Tami Reiker, ASC, helps director / producer Regina King bring One Night in Miami from stage to screen
by Valentina Valentini / Photos by Patti Perret / Amazon Studios
In 1964, Cassius Clay – soon to be Muhammad Ali – defeated heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Hall. After the event, Clay spent the night with three close friends. One Night in Miami is about the imaginary dialogue between these four legendary black men: Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). Based on the award-winning play of the same name by Temp Powers (who also wrote the script), the film version of One Night in Miami marks the directorial debut of actress and producer Regina King, who boldly states, “The fact that it's a) a conversation for three quarters of the film wasn't a deterrent. It was a welcome challenge. "
Cinematographer Tami Reiker, ASC, whose previous work includes The Old Guard, High Art, Beyond the Lights, and Pieces of April (two of which were Sundance premieres), is also the only woman to have received an ASC award in the category to date Won competition for her work on Carnivàle. Reiker says she was also excited about the challenge of visually adjusting the talkative source material.
"The bookends in the script are incredible," says Reiker. “The fight that Cooper knocked out Clay in, and then the diner party after Clay won the fight against Liston. We knew how to shoot these scenes. What we had to find out was how to shoot most of the film in a motel room with very long takes. "
The audience is at Hampton House, a historic Miami area The motel is still in operation today, more than half the 108-minute runtime of the film. The story is used for weighty, emotional conversations as the quartet discusses their struggles against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and the cultural upheaval of the 1960s in America. Reiker took an organic approach to play these scenes in real time.
“When you see 15 pages of dialogue with no action,” she continues, “it can feel daunting. It was amazing, fantastic dialogue, but it still goes wall to wall. Regina and I had to figure out how to authentically cover these scenes in order to fully immerse the audience, making them feel like active members of the conversation. "
An early decision was to take large-format photos with Alexa 65 in the 2:39 format. The depth and level of detail in 6K footage would allow King and Reiker to strategically place the actors in the frame and shift focus between them, as King wanted to avoid static footage. "I feel like such colorful people", describes the director. “While this is a historical piece, I wanted it to feel visually alive to match (that). Despite everything we've faced, we're so resilient – we still manage to sing, dance, smile and influence culture (just by) being. So I wanted to keep the energy, the vitality in this room, but I never wanted the camera to be a distraction. No big sweeping movements or anything. This piece doesn't tell me that. "
Reiker's solution was to keep both ALEXA 65s on cantilever arms that were manual rather than hot-headed so that A-cameraman Chad Chamberlain, SOC, and B-cameraman Austin Alward could stay in control. “I used to do that a lot,” remarks Reiker, who – apart from the two fighting scenes and one scene on the motel roof, which were all hand held – used the ALEXAs on the manually operated arms.
"It was my favorite method because it rests on a lambda head so you don't have to tell the dolly handle to move forward or backward," she continues. “You have a four- or five-foot arch, and you can go from the ground to nine feet in the air while floating and following the talent, creating movements organically with what happens in front of you as opposed to one rehearsed dolly movement. ”
Chamberlain, whose most recent credits include Bill & Ted face music and project power, remembering how they talked to Tami about most of the film, which was shot on a cantilever arm, assuming it was out of the room and a head distant served.
"But Tami always sees ten paces ahead," he smiles. "The lambda head was the right choice here – being in the room with the actors and having the ability to mechanically move the boom and head while it was physically demanding was liberating in many ways."
An important key to Reiker's approach was Dolly Grip Wayne Sharp, who was fully synced with the operator to instinctively react and move. Chamberlain was also on a trail that gave him and Sharp the flexibility to move in and around the characters during the long stretches of dialogue. A-camera 1. AC Sarah Brandes also played an important role. According to Chamberlain, Brandes "allowed us to make creative decisions that would develop in the middle of the scene, especially during the rooftop and boxing scenes where we were no longer anchored."
Brandes, who has worked with Reiker for 14 years, first as a loader, then as 2nd AC and now as focus puller, says the beauty of what she does is finding the beauty in the moment. “And that's exactly what building with the dolly, mini jib arm and lambda head is all about,” Brandes notes. "It offers that floating feeling that allows you to experience moments."
"The goal was to create a continuous omniscient movement for almost the entire film," adds Chamberlain. “Even if the characters stopped, we would try small, sometimes imperceptible and uncomfortable movements. This constant movement made our static frames even more powerful. This was another brilliant decision by Tami that went against my instincts and was again the perfect choice for this project. "
Although Miami is based on a stage play, this is The 1960s played out continuously in film, including in Malcolm X & # 39; family house and at a Sam Cooke concert in Boston. For production designer Barry Robison, recreating these locations wasn't exactly difficult given the abundance of archive visual material. Even so, he kept a meticulous watch as he brought King's vision to life. “This is such an important piece of history,” says Robison, “that I didn't want to take a lot of liberties. I knew if we were to stick to the exact specifications of the motel room it would be impossible to shoot at. Without enlarging it, I suggested gradually enlarging the walls. "
Robison made the markings on the floor in the art department and put up partitions so King and Reiker could feel the room, but the room would still be small. The Hampton House had special rooms for special guests, so, according to Robison, Malcolm X got one such suite – he took advantage of the empty space off the main room to increase the space and give King more flexibility in blocking the actors.
The designer also used frame devices – doors or archways or a modern mid-century Japanese-style screen on a rail to allow Reiker to close or open the room. He had fly screens for Reiker to add longer lens and more depth to the room, and added camera ports – windows cut into the wall and covered by a photo or painting. All of this presented the chief lighting technician, Allen Parks, with different challenges. He said, “The ceilings were very low and were clad to look like concrete. The art department helped us by leaving the center ceiling panels open for lighting. Given the need for low profile lights, we chose Astera Titan and Helios tubes in twin tube holders with Honeycrate mesh grids. "
Parks mounted the tube panels on the ceiling in every corner of the hotel room set. Reiker also requested baby shovel lights with snoots, so Parks built four 10-inch disc-shaped units with two-tone LiteGear LEDs, 1/4 CTS, and Magic Cloth diffusion. They were contained in 18-inch black corrugated plastic snoots and plastic honeycomb grids, which allowed the park team to cast a dense fill light on the cast without overexposing the surrounding set. "These lights, strategically placed along with some LiteGear LiteMats and KinoFlo Freestyle LED lights," adds Parks, "allowed the actors and camera to move freely through the set during long and emotional shots."
Reiker worked closely with Robison and Costume Designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck creates a palette of vibrant blues, greens, and warm tones throughout the story. Ian Vertovec, Colorist at Light Iron Supervising, recalls, "I worked with Tami to bring out depth and shape, and to add to the complex choreography that was made between blocking the actors and camera movement."
Many key scenes filmed outside of the motel room were filmed in LaPlace, Louisiana and the Second Line Stages in New Orleans. Robison found a hotel an hour out of town that matched the exterior hallways, dining area, phone booth in the parking lot, and pool of the motel. A theater in the French Quarter was used for Cooke's Boston concert and an existing club for the Copacabana, both of which only needed surface changes to make them timed. For a tense nine-minute scene on the roof, Robison developed a unique solution.
“Regina and I wanted to shoot outside at night,” says Reiker. “And we didn't want to take photos on a green screen. But on every roof we explored, the actors would have to have been on wires for safety reasons. Barry had the brilliant idea of building the roof on shipping containers right in front of the soundstage. We were out of town so there was nothing around them and we were 280 degrees in total darkness. I put little spots of light everywhere – from a few hundred yards to a quarter of a mile – to recreate the Miami skyline so you could feel the life out there. VFX added buildings and fireworks in the mail. "
Clay's boxing matches took place in an arena on stage. They were faithfully recreated with the help of the pocket book GOAT (Greatest of All Time): A tribute to Mohammad Ali, which records Muhammad Ali's career and which Reiker describes as her Bible for these scenes. Parks studied the pocket book carefully and created a contemporary lighting grid using the same 1K measuring spoons.
"In the photos of the fight," describes Parks, “The lighting system appears to have randomly placed shovel lights, but on further investigation we could see patterned action. The set designers were an important help in researching and drawing up plans. Sourcing the period shovel lights – 18-inch Altman 1K shovels – was surprisingly easy as the MBS Equipment Company in Burbank happened to be throwing up about 30 pieces of dust. We also used some MoleRichardson 12 inch 2K studio fresnels from them. "
Drawing focus on the fight scenes was no easy task for Brandes, as Reiker's approach to finding beauty in the moment didn't change for handheld boxing scenes with choreography and rehearsals. But Brandes' ability to assemble and disassemble the Alexa 65 (so that Chamberlain and Alward had the maximum level of comfort) has been a boon to the guild's camera team.
"I think at first Chad thought the camera was on his shoulder and he was shooting it from a height, like the perspective of the human head," says Brandes. “But when we started filming, everyone agreed that it made more sense to lower the camera so you could keep up with the action. This meant that Chad (the ALEXA) weighed a lot, which gave him a bit more stability. But it also meant I kept tweaking the setup – molded handles, simple rigs, no simple rigs, no grips – just building it so that you could fire it like it was a machine gun with a handle. The Alexa 65 is pretty big, so my goal was to make it as comfortable and manoeuvrable as possible and not to get in the way of things like the Teradek or the MDR that can get so hot they could burn your arm . "
As for King's directorial debut, those who assumed they would fit a play on the screen were a tough question. But as King concludes, “I couldn't do this movie. I was very aware of what I was getting myself into, ”she shares. "And at the end of the day someone will always say it feels like a piece. But I would challenge these people to read the piece and they will see that Tami and the camera team did an exceptional job to get just enough energy to keep in the pictures so as not to distract from Kemp's hard hitting dialogue, which is of course the essence of the film.
Local 600 camera crew – One night in Miami
Cinematographer: Tami Reiker, ASC
Senior Cinematographer: Chad Chamberlain, SOC
A-camera 1st AC: Sarah Brandes
A-camera 2nd AC: Sienna Pinderhughes
B-Cinematographer: Austin Alward
B-camera 1st AC: Zach Blosser
B-camera 2nd AC: Haley Turk
Loader: Ben Maner
DIT: Tyler Blackwell
Still photographer: Patti Perret