Science Fiction Filme) Dear Mr. Wagner. Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to talk to each other. As a cinematographer you have worked on A NIGHTMARE ON ELMSTREET 3 (1987) or the TV seriesTHE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1987 - 90), among others. Especially noteworthy is your work on the series QUANTUM LEAP (1989 - 93), which will always remain one of my favorite series. Officially, your first work in film is credited as FUNNY GIRL (1968). Is that true at all?
Roy Wagner) My first experience on a movie set was long before FUNNY GIRL. I observed on the set of many films, the first being A FACE IN THE CROWD. Other films I observed on were from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. I didn’t get paid to work on FUNNY GIRL because I was in the Air Force during the making of that and HELLO DOLLY. Soldiers were not allowed to work for pay on movie sets but they could work for free if given the opportunity by their commanders. My commander allowed me to participate on many Hollywood projects including FUNNY GIRL and DOLLY. I did a great many “free” jobs for Disney plus I was allowed to be mentored on an Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford film. There were countless others including the television series, GUNSMOKE.
SFF.) You have done a lot of genremovies. Some of them are kind of kult-movies right now like PRAY FOR DEATH, A NIGHTMARE ON ELMSTREET III, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH, WITCHJBOARD or ENTER THE NINJA. Do you have a special love for films from the fantastic genre and if so, why?
R.W.) I’ve always loved ghost stories. I stumbled into horror films and action films because that was what I was offered. I personally like dramatic, musical and comedy films. I seldom am offered comedies and have never done a musical as a cinematogrtqapher.
SFF.) You also teach people with special needs how to work on camera. How do you feel about that?
R.W.) In many ways filmmaking offers a great opportunity to those who have difficulty expressing themselves in the “normal” way. I’ve mentored countless special needs students and found that they are very capable of expressing themselves with film in ways that might be impossible normally.
SFF.) Your Portfolio is a wonderful compilation of fantastic work. Do you have some favorite works of yours and is there a project that, unfortunately, never came to fruition, even though you had already designed a lot for it?
R.W.) My favorite projects are CRACKER, A RUMOR OF ANGELS, STAND, THE BEAST and PASADENA.
I was suppose to do SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and FRANKENSTEIN (directed by Joel Schumacher).
SFF.) As a director of photography you are responsible for the design of movies. Is it difficult to realize the visual wishes and specifications of the director of photography of these movies when you might have a lot of creative ideas by yourself in order to take a scene?
R.W.) It’s important that you find your place with the director, writer, production designer and stars. In many ways that’s the fun of it, finding your voice amidst the other collaborators.
SFF.) Is there or was there a cinematographer who influenced you significantly?
R.W.) Many. Harry Stradling Sr., Charles B. Lang, Conrad Hall, William Fraker, Gordon Willis, James Wong Howe, Arthur Miller
SFF.) You directed the camera for the TV series QUANTUM LEAP. The opening credits sequence alone is absolutely iconic (the one where Sam Beckett goes into the time machine). Can you please tell us how you conceived that scene?
R.W.) We filmed that opening after we did the Pilot. The set for him standing amidst the smoke was incredibly simple. The key was hiding how little we actually had. I suggested the cryogenics swirling around him. The difficulty was that he had to wear clothing protection from the below zero cryogenics. I had a platform built that he stood on. Underneath that was a large Big Eye Mole Richardson 10k pointing straight up. That light not only lit him and the smoke it helped to dispel some of the cold from the smoke. Our effects man had to be very careful to not turn on the cryogenics (dry ice) before the light was on or it could severely hurt him.
The car interior was shot on stage. Cryogenics were used outside of the car to suggest high speed smoke that the car was racing through.
The exterior of the car racing across the desert was filmed day for night in the desert. The stars in the sky were printed in optically.
Her feet stepping standing next to the stopped car was filmed on the backlot at Universal Studios.
SFF.) One of the most impressive "in-camera" tricks in the series is the mirror effects. What was the biggest challenge here and is there an episode where this trick was particularly difficult to create?
R.W.) The mirror trick was my idea. One of the biggest problem with QUANTUM LEAP was that the Studio did not want to spend a lot of money. To have done those mirrors optically would have been a major cost each week.
The most difficult was the very first one in the shower for the Pilot. It took some planning to get the actor mimicking Scott Bakula and then his wife to do exactly what the star was doing.
The most difficult was the episode COLOR OF TRUTH where the courthouse door was closed. We could see the black man reflected in the reflection from the door. As the door closes we can see the black man’s reflection. Scott Bakula is in the foreground with his back to camera. At the end of the shot Scott turns to camera. In the reflection the black actor has to match Scott’s action. That courthouse was a part of the Warner Brothers Midwest Street.
The most ambitious was in that same episode when Scott visits a diner in the south during the 1950’s. That was a huge mirror over the back bar of the restaurant. It was not a mirror. It was a picture frame. On the other side (where the reflection should have been) was a set built in reverse. Our production designer, Cameron Burnie, had to manufacture signs and a clock that would reversed so that it suggested a mirror’s reflection.
SFF.) Could you explain what the shooting schedule of the series was like, in what way did you have to plan and how precisely?
R.W.) When I started in television the episodes were filmed in 6 to 7 days. They became longer as the projects became more ambitious. I think QUANTUM LEAP episodes were 8 to 10 days. Some series after that became much longer shooting schedules.
SFF.) Could you explain, with an example, how important the right lighting is for a scene?
R.W.) The proper lighting is as important as the proper grammar for the actor to speak. Images have the same importance as the written word. Indeed they often suggest something to the audience about the character or condition that is faster than anything the actor might say.
SFF.) The TV series CSI is always associated with neon-like colors and intensely imagined interludes. You have also directed the camera on some episodes. How do you imagine the preparation and pre-visualization of such an episode?
R.W.) CSI was suppose to emulate the style of music videos. During that era there was a great deal of experimentation with deep colors/neon colors because the audience was getting use to it from commercials and music videos.
SFF.) Could you please be so kind and describe the following professional titles: gaffer, camera operator and additional photographer.
R.W.) A Gaffer executes the lighting design of the cinematographer. The Gaffer has a crew from 4 to 100 electricians. They place and rig the lighting instruments where the cinematographer suggests.
The Key Grip is responsible for shading and texturing the light with scrims and gelatines (for color). The Key Grip is also responsible for safetly rigging equipment and sets.
The camera operator actually executes the camera movement (Pan, Tilt, Dolly, Crane). The cinematographer seldom actually operates the camera. The camera operator interprets the composition required by the director and cinematographer.
Additional Photographer is a cinematographer who is hired to execute shots that the main cinematographer might not have time to execute. They often do 2nd Unit photography that does not require the stars. After a film is completed if it is determined that additional shots are necessary another photographer might be hired if the original cinematographer is not available. An additional photographer might get credit if they have photographed a significant amount of a film.
SFF.) I love the look and style you were creating for certain productions. Do you have a special approach to the pictorial design of a movie?
R.W.) I have no particular design philosophy allowing the story and the key contributors to inform my approach to the lighting, composition and photography.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
R.W.) Many films that came and went. I don’t have any revery over what might have been. I’m happy for the future. As I previously mentioned there are several opportunities that I missed. I guess the greatest was missing the opportunity to work with Steven Spielberg.
SFF.) Dear Mr. Wagner. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.