Stick to your guns. I got a lot of pressure from the studio heads [shooting the pilot for “Scarface”], who wanted me to “brighten it up.” I’d tell them that ‘the director doesn’t want it bright.’ The studio barred me from timing the TV show, but I went into the suite at 5:00 a.m. and did it anyhow. I wasn’t invited to shoot another film for that studio for more than 20 years.
I can get pretty excited about who’s directing. I’ve done a lot of projects with first-time directors because I like their enthusiasm.
Lighting matters. I learned an important lesson while we were shooting Starman. We were in some small town in Texas. I was eating breakfast in a little pancake house. This guy came in and sat down next to me. He could have been a farmer, a truck driver or whatever they did in that town. He asked if I was one of “the movie guys.” I told him that I was the director of photography and we talked a bit about what I did. He said, “I hate it when I’m watching something on television, and there’s a scene where someone comes in the room and turns off the only light, but the room stays lit. That looks fake.” I’ll never forget that conversation. So much for people in the Midwest not caring about lighting!
There are always ways to create light if you feel that a dark scene needs it. I remember how Connie Hall approached lighting. He could make you feel the room was darker than it actually was through his brilliant vision.
Commercials make you bolder. I think the fact that you are trying to tell a story in 30 seconds makes you a little bolder. You can draw on those ideas to make your feature film a little more interesting.
I thought after seven years of commercials, I could step right back into shooting feature films, but I was wrong. One guy asked whether I was in prison for seven years.