Deep Fried Interview: The Wedding Ringer cinematographer Bradford Lipson
When The Wedding Ringer hits wide release today, it will conclude a long, detour-laden journey to the altar. Miramax’s Dimension label bought the film under the title The Golden Tux back in 2002 and nearly made it with Vince Vaughn in the lead, but Vaughn opted for Wedding Crashers instead and by the time Disney sold off Miramax to a consortium in 2010, The Golden Tux was just one of more than 600 unproduced scripts included in the sale.
Producer Adam Fields rescued the script from limbo, brought back on original co-writer Jeremy Garelick to direct and sold the film to Screen Gems, who will release it in more than 3,000 theaters this weekend.
The film marks the first theatrical feature shot by cinematographer Bradford Lipson, who also had a long journey to The Wedding Ringer. Lipson started out as an electrician in the early 1980s, climbed the ladder to gaffer in the 1990s and graduated to Direct of Photography on series television in the aughts – a run topped by an American Society of Cinematographers award for his work on FX’s Wilfred.
Lipson spoke to Deep Fried Movies about using Sony’s F65 and F55, shooting in Los Angeles and how his introduction to the world of entertainment was literally magic.
The Plot: With ten days to go before his wedding and no groomsmen to stand by his side, a loner (Josh Gad) turns to a Best Man-for-hire (Kevin Hart) to throw together a last-minute group of bros.
Every interview I’ve read with you mentions your love of magic growing up. You were out there making a few bucks as a working magician at 13-years-old. What was your act like?
I worked at a Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in Denver, Colorado where I grew up and on Friday and Saturday nights, I would (do my act) there. I would walk around Shakey’s doing close-up magic and balloon animals for all the kids, and then I would do one stage show where I would do things like turn candles into silks and make doves appear. For the big finale, I would take this platter and put Plaster of Paris and all of these really terrible ingredients on it. Then I’d put a match in there, you’d see this big flash and I’d put the lid over the platter. When I’d lift the lid off, it was a big pizza. We’d pass out the pizza, and that was the big closer at Shakey’s Pizza. (laughs)
Where you a movie fanatic as a kid as well?
I loved movies. The James Bond movies, The Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers, I loved those films. I also remember the phenomenal impact 2001: A Space Odyssey had on me. My parents took us to see that when I was pretty little and I just sat there in awe. I didn’t understand the movie because I was too young, but the images always stayed with me. It was a real formidable experience for me.
Moving into The Wedding Ringer, what did you shoot the film with?
I had two Sony F65s and one F55.
What were the factors behind that choice? The Wedding Ringer is a Screen Gems release, which is owned by Sony. Did that play a part?
That was a large part of it. They’re very much into using their own technology. I think if I felt completely uncomfortable with that I could have talked to them about it. But I really liked the images their cameras created, so I was happy to work with them. For lenses, I used Leica Summilux prime lenses and then I had Angenieux 12-to-1 (zoom lenses) and Fujinon short zooms. We shot raw SLog2 and captured in 8K on the F65 and 4K on the F55. Storage was not an issue as Sony handled all the digital workflow as the cards were taken out of the camera. I was really impressed with the wide color gamut the cameras offer. Color rendition was beautiful and we were able to take full advantage of practical light on our night exteriors.
What types of situations called for pulling out the zooms?
I tried to use the primes for as many masters as I could. The low-light level situations and night exteriors called for the Leicas. I would use the zooms if I were in situations where we were working with the actors and I knew the director (Jeremy Garelick) wanted to keep rolling and just be able to tighten up the frame really quickly. Then there were times when we were really down on the long end of the lens and I was way past what my prime lenses could (reach). My longest prime lens was 135mm and sometimes we wanted to hit 290mm.
The Wedding Ringer was initially set in Chicago, but that locale shifted to Los Angeles when the film was awarded a substantial tax credit to shoot in California. What are your thoughts on getting to shoot in L.A.?
I felt very fortunate that my first feature film was shot in my hometown on a number of levels. For one, I got to go home at night and share the experience with my family. It was nice to make a movie in L.A. and I feel like we did a great job of making the city a character in the film. It was also nice to be where the greatest infrastructure in the business exists. If there was any particular tool we needed, I didn’t have to worry about shipping it in.
Bradford walks us through a few shots and scenes from The Wedding Ringer.
The Scene: Hart’s cover story is that he’s an army veteran/priest named “Bic Mitchum.” In this scene, Gad and Hart talk strategy before a brunch with the family of Gad’s fiancee (Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting). When they exit the car, there’s a cut to a wide shot in which it’s revealed that Hart is wearing a clerical collar AND camo pants.
When we shot that scene, we were laughing. But I don’t think we realized how big of a laugh it would get. When I went to the first test screening and that moment happened, it got such a big laugh. We were pleasantly surprised that people found it THAT funny.
Jeremy and I blocked every scene meticulously (beforehand). We would meet every weekend to go over the next week, and then at night (after wrap) we’d go over the next day. We always had a shot list and we often talked about how tight or how wide (we wanted to be) or how we wanted to cover a scene. Jeremy is amazing with comedy and he knew exactly where the beats were and what he wanted to get.
The Scene: Gad comes to Hart’s office, located in the basement of a batting cage.
This was our one and only set and it was a lot of fun to work with the production designer, Chris Cornwell. This was supposed to appear to be in a basement. Chris came up with the idea of those vented windows, as part of the structure was above ground. He said, “How about if I put these vents in that are just above (Kevin’s desk) and let daylight in?” and I was all over that. I love to create color contrast and those vents gave us (cool) daylight coming in (to contrast with) the warm interior lights.
The Scene: Gad’s father-in-law invites the motley crew of groomsmen to a not-so-friendly game of “touch” football.
That was three days of shooting and we had five cameras going. We went through a lot of prep for it. That scene was heavily storyboarded and choreographed. We had a football coach working with the stunt guys and the actors so the plays were meticulously planned out.
Even with all that prep, we realized early on that the way we planned to cover a lot of the pieces of the scene wasn’t necessarily going to work for a variety of reasons. We planned to do more handheld work – but the mud was too hard for the operators to move around in. We opted to use more dollies, so we had a Telescoping Camera Crane and 100 feet of dolly track on one side of the field to follow the action back and forth. A funny bit of trivia about this scene is it was originally written to be raining the entire time. The final decision was it would be too costly and difficult to shoot in the allotted three days. When we all showed up on day one of three for the scene, it was raining. Jeremy was ecstatic that it was raining, but being Southern California and the fact it never rains in October, I knew it would only last a short time and it ended up causing some issues with keeping the look consistent.
The Scene: Gad’s groomsmen kidnap him from work for his bachelor party. There’s an amazing stunt in the scene where Gad’s double – with a hood over his head and his hands tied behind his back – trips over the curb and face plants onto the street. It’s done in an unbroken wide shot. How did you pull off that shot without that stuntman losing most of his teeth?
That whole scene was a blast to shoot and I think it fell together really nicely, no pun intended. The stuntman was just amazing. He had on a full helmet over his face (underneath the hood). I don’t know how he did it. We had three cameras rolling and I think we actually did two takes.
The Scene: The wedding and reception for the climactic Gad/Cuoco-Sweeting nuptials. How did you approach lighting this cavernous space?
For the church scene, we had five LED Mactech lights on one side to create the daylight key. We also had one helium balloon over the back for more ambient light. Beyond that, I lit the coverage with a 12×12 light grid and a couple large Chimeras.
One of the things I had envisioned for the reception scene that follows was some kind of practical lighting on each table. Production designer Chris Cornwell and set decorator Dena Roth came up with these great chandelier floral pieces that were beautiful. It gave the reception the big, rich look we were going for. And right off the top, that gave us a base exposure and helped the whole room out. Then I had two tungsten helium balloons – one on each end – so everybody had a soft edge (regardless) of which side of the reception hall they were on.
We also had lights ready to go up on some of the balconies. I placed 12×12’s with light grid and 5k’s, set up so I could get a nice soft edge, a nice key light or some fill, depending on which angle we were at. Then behind the band, I had the gaffer put CYC strips down low behind the band and uplit the whole wall. I always had three cameras running because we had so much to shoot.
The Scene: Following the bachelor party, Gad and his groomsmen lead an LA cop on a high-speed chase that ends with the gang’s Roto-Rooter van leaping from one side of an unfinished overpass to the other.
Again, it was all storyboarded. My A-camera operator Phil Lee was also the 2nd Unit director of photography and he did a fantastic job. He did all the location work, the exteriors where you see the van driving and hitting things and doing the jump. (Lee) mounted two (Sony) F5s inside the stunt van – one behind the stunt driver looking out the front window and one camera mounted in the back to look out the back window, which was mostly for plate shots. He had three or four cameras outside and he created a plan for quick camera placement with the second unit director, Eddie Yansick, to be able to execute the chase from beginning to end. Phil had nine cameras total to get this scene shot – one F65, two F55s, two F5s and four GoPros. We also had a Pursuit arm with a remote head. While Phil was doing that, I was shooting all the comedy beats with the actors (inside on a soundstage) with the van on a gimbal system and greenscreen around it. I think Phil had the more fun part with doing the jump.
How much of that jump is practical and how much is post effects?
The jump itself was practically shot by 2nd unit. I think it was shot with five (exterior) cameras (in addition) to the two inside the van. It was shot on the 4th Street Bridge in downtown Los Angeles. They did the jump and then used digital effects to make it look like the bridge was torn apart and missing a section.
A few more frame grabs from The Wedding Ringer…