Beyond The Frame: Swingers

In the above production still shot by unit photographer Arlene Pachasa, director-cinematographer Doug Liman frames up a shot on actors Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau with his Aaton 35-III while shooting the indie hit Swingers (1996). 

Favreau wrote the script, basing it on his own life as a struggling actor, with practical locations in mind, including such Hollywood night spots as The Dresden Room, The Derby and the Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop (seen here) — all places he frequented. (As well as Vegas, baby, Vegas, of course.)

Said Liman about shooting with the Aaton 35-III, "When you have a camera this small, you don't have to tailor your shoot around the needs of the camera. Why should an actor not be able to get up from a chair because the magazine on the back of the camera sticks out two feet? It's not a justified limitation for creatively limiting the performance or the storytelling. [Using] the Aaton was like having an invisible camera." 

Asked about the pros and cons of moving the director's chair behind the camera, Liman told American Cinematographer, "I was terrified that I was going to be torn between rehearsing my actors and working with the crew to set up the shot. But what I discovered on Swingers is that what comes to me naturally as a director is supported by what comes to me photographically. For me, shooting isn't all that technical. It's not about f-stops and charts, but about moving the camera, blocking the scenes out, and watching through the viewfinder, which is the best way of looking at a performance.

"That's as close as you're going to get to what people see in the theater, much more so than [the perspective offered by] a video monitor. And if you’re just standing next to the camera, you’re not seeing the frame. [The process] is incredibly organic if you can just focus on the creative aspects of cinematography — it also helps to have a great gaffer [Roderick Spencer] and great camera assistants [Lorna Leslie and Sabrina Merics]. So I never felt that I was shirking my responsibility in one area to focus on another."

Liman would go on to shoot two more of his feature films (Go and Fair Game), but primarily focus on directing, with credits including The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Edge of Tomorrow and American Made.

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