in Franklin Canyon in Beverly Hills, and was busted for smoking a cigar. Give me a break, man! More regulations don't stop humans from being human. This movie talks about the consequences of trying to control the world.”

Adapted by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen from a 1956 Philip K. Dick short story, Minority Report stars Tom Cruise as John Anderton, head of Washington, DC's innovative though controversial Precrime Unit, a prophylactic police agency on the verge of being expanded nationwide. Potentially violent criminals are detected by analyzing the mental data from three “precogs,” psychic mutants who spend their days hooked up to computers, previsualizing the future. There are, to be sure, kinks in the system: Crimes of passion, for example, can take form with such speed that Precrime officers must react within minutes. And since the future is not a fixed reality, one precog may foresee events that differ from the official prediction: hence, the minority report. When Anderton is himself named as a murderer-to-be, he sets out to obtain this minority report and prove his innocence — a quest that challenges the very system he has helped to create.

Though the film, which Twentieth Century Fox will release June 21, is futuristic, genre-wise it is more action thriller than science fiction. It's essentially a chase movie covering a range of settings, and is shot in Super 35, Kaminski and Spielberg's first joint foray into a widescreen format. The director wanted the technology powering this society to simply be a given. “The beauty of Steven's storytelling is that, even though it takes place in the future, it's a future you can still relate to,” says Kaminski, who has won Oscars for shooting Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan for Spielberg. The look of Minority Report is “gritty, full of texture; we wanted viewers to get close to the story by making them feel that what they're looking at has a little bit of patina and roughness.” It was important to the DP to get grain into the images.

“I used the [Kodak Vision 800T] stock, which is extremely grainy,” says Kaminski. “I also used 5293, a slightly older emulsion with a little bit of grain. What's happened with Kodak is, I think, a calculated philosophy to get us closer to digital technology, because they have a great stake in it — to get viewers accustomed to looking at really sharp, grainless images, so the transition will be easier. So, the emulsions Kodak has been giving to us recently have virtually no grain. But I think they're realizing that the transition to digital technology is not working that well — thank God — and that's where the 800 ASA emulsion comes from.” If the cinematographer seems hostile toward the supposed digital future, he says it is because “I like looking at movies and seeing the movement of the grain. There's a certain emotional response, whether viewers are conscious of it or not; we distance ourselves emotionally from images that are crisp and clear. Grain reminds people of their experience and gets them closer to the story.”

The film's lighting style follows suit. Kaminski says, “Tom Cruise is not always looking as beautiful as he would, say, in Vanilla Sky. The lighting de-emphasizes his handsomeness, and reflects the mystery the character is going through.” The bleach bypass, which was done at Technicolor, not only desaturates colors, but also results in increased contrast, brilliant highlights, and “crisp, black shadows. There are fewer mid-tones; it's a little bit closer to black and white. I hate to say it's a modern film noir, but it's got some elements of classic mystery movies, with people going from bright light into the darkness, or vice versa.”

The typically speedy Spielberg production went on location for a few days to Washington, DC, but was otherwise shot in Los Angeles. The most important studio set is the Precrime headquarters, which includes aboveground lobby and offices, as well as the subterranean “egg” where the precogs are kept. David Devlin, lighting director on Minority Report and on six previous films with Kaminski (including five Spielberg movies as well as Jerry Maguire and the DP's directorial debut, Lost Souls), used 35 5kW 24" Molebeam Projectors on dimmer around the Precrime set, generally to represent streaming beams of light through windows, balanced to tungsten film. The hard shafts of light that typify Kaminski's work with Spielberg have often been produced by the Molebeam, with Mole-Richardson's redesigned, lighter version of the instrument debuted on last year's A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

“If Steven wanted to do a 180, 270, or even 360 shot, it allowed us to throw hard light across the set, but stay in a specific place, so you're not getting a lot of multiple shadows,” says Devlin of the Molebeam. “It's almost like a xenon, but it doesn't have to be broken up. What you're magnifying with the 24" mirror is the filament of the 5k bulb itself, so when it strikes the ground or a person, it's not a completely even light; it's got more of an organic shape. Xenons can be cold in the center, you're always gelling them to balance to 3200K, there's a noise consideration, you're always risking them overheating, and they're expensive. But these are inexpensive — that's why I can put so many around the set, so when we start doing reverses, I'm not having to move lights. You just turn them on and off.”

The precog set, which is centered around a suspended egg-shaped tank, has a different look. Devlin says, “Production designer Alex McDowell, Janusz, and I spent a lot of time talking about how the light in that set could make sense compared to the other sets above ground, so we could see a shift in the environment.” Overall ambience in the set was provided by Luma panels, T8 technology fluorescents that the LD refers to as “Kino Flos on steroids.” Thirty of these 7'-high by 4'-wide (2.1x1.2m) panels were hung around the egg to supply a soft light with controllable intensity and direction. Molebeam Projectors were used to “strafe” the set, motivated by glass-enclosed wells extending to the ceiling. In these 40'-high (12m) shafts, the suggestion of daylight pouring from above was created by 4kW HMI PARs and smoke, with walls of 6kW coop lights and Maxi Brutes providing more power from off-camera. The set was covered in a metallic paint that caught color shifts in the lighting, from the blue of the uncorrected HMIs to the warmer tones of the other fixtures.

Kaminski and Devlin often arrived at their lighting solutions through considerable testing; one key to Spielberg and crew's legendary efficiency is the substantial prep time they are allotted — 16 weeks in the case of Minority Report. Instead of standard light plots of major sets, Devlin applied Post-It notes representing lighting instruments to art department drawings. “I'll sit down with my rigging gaffer, Brian Lucas, and my best boy, Larry Richardson, and start the discussion,” the lighting director says. Using the Post-It notes, “You can put up 100 lights in five minutes, and then move them around.”

On set, everything may change. “When it comes to working with actors, blocking the scene, and lighting, both Steven and I work from intuition,” says Kaminski. “I'm not able to previsualize and exactly light the scene without knowing what the actors are going to do, how they're going to move about in the room. What the actor is doing may inspire the lighting.” But there is little meandering on a Spielberg set. “We work decent hours — pretty much, 12-hour days — and we average 26 to 30 setups a day,” the DP says. “The crew I work with is extremely fast and extremely competent, and Steven is a director who knows what elements he will use.” Says Devlin of the pace, “It really keeps things fresh.”

Naturally, though, intuition must play less of a role in complex sequences, such as a chase scene shot at a defunct shopping mall in Hawthorne. “For that set alone, I'd say we had 42 HMI 18kWs, 25 Luma panels, and about 18 generators,” says Devlin, who prefers to use LTM HMIs but can't afford to be too choosy when working in such quantities. “We probably had a dozen 18ks coming through the mall skylights, and the Luma panels were being used for shop signs, store fronts, and key lights.”

Lighting designer Marc Brickman consulted on one set within the mall, a futuristic cyber arcade with virtual reality games. A Vari*Lite® package of about 65 VL6s and 25 VL2416s was hung at the arcade entrance. “We set up a serpentine kind of movement to them, to draw people in the shop,” Devlin says. In addition, about 30 Coemar CF1200 luminaires were used for a flashing effect. Two dimmer boards, operated by Marty Wickman and Roch Dutkowiak, were required to cover this set. “Steven likes to move through spaces and continue and continue, so that requires more hands.”

Sequences like this allow Kaminski to apply some of the toys he has discovered on the many commercials he has directed and shot. One virtuoso shot that moves from the lobby of a rundown hotel, through floors and walls into various apartments, finally alighting in the room where Anderton is hiding out, was accomplished with a complex system of pulleys and wires, with the camera attached to a TechnoCrane. Hydroflex's 35-3/435 Remote AquaCam was employed for a drowning victim's point-of-view shot, and a macro-focus shot starting on precog Samantha Morton's eyeball and zooming to a long-focus panorama of the three mutants was made possible by Panavision's Primo Macro Zoom (PMZ) lens. (Both the AquaCam and the PMZ lens received Scientific and Engineering Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in March.)

To convey the fragmented quality of the precogs' downloaded previsualizations, Kaminski used what he calls a “squishy lens,” an attachment available for rental from Clairmont Camera. “You're photographing through something that looks like a breast implant,” says the DP. “It's a little plastic bag filled with silicone, with rings attached on both sides.” When the rings are squeezed, the silicone moves around, smearing the image, and focusing and unfocusing different parts of the frame. Digital manipulation at Industrial Light and Magic further distorted these strange, precognitive images.

Kaminski and Devlin are both now at work on Spielberg's latest, Catch Me If You Can, which will be released by DreamWorks at the end of 2002. The DP says he is looking out for a new feature project to direct, and will use Devlin as a cinematographer. But as a director of photography, Kaminski prefers to stick with Spielberg, whose working methods, choice of material, and visual experimentation he finds to be ideal. “I don't necessarily see myself working with many other directors,” he says. “Fortunately, Steven is very productive and keeps us all busy.”

Contact the author at jcalhoun@primediabusiness.com.