Leatherheads Let's Play Brawl: Football Camerawork and Sound

Not only was Clooney prepared with shot lists and storyboards, he was judicious with his angles and his takes. The day typically began at 7 a.m. and finished by 5:30 p.m. The pace was rapid, the mood was light and the director often completed impressive amounts of film setups per day. Clooney focused without losing his sense of humor or perspective, as both actor and director. The cast and crew grew accustomed to seeing him set up a shot in costume; often, after running the full length of the football field or receiving a nasty tackle, he'd appear at the video monitor to analyze the shot.

Filming football involved everything from Steadicam and dolly tracks to whizzing around the field on Grip Trix's Electric Motorized Camera Dolly, affectionately known by the crew as "Trixie." Much of the action was captured via ingenious rigs, invented on the spot by key grip HERB AULT. This kinetic, boisterous and physical work had to seamlessly meld with the film's banter of the romantic comedy. Potentially, however, these two different genres could have been at odds. The key, says director of photography Thomas Sigel, was a distinct, unfussy cinematic point of view.

Sigel offers, "We are paying homage to the great, classic comedies of the '40s- Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday, Preston Sturges-that kind of comedic oeuvre. George wanted to draw on the grammar of those films, yet not in a way that was replication, more as a reference. A lot of the camerawork is fairly static, set, composed frames- straight, lateral dolly moves. There's not a lot of swooping cranes or cameras from objectives that are not the actors' perspective. There are no strange oblique angles.

"Today, we have these tools to film football-cameras on the helmet, sky cams on cables that go flying through the action," the DP continues. "There is an enormous range of what one can do. But we approached the football similar to the way we've set out to shoot the overall style of the film, which includes romantic comedy. A lot of the football is done with a fixed camera, or almost as if a newsreel camera was recording it, as in those days. The exception is that we have some tracking shots where we're moving within the players, mostly when we want to feature Carter or Dodge. Even there, we're doing tracking with a Steadicam on a car, but it's not dissimilar to the way you saw them do certain kinds of tracking shots from the back of trucks in that time. It's very straightforward, and it's all totally from the characters' perspectives."

Production designer Bissell had to craft his sets with not only the camera crew in mind, but also with consideration for the sound mixer EDWARD TISE. The mixer faced sound challenges on the football fields-with the constant action of the game complicated by the expanding stadiums and the vagaries of weather. Tise couldn't always rely solely on traditional methods to capture the conversations. Fortunately, as he notes, Tise also had good partners in the producers and director. Not huge fans of looping, they provided him whatever he needed to capture the sounds as they occurred naturally.

Relates Tise, "One problem with filming football, is that with all the physical contact, radio microphones [usually buried in the actors' costumes] are not an option. One must rely exclusively on boom-mounted microphones-the placement of which are limited by the shadows they cast-and multiple cameras with wide and tight lenses of the same action that might also see the booms. It's like having a 10-man sound crew."

Additionally, Tise and team overcame these obstacles by being as light on their feet as possible. Instead of the bulky, heavy sound cart favored by most sound mixers, Tise used a lithe device he'd invented on a previous show. No bigger than a small laptop computer, the lightweight Aaton Cantar mixer/recorder was affixed to a wheeled tripod; they could now move around the field with dexterity.

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