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Bill Butler, A.S.C.


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#1 fstop

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Posted 31 May 2005 - 07:52 PM

I wanted to post for sometime about a DP we all know the name of who I think gets too little credit for his boldness and imagination. I was watching GREASE again not too long ago and there's a shot absolutely intrusive to the technically informed eye: Olivia Newton John is sitting drinking milkshake in a medium shot at a Diner with her boyfriend/Travolta's rival. Newton John is sitting on the left hand side of the screen, the guy on the right, and her side ONLY is covered in vaseline, like a diffusion grad filter but unevenly distributed (it's like a blob over her). As if this wasn't artsy, obvious and naughty enough, Olivia sees Travolta and gets up, and walks OUT from behind her vaselined zone and into the other clean half of the frame!!! SOMEHOW it's perfect!!! It REALLY REALLY works!!!

There's also Rocky IV which, even during gritty boxing sequences filled with contrasty hardlight, sweat and blood, contains many shots dropped in apparently randomly with stockings behind the lens, very soft and halated and lower contrast- and then back to the clean shots again- his use of such tricks is SO intelligent, whether it's artistically motivated or just something that helps with the practicalities of filmmaking-

then there are his almost subliminal but again hugely noticable split diopters dropped around anything from the Rockys to Can't Stop The Music- how does this guy produce such paradoxically brilliant work and NEVER get called up on for treading so irresponsibly on that thin line between artistic experimentation and technical standards? It's all SO inspiring and refreshing!

I'd love for anyone who has worked with the guy to share more secrets and tricks- I know many here have been on his sets-

does anyone else have an opinion on this enormously talented cameraman?

Edited by fstop, 31 May 2005 - 07:56 PM.

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 31 May 2005 - 08:29 PM

It's funny because I was chatting with him just a few weeks ago at an ASC event and I mentioned that lately he's been using nets on the backs of lenses (like for "Anaconda") and he quickly shot back "yeah, but you can't tell I'm using any diffusion."

I had to disagree (politely) because obviously I could tell or else I wouldn't have mentioned it, but he said his goal these days was to make the diffusion as hidden as possible, which is why he preferred nets on the backs of lenses. I didn't really question him further on that but I can tell you that he's a real sharp guy on a wide range of topics.

We talked about the Haskell Wexler documentary which he hasn't seen yet (but he's in it) and how he worked with Milos Forman on "Cuckoo's Nest". He said that he felt it was his job to understand Forman as a director, so after he was hired to replace Wexler, he went out and watched a bunch of his earlier films and noticed that Forman was often just as interested in some comic bit of action going on in the background by some minor character as he was the main action -- so Butler decided to bring in multiple cameras on scenes and capture more of the side action of the bit actors, and Forman loved the results.

Wexler had some sense of humor (later) about being replaced by Butler on both "Cuckoo's Nest" and then "The Conversation" because on some later film where Wexler was starting to have difficulties with the director, he called up Butler's agent and said "Tell Butler I'm sending another job his way..."

Anyway, the best thing about being in the ASC is having chats with people like Bill Butler or Richard Kline, etc. the people who shot my favorite films when I was younger (although I don't phrase it like that to them...)
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#3 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 31 May 2005 - 08:43 PM

The show I did with him, he mostly used a clean lens (no filtration). He works in just an extremely professional, classical, precise way.

He knows what he wants; he grabs you by the shoulder and shows you. Then he goes out to crafty, staying out of everyone's hair until someone tells him were ready for him to look at it. He would then make his tweaks, etc.

We did this one large ball room scene. In the morning he asked me how many 2 and 5ks we had. I told him (about 15 or 20).

He then pointed to where he wanted his lights, spaced about 3 to 10 feet apart, around this balcony that ringed the dance floor.

He said 'This will look like poop until we get the people in here, so don't worry? We got all the lights up, and sure enough it looked like poop. Then the people came in. Once all the dancers came in, they broke the light up so nicely. People ended up in this perfect half light with a hair light, no matter which way they faced. It was one of the best ways I have ever seen to light a scene like this. He did not use a single piece of diffusion on any of those lights.

Once those lights were up, he had us doing just nice touches to the room, such as backlighting these old yellow windows, accents behind pillars, etc. Once we were lit, no tweaking at all. All that stuff never moved. We just danced around a 2k w/ 4x4 floppies through a 4x 216 frame for the close ups.

Real nice, obviously talented guy.

Here are some pictures from that setup (sorry about the quality):
Posted Image
Posted Image

Kevin Zanit
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#4 kingkeyan

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 03:42 PM

The show I did with him, he mostly used a clean lens (no filtration).  He works in just an extremely professional, classical, precise way.

He knows what he wants; he grabs you by the shoulder and shows you.  Then he goes out to crafty, staying out of everyone's hair until someone tells him were ready for him to look at it.  He would then make his tweaks, etc.

We did this one large ball room scene.  In the morning he asked me how many 2 and 5ks we had.  I told him (about 15 or 20).

He then pointed to where he wanted his lights, spaced about 3 to 10 feet apart, around this balcony that ringed the dance floor.

He said 'This will look like poop until we get the people in here, so don't worry? We got all the lights up, and sure enough it looked like poop.  Then the people came in.  Once all the dancers came in, they broke the light up so nicely.  People ended up in this perfect half light with a hair light, no matter which way they faced.  It was one of the best ways I have ever seen to light a scene like this.  He did not use a single piece of diffusion on any of those lights.

Once those lights were up, he had us doing just nice touches to the room, such as backlighting these old yellow windows, accents behind pillars, etc.  Once we were lit, no tweaking at all.  All that stuff never moved.  We just danced around a 2k w/ 4x4 floppies through a 4x 216 frame for the close ups.

Real nice, obviously talented guy.

Here are some pictures from that setup (sorry about the quality):
Posted Image
Posted Image

Kevin Zanit

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



hey kevin i was on that show, bill really does know his stuff, i was doing the behind the scenes documentary
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Metropolis Post

rebotnix Technologies

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The Slider

Wooden Camera

CineLab

Visual Products

Ritter Battery

Broadcast Solutions Inc

CineTape

New Pro Video - New and Used Equipment

FJS International, LLC

Glidecam

Technodolly

Paralinx LLC

Rig Wheels Passport

Willys Widgets

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Aerial Filmworks