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Apatow and Lipes Choose Classic Look for Trainwreck

  • May 12, 2015

Trainwreck is the latest Judd Apatow-directed comedy to hit the big screen. As a director, Apatow’s smashing success in the comedy realm includes The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People and This is 40. In the producer role, he has had a hand in a long string of other hit comedies including Bridesmaids, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, and he is known as a pioneer in the “bromantic comedy” genre.

This time around, Apatow has built a film around a female lead. In Trainwreck, Amy Schumer, who also wrote the script, plays a semi-autobiographical character who is extremely commitment-phobic, tending to sabotage any budding relationship. When she meets a good man, she must face her fears. The cast also includes Tilda Swinton, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Marisa Tomei, and LeBron James. The shoot was mounted in New York City over the course about 53 days.

Apatow is known for his preference for film, joining Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams and others in being vocal about their support of the medium. According to cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes, the decision to go with 35mm film on Trainwreck was part of a strategy to give the movie a classic look and feel.

Lipes’ background includes indie credits like Martha Marcy May Marlene, Tiny Furniture, and Afterschool, as well as the pilot and first season of the television series Girls, where he has also handled directing duties. His most recent film as a director is the véritédocumentary Ballet 422, released by Magnolia Pictures, which is in theaters now. It's a film about a young choreographer named Justin Peck creating a new ballet at the New York City Ballet.

Regarding Trainwreck, Lipes says, “It was important to Judd that the movie feels like a classic, New York romantic comedy. It’s a kind of film that has gone away to some degree, where a woman falls in love with a perfect guy, and there’s a fairy tale quality. We wanted to make it feel beautiful and slightly formal.”

That formalism was balanced by the spontaneity of the comedy. “We sometimes let things play in wider shots, including close-ups, in order to see more physicality,” he says. “Judd works in a very improvisational way. It’s very loose – what we’re going to accomplish on a given day, how it’s going to be shot, and what the actors are going to say and do. I wanted to use the camera to counter that. I kept things very locked down and static, with carefully chosen compositions, and a decisive feeling.”

The format was 3-perf 35mm, and the aspect ratio was a widescreen 2.35:1. The cameras were ARRICAM LTs and the lenses were generally COOKE 5/i in the medium range of focal lengths – usually 32mm or 40mm, and occasionally a 65mm.

The aspect ratio and format were a creative choice dictated partially by the New York setting. The 3-perf format had the additional benefit of saving 25 percent over 4-perf in stock and processing.

“Judd had shot his previous film digitally, and I think he found the ability to keep rolling forever counterproductive,” says Lipes. “After a certain point, the cast and crew get burned out. Being able to take a break and reload for a minute is welcome.”

The film stocks were KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 and KODAK VISION3 50D Color Negative Film 5203. The majority of the film unfolds in day interior situations, which were split between stage work and locations.

“We did side-by-side tests with digital formats, and there was just no comparison,” says Lipes. “It was very obvious to everyone that film was the way to go. It felt better, and it creates uniqueness about the film. Because so many projects are digital, shooting on film makes the movie stand out. It just feels more human, more analog, more natural, and ultimately, more stylized. It’s not as sharp – it’s more pleasing. It wasn’t a scientific decision. It just felt like the right way to go.”

The classic romantic comedy aesthetic comes with a higher-key approach to lighting. “This was definitely the most bright and broad lighting I’ve done for a film,” says Lipes. “That’s what was appropriate.”

In one important scene, Schumer and Hader return to his character’s apartment after a first date. The environment included a lot of glass and extensive city views. Even though it was on the seventh floor, Lipes lit up the interior from the outside. The lights were aimed up from the sidewalks, through the big windows, and bounced off the apartment ceiling, thus avoiding reflections in the glass and allowing the camera to look in any direction.

“Generally, the lighting was all very straightforward and very traditional in a lot of ways, and it was good to go through that exercise,” says Lipes. “I worked with a great gaffer (Andy Day) and a great crew, and they really helped me get the film in the right place. Coloring it in post was very simple, and Judd was quite happy with the images in the end.”

Trainwreck is in theaters this summer.