In 1957, a little league team from Mexico pitched the only perfect game in history and, even more amazingly, became the first non-U.S. team to win the Little League World Series. The Perfect Game, based on the book by W. William Winokur, depicts this true story of a group of young boys who had to fight against prejudice to eventually be marked down in history.
William Dear, known for his work on another uplifting baseball story, Angels in the Outfield, directed The Perfect Game and worked with cinematographer Bryan Greenberg. The two recently collaborated on the 2006 thriller, Simon Says. In order to recreate the world in which this legendary story took place, the crew had to re-create Monterrey, Mexico in the 1950s within the boundaries of a small budget and the primary shooting location of Los Angeles.
Just before the movie’s release on April 16, MM had the opportunity to ask cinematographer Greenberg about his work on The Perfect Game and how the crew overcame the restrictions placed upon them.
Beth Levin (MM): The Perfect Game takes place in 1957 in Mexico. How did you re-create this year and location on a limited budget and by primarily shooting in L.A.?
Bryan Greenberg (BG): We spent a lot of time looking at locations. This was a concern at first, but as we started to look over our options, we started to see locations that fell into place. The best location, the one that got us all excited, was the regional Little League Ball Park in San Bernardino. It was just what we were looking for and their representatives were very cooperative. The art department even left all the red, white and blue bunting that they had put up around the stands as a thank you for all their help. Also, Denise Hudson, our production designer, really had the chops to make it all look like we just stepped into 1957.
MM: You have worked with director William Dear in the past; how does your collaboration work?
BG: William Dear and I have been working together since 1974. Believe it or not, I met Bill when I was a camera assistant on his first feature back in Detroit, Michigan. We have been working together ever since. Because of our long history, we have developed a shorthand that works really well. Plus, my crew has also worked with Bill, so they all know how to work together. We hit it hard ever day; you really have to be ready to work if you are on my crew.
Bill and I will start by talking about the scene and the coverage and by mapping out a quick game plan. We try to get as much depth as we can out of a location. We both like to keep the camera moving and I like the challenge Bill will create for me. I will shoot a lot of masters on Steadicam and will use B camera for a tighter master or for coverage. It becomes a dance of where I can put lights and where I can put a camera.
MM: Does working with a director you know make shooting easier?
BG: It does if it is someone like Bill Dear, whom I have worked with for years. It is always easier to work with someone you have worked with before; you know what is expected and how they work.
MM: How can it make it more difficult?
BG: I don’t know if it is more difficult. I have always found that working with the same director has made for a better experience. You both have the chance to grow together, plus there is a lot of mutual respect for each other.
MM: How did you approach this story as a cinematographer?
BG: I talked to the director and we decided on what format we would be shooting. They were talking about shooting The Perfect Game in HD at first. That’s when I spoke out and convinced the director and producers that 35mm would be the best choice, because of the lighting situations we would be in. We decided to go for three-perf 35mm, so we could shoot in widescreen.
Also, I read the script, started making notes and then I drew little storyboards on the script. I don’t rely on them, but it gives me a visual sense of what the scene or shot is about. It is almost like a meditation. I spent a lot of prep time talking with the director and all the other departments. I started an equipment list and I watched movies that related to what we were about to be filming. I also took lots of location pictures and started thinking about lighting and color.
MM: Did your work differ at all because the movie is based on true events?
BG: I don’t think that the work is different. You have a strong roadmap to work with since you are dealing with actual facts. You can’t go too far from the real story. That being said, we’re still making a movie.
MM: What sources do you look to first when you take on any new project?
BG: On this project there was footage from the real event, plus there was a lot of news footage to look at. I also watched every baseball movie I could find. Plus, since it was going to be a widescreen feature film, I wanted to look at some of my favorite widescreen movies again, like Touch of Evil, Paths of Glory and Days of Heaven—all great inspirations. Also, Bill recommended films for me to watch. We always exchange a lot of information that we have gathered from watching these films over again.
MM: What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
BG: I hope that The Perfect Game will give the audience a chance to share the journey that these kids went on and to experience what they all had to overcome in order to prevail at the end. It’s a great, fun ride and a “feel-good” experience. I have seen a few screenings and the audiences are right there with the kids. I hope they walk away feeling that they saw a movie that will stay with them.
MM: How do you think the cinematography can aid in that goal?
BG: I think it is the cinematography that sets the stage and the mood that carries you into the film. It adds strength to the characters in the story and keeps you involved with a visual style that glues all the pieces of the story together.
Greenberg has just completed work on The Politics’ of Love and is about to begin work on “Diahann Carroll in Concert” for PBS. The Perfect Game is in theaters on April 16, 2010.