Cinematographer Wally Pfister/The Dark Knight.

Cinematographer Wally Pfister/The Dark Knight.

by Bob Fisher

Wally Pfister, ASC, likens two commercials that he recently directed and shot to 30-second documentaries with cinematic values that make an emotional connection with the audience. He credits Ty Baker and Alonso Davila, creative directors for Momentum, the advertising agency that developed the concept for their client Anheuser-Busch.

“Every successful commercial campaign begins with an appreciation for the lifestyles and tastes of potential customers,” Pfister emphasizes. “The product was Rolling Rock beer. The theme was ‘Born in a small town.’”

They shot one spot at McSorley’s Old Ale House in New York’s Greenwich Village. The bar has been at that location since 1854. The second spot was filmed in a bar in a small town with a population of about 3,500.

Pfister shot both spots mainly with a handheld Panaflex 35 mm camera mounted with either a 15-40 mm or a 27-68 mm zoom lens. The zoom lenses enabled him to make intuitive decisions about composition. Images were framed in the 16:9 format and rendered on KODAK VISION2 5218, a 500T negative that provided the latitude needed to record nuanced colors, contrast and details in dark shadows and bright highlights.

“It’s voyeuristic, like peeking through a partially open door to get a glimpse of hip-looking people enjoying themselves,” Pfister says.

After Technicolor processed the film, editor Trish Fuller at Whitestone Post Production in New York did the final cuts for the two spots in HD format in collaboration with Pfister. He provided colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld at Company 3 in Los Angeles with selected still photos as visual references and asked him to match the look.

“When Stefan was ready, we went into a timing session and found the final look,” Pfister says. “There’s a little color saturation, but it is primarily a somewhat monochrome look with a slight green tone as a nod to the color of the Rolling Rock beer bottle.”

In addition to his portfolio of commercials, Pfister has earned three Academy Award® nominations for best cinematography in the past four years for Batman Begins (2006), The Prestige (2007), and the Dark Knight (2009).

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