In the early 1940s, professional American baseball was a white-dominated sport. But in 1947, the signing of African American Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers marked a pivotal turning point in the game’s major league history. What led up to that momentous event and the, sometimes dramatic, consequences that followed have been captured in the recently released 42. The title of the film reflects the number that Robinson wore on his jersey throughout his controversial, yet spectacular, career.
To create the appropriate cinematic feel in the emotionally charged story of the first player to break through baseball’s color barrier, director Brian Helgeland called on the talents of Oscar-nominated director of photography, Don Burgess.
“This is a striking story, and I needed to reflect the passions that were mixed with the excitement and uniqueness of the drama as it unfolded,” explains Don. “Brian didn’t want a 1940s movie look – but he sought a way in which we could capture the atmosphere of that era. One way to help create the mood pictorially was through the use of filters.”
Don had long used Tiffen filters in his highly acclaimed pictures, and for 42 he continued that trusted association.
“I wanted to create a period feel to the movie on a year-by-year basis as we covered the crucial time in Robinson’s story. For example, for the year 1945, when Jackie Robinson began to get noticed for his skill on the baseball field, I needed to produce a warm – although not a sepia – look. Later, as he made it into the Brooklyn Dodgers team, the requirement was for a sharper, clearer and cooler image.”
The film was shot over a four-month period in a variety of locations in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.
“It was important that we used the same color feel in the five locations, so I compiled a 60-page ‘bible’ that included details of the filters and lenses that were used at each park. That not only helped me, but also meant that the second unit DOP had access to the same information so that sequences could be matched.”
And having inherited his father’s skills, that second unit director of photography was none other than Don’s son, Michael Burgess.
Shooting with an Epic Red camera fitted with a Zeiss lens, Don used three filters from the Tiffen IRND series to fashion these chosen visual effects. For the 1945 “look,” Don employed Tiffen Warm Pro-Mist filters in grades 1/4 and 1/8. In addition, he used unbleached muslin for lighting diffusion and 1/4 or 1/8 CTO (color temperature orange) gels on the lights. For sequences depicting 1946 events, he opted for Warm Soft/FX in the same grades, bleached muslin and various strengths of CTS (color temperature straw). Finally, for images from the following year, the filter choice was 1/4 Bronze Glimmer Glass, a mixture of muslins and 1/4 or 1/8 CTS. As the name suggests, Warm Pro-Mist combines Tiffen’s innovative diffusion technology with a specially created warming filter to eliminate pale and washed out skin tones.
“I find it especially helpful when we are shooting in open shade locations where there may be excessive blue in the image, but where total control over lighting may not be possible,” reports Don. “Just as important, use of this filter does not affect neutral colors.”
The use of the Warm Soft/FX filter is especially helpful when there are scenes that involve cast members with varying skin tones.
“This filter is particularly useful when a movie is being shot on video because of the technology’s sensitivity to blues,” states Don. “It also provides the twin benefits of softening and warming, while providing the convenience of minimized filter requirements. This is achieved through the use of two filter effects in one position.”
During his pre-production tests, Don Burgess found that Tiffen’s Bronze Glimmer Glass produced the effect he was looking to achieve for the 1947 sequences. “I always knew that I would be using Tiffen filters, but I was excited to find that this particular one – which is part of a new series of diffusion filters – exactly met my requirements.”
Glimmer Glass softens fine details in a unique manner, while adding a mild glow to highlights. The resulting reduction in contrast helps enhance the beauty of the shot composition.
Distinctive silver “sparkle” emanates from the glass, which, Don says, is a confidence booster for those around – and in front of – the camera.
“When people see the glittering on the front of the lens, they are reassured that the filter is working to produce the very best images that can be achieved.”
“Bronze Glimmer Glass allowed us to create exactly the mix of softness and warmth to portray that emotive time when Robinson was playing first base for the Dodgers. Combining the color and diffusion in a single filter was crucial in helping create the effect that I was seeking to achieve.”
One particularly challenging part of the film was a sequence shot in a studio set to represent the Dodgers manager’s office. More than 20K of light was used to simulate the daylight coming through the window.
“Shooting in a darkened interior against the intense daylight of a window is usually considered extremely difficult – especially when digital cameras are employed. There’s a consensus that the highlights will be seriously blown out. But using the appropriate filtering techniques, it is possible to soften the images and have considerable control over the contrast.”
He continues, “I guess there are still some people who feel that new technology means that we cannot achieve the same feel as we used to get with film. But I’m not one of those people. We have the new technology – but we also have the equipment, such as high-class filters, that enables us to work to create the same – even results. There need be no compromise when digital technology is used.”
Don concludes, “But even with the new equipment, there is still a need to use filters to create exactly the effect the production team wants. When it comes to Tiffen filters, they give me tremendous control – and that is precisely what DOPs want.”