One of the best parts of living in Los Angeles, is having access to an endless supply of amazing opportunities to not only screen prints of some of the most influential films every to grace the screen, but to do so in the presence of the filmmakers, who then proceed to tell you exactly why and how the film was produced.
Just think of it, you get to see a pristine print of one of your favorite films with the best sound and projection available, and then have the privilege of finding out why a scene was shot a certain way or how it was shot without having to pass through the filter of some pesky reviewer or film “theorist” who can only offer their best guess as to why things are the way they are. The little miracle I refer to, (if you’ll pardon the religious reference,) was the screening of the “The Omen” at the Egyptian Theatre as part of Beyond Fest featuring a discussion and Q&A with director Richard Donner.
Being someone who lived in Los Angeles for nine years, had to leave and was blessed enough to return, I have to tell you, I grab every opportunity to attend screenings like this with the urgency of a dying man trying to get to the hospital. Outside of LA, miracles like this are rare indeed, but even in the City of Angeles, this was one of the best screenings I’ve ever attended. As the MC for the festival said before the start of the picture, “Consider yourself fortunate because you’re in the best place in Los Angeles tonight!” That’s why I’m hoping the good folks at the Beyond Festival will forgive me for surreptitiously whipping out my trusty handycam and shooting the Q&A with Richard Donner. That’s why I’m hoping you will be a bit forgiving of the quality of the video. Suffice it to say it’s not very good and the sound is worse, but you can make out what is being said, and in my opinion, nobody says it like Richard Donner himself.
That said, there are a couple of points I’d like you to consider. First, at the beginning of the of interview, Donner makes mention of his DP, Gilbert Taylor, BSC. Donner claims Taylor convinced him to use wide lenses for production, although, initially, Donner was against it due to the fact that that many of the scenes only had two actors at a time.
To persuade him, Taylor shot several tests with Donner with an Arri Flex and a wide lens to prove it was possible. Donner admitted that he learned a tremendous amount about the nature of filmmaking from Taylor. And why shouldn’t he? With over seventy film credits, and having worked with everyone from Kubrick to Hitchcock, and even Lucas on Star Wars, Gilbert Taylor was a master.
Seeing “The Omen” on the big screen for the first time, I noticed little details I hadn’t previously noticed. One is Taylor’s use of star filters. Obviously, he didn’t just shoot with these in a few shots, but almost every scene in the film. It’s interesting because star filters are available in various sizes. He used a 4 point star filter, which made key points of light resemble a cross. We see these in everything from car headlights to light reflecting on brass picture frames.
Donner says the original script called for the portrayal of covens and religious iconography, but that he changed it to read more like a crime drama than a religious or anti-religious picture. I’m curious if the stars were meant to subliminally show a divine hand pulling the strings of the Armageddon.
However he did it, he was awarded Best Cinematography by the British Society of Cinematographers for “The Omen”. According the the article, he shot many of the scenes using a silk stocking over the lens at the suggestion of his wife. This is a fantastic article on the career of one of the greatest cinematographers ever: Gilbert Taylor: Cinematographer who worked with Hitchcock, Kubrick, Polanski and Lucas
We hope you enjoy the video, and if you’re looking for something to do this Halloween, (or any night!) take some time and enjoy “The Omen”. Think about Donner’s struggles and the genius of Taylor and how you can use those lessons in your next production.