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Robert Yeoman, ASC and director
Bill Pohlad mix film formats to
dramatize the rise, fall and redemption
of seminal musician Brian Wilson.
By Mark Dillon

July 2015

he Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson has been called “The
Mozart of Rock.” The band burst onto the scene in the
early 1960s with hits about surfing and hot rods that
might have seemed superficial if they had not been built
on the foundation of Wilson’s complex harmonic and instrumental arrangements. As the decade wore on, his music
became increasingly ambitious, fueled by recreational drugs
that exacerbated his emotional problems. For stretches in the
’70s and ’80s, Wilson disappeared from public view, dismissed
as a drug casualty. His family eventually placed him under the
care of the Machiavellian Dr. Eugene Landy, who trampled
ethics underfoot in order to take control of Wilson’s business
affairs and personal relationships.
This is the ground explored in director Bill Pohlad’s
Love & Mercy, which borrows its title from the 1988 song that
launched Wilson’s solo career. The film cuts between the ’60s
and the ’80s, with Wilson portrayed by Paul Dano in the
earlier era and John Cusack in the later years. Scenes set in the
’60s chart the production of the Beach Boys’ landmark Pet
Sounds album and its aborted follow-up, Smile. In the ’80s,
Wilson — divorced and depressed following the death of his
brother Dennis — meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth

American Cinematographer

Unit photography by François Duhamel, courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Opposite, from left:
During the Beach
Boys’ heyday in the
early 1960s,
bandmates Carl
Wilson (Brett
Davern), Mike Love
(Jake Abel) and
Brian Wilson (Paul
Dano) join Brian’s
wife Marilyn (Erin
Darke) for some
surf and sun in the
feature Love &
Mercy. This page,
top: In the 1980s,
Melinda Ledbetter
(Elizabeth Banks)
witnesses the
abuse Brian (John
Cusack, center)
suffers while under
the care of Dr.
Eugene Landy (Paul
Giamatti). Bottom:
Robert Yeoman,
ASC frames the
action with a
handheld camera.

Banks); as their relationship develops,
Ledbetter grows increasingly troubled
by the “care” Wilson receives from
Landy (Paul Giamatti).
Pohlad says he didn’t want to
make a traditional, linear biopic. “I was
more interested in an intimate portrait
of an extraordinary guy that brings out
more human and universal elements,” he
explains. “The Pet Sounds and Smile era
was a pinnacle of Brian’s creative genius;
I couldn’t tell the Brian Wilson story
without telling that [part of the story].
And I was intrigued by Melinda meeting this odd, quirky character — not
knowing who he was, but being
charmed by him and then finding out
he’s Brian Wilson. That was a nice way
into the story.”
Having not helmed a feature in
more than two decades, Pohlad sought a
seasoned director of photography and
approached Robert Yeoman, ASC, who
was in Germany working on The Grand
Budapest Hotel (AC March ’14). “We had
a great connection right off the bat, even
over the phone and Skype,” the director
recalls. “It just felt right in terms of the
way we both saw approaching [the

Yeoman — speaking from
Boston while scouting the Ghostbusters
reboot for director Paul Feig — recalls,
“I loved the script and the take on the
story. Bill had a lot of great ideas and I
felt it would be an amazing film to be
part of.” His only hesitation was the
possibility of shooting in Louisiana for
tax incentives. He strongly believed the
movie should be made in the Beach
Boys’ stomping grounds in and around
Los Angeles — which, fortunately, was

exactly what happened. “Shooting in
Los Angeles gives the movie so much
more authenticity, as did shooting in the
actual studios where the Beach Boys
recorded,” Yeoman maintains.
The cinematographer also
resisted the common push toward digital capture. “The story takes place in an
analog time, so I felt we needed the
grain and texture of film to give [the
settings] a realistic feel,” he explains.
For scenes set in the 1980s, the
July 2015


Harmony and Discord
Top: The
captures a closeup of Dano in
performance as
Wilson. Middle:
The Beach Boys
perform in their
iconic “candy
stripes.” Bottom:
operator Chris
captures a scene
with Dano and

filmmakers opted for two Kodak
Vision3 stocks: 200T 5213 and 500T
5219. “We shot 3-perf Super 35mm to
give ourselves more running time on
each mag,” Yeoman notes. Most of the
Super 35mm work was done with a
Panaflex Platinum on a dolly; the lighter
Panaflex Millennium XL was employed
for handheld and Steadicam shots. The
crew used Primo Prime lenses, favoring
wider focal lengths. “I’m a big fan of the
27mm and 40mm,” Yeoman says. “We
shot almost entirely on location — and
there were some tight rooms — so we
needed the wider lenses to get our wide
shots.” He says he preferred the 75mm
for close-ups, and on occasion he would
swap the primes for a Primo 17.575mm T2.3 or 24-275mm T2.8 zoom.
To help capture the look of the
’60s, Yeoman suggested shooting on
Super 16mm. “I’m a big believer in that
format,” he says. “It has a quality you
can’t achieve shooting 35mm or digitally. Even the way the handheld camera
moves creates a very distinct feeling. I
showed Bill some tests and he loved it.”
Yeoman clarifies that the production shot “all of the ’60s [recordingstudio] scenes in Super 16, and a few
other select scenes such as on the
airplane when Brian starts to freak out.”

July 2015

American Cinematographer

The Super 16mm material was
captured on Kodak Vision3 200T 7213.
“Wes Anderson and I had previously
shot extensive 16mm stock tests for
Moonrise Kingdom [AC June ’12],”
Yeoman says. “We liked the 7213 best
and shot the entire movie on it. On Love
& Mercy, I re-tested stocks and the
faster 7219 had a little too much grain
for us. The 7213 seemed right, although
it meant we needed a bit more light.”
As for the aspect ratio, Yeoman
recalls, “I told [Pohlad] what I tell every
director: ‘I love them all. What do you
think is best for the film?’ In the end he
thought 1.85:1 was the way to go.”
During Yeoman’s six weeks of
preproduction, he and Pohlad watched
documentaries about Wilson and
searched out historical clips from the
Beach Boys’ heyday. The cinematographer also regularly visited the art department, where production designer Keith
Cunningham put up pictures of Wilson,
the group, and the fashions and color
palettes of the times.
The band’s story has been dramatized in the telefilm Summer Dreams:
The Story of the Beach Boys and the
miniseries The Beach Boys: An American
Family, but the filmmakers didn’t look at
either. “I’m stubborn about that,” Pohlad
says. “I didn’t want to be affected by
[other films] one way or another. I
wanted to be more natural and do what
came from my experience and from
working with my collaborators, rather
than try to emulate or purposely avoid
the approach from something else.”
Wilson’s genius is front-andcenter during the scenes in which he’s
seen producing Pet Sounds; the 23-yearold confidently directs a dozen top brass,
woodwind, string and keyboard players
— collectively referred to as “The
Wrecking Crew” — while laying down
the album’s instrumental tracks. These
studio scenes were scheduled at the head
of the 35-day shoot that began in July
2013. The production shot in Studio 3
at EastWest Studios; formerly known as
Western Recorders, this studio space
was home to the actual Pet Sounds
sessions in 1966. The Wrecking Crew

Top: The Beach Boys harmonize for the album Pet Sounds. Middle and bottom: Yeoman and
director Bill Pohlad prepare to shoot two other recording sessions.


July 2015


Harmony and Discord
are portrayed by actual musicians familiar with Beach Boys music, and
Wilson’s recent engineer Mark Linett
played his ’60s predecessor, Chuck
Pohlad wanted to capture these
sequences in the style of the era’s musical documentaries, such as the 1970
Beatles doc, Let It Be, shot by Anthony
B. Richmond, ASC, BSC. “I didn’t
want a staid, uniform ‘movie’ feeling,”
the director says. “I wanted it to feel real
— handheld, grainy and spontaneous.”
Yeoman operated the A camera
throughout the shoot; for the studio
scenes, he and B-camera operator
Casey Hotchkiss followed the action
with handheld Arri 16 SR3 cameras.
“Bill did not allow us in his rehearsals
with the actors,” Yeoman explains. “He
would just bring us in after and say,
‘Okay, roll!’ He wanted us to be spontaneous and kind of accidental in our
approach. He constantly said, ‘Go for
something a little weird and different.
Don’t go for the obvious, pretty shot.’
By doing that, the film seems more
Yeoman and Hotchkiss generally
kept to the wider end of their Canon 864mm T2.4 and 11-165mm T2.5 zoom
lenses, usually around 12mm-16mm.
(They also used a selection of Arri Ultra
16 primes.) Having worked together on
such features as Get Him to the Greek
and Bridesmaids, Yeoman and
Hotchkiss shared a familiarity that
helped keep them out of each other’s
way, despite the cramped studio.
Yeoman consulted the video tap,
but never to evaluate image quality. “I’m
old-fashioned and rely on my light
meters,” he says. “After shooting film for
a while you know pretty much what
you’re getting, but sometimes when we
were doing the two-camera coverage I
had no idea what Casey was shooting.
Bill, Casey and I would often review
what we had both done and make
suggestions to each other for future
Gaining access to the historic
recording studio came with the stipulation that nothing be disturbed.

The filmmakers
prepare matching
shots of Dano
and Cusack, each
lying in bed
while swathed in
the same blue
bathrobe, to
persistent and


July 2015

American Cinematographer

Cunningham carefully covered the digital soundboard with an analog-era top,
while key grip Joseph Dianda had to
work without drilling any holes. Gaffer
John Vecchio, another of Yeoman’s
frequent collaborators, notes, “The grips
and art department were able to build a
kind of a grid in the ceiling that amazingly didn’t involve screws. We put 4foot four-bank tungsten Kino Flos in
8-foot lengths between the sound
panels on the ceiling and diffused them
with 216 for a top light.”
Yeoman explains that keeping
lights off the floor “freed up the actors,
who had no marks and could move
wherever they wanted.” The crew also
replaced the bulbs in old-fashioned ceiling can lights with more powerful 75watt RFL globes that down-lit the
fabric of the wall panels.
Pohlad also asked for certain lowangle shots that would include the ceiling in the frame; in one such instance,
Wilson seems in a trance as he
anxiously waits to play his new music
for the rest of the Beach Boys, who have
just returned from a Japanese tour. Such
shots required the crew to turn the Kino
Flos into practicals, which they accomplished with frames made from 1'x3'
wood battens; they blacked out the side
of the Kinos and stretched 216 diffusion
underneath to give the impression of
practical fluorescents.
Vecchio and his team created soft
sources in the studio and control room
either with a Jem Ball or book light; the
latter comprised a 2K bounced off
beadboard and through a frame of 216
White Diffusion. They also directed a
diffused 2K through the studio-door
window. Additionally, to enhance the
glow from the control room’s dials on
the faces of Wilson and his recording
engineers, the crew placed LiteGear
LiteRibbon flat against the control
console. “The LiteRibbon is great,”
Vecchio enthuses. “We were able to
control it, dim it, and make it the color
temperature we wanted.”
Yeoman generally prefers to
shoot interiors at T4, but the slower
stock used in the studio necessitated a

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Harmony and Discord
T2.8. For exteriors, he typically shot at
T5.6 and sometimes T8. He eschewed
filtration save for NDs on day exteriors
and polarizers to minimize reflections.
“Occasionally I’d put up a soft grad for
something super-hot, like a sundrenched sidewalk,” he adds.
Super 16mm was also used for
the title sequence, which charts the
group’s early-’60s ascension and incorporates archival footage of the
California beach scene. The Beach Boys
are shown posing for their first album
cover at Paradise Cove Beach, playing
concerts in their blue and red candystriped shirts before increasingly large
crowds, and appearing at the T.A.M.I
Show, a 1964 filmed concert that also
featured the Rolling Stones and James
Brown. For the concert re-enactments,
Yeoman explains, “we religiously studied
old concert lighting and rented those
same lights. We augmented a little with
our [modern] lighting, but tried to keep
to the period lights as much as possible.”
The biggest-scale Beach Boys
concert, captured documentary-style
with four cameras positioned around
the floor and balcony at the Wilshire
Ebell Theatre, shows the group
performing in spotlight; as the band
rocks out, a close-up of Wilson playing
the bass reveals his stage fright. The
crew had three vintage long-throw
Super Troupers illuminating the actors
from the balcony, and Vecchio and
rigging gaffer Kevin Lang also tracked
down old-school R40 RFL mushroomglobe footlights, which Vecchio
describes as providing “a beautiful,
underlit glow.”
An evening party scene at
Wilson’s sprawling Beverly Hills home
(actually filmed in Bel Air) presented
one of the production’s most involved
setups. The camera, mounted on a
Steadicam operated by Chris Haarhoff,
leads Wilson’s first wife, Marilyn (Erin
Darke), through the crowded house and
past the pool, stopping at a balcony
overlooking a terrace, where her
husband sits with his brothers Dennis
(Kenny Wormald) and Carl (Brett
Davern) — the Beach Boys’ drummer

Top and middle:
After a chance
Wilson and
Ledbetter get to
know one
another. Bottom:
A large piece of
muslin diffuses
the light for a
dinner scene.


July 2015

American Cinematographer

and lead guitarist, respectively. “It was a
difficult shot because as Marilyn’s walking through the party, there’s a wall of
glass that shows the pool outside,”
Yeoman says. “So there were reflection
issues, plus we had to make the transition to the exterior.”
To light the interior, Vecchio
removed 4' Kino tubes from their backings and slipped them into Full Grid
sleeves that the grips rigged together in
groups of four. “That gave me a flexible,
soft, low-profile fixture I could either
pack up above doorways or stand up
against a section of the wall we weren’t
seeing,” the gaffer says. Additionally,
Kino Flo Celeb 200 DMX LEDs positioned low served as a TV light on the
buzzed revelers, and Vecchio trailed
Haarhoff with a small China ball to
throw some fill on the actors as they
moved through the room.
Outside, the walkway beside the
pool was lit by an 8K tungsten balloon.
A tungsten 6K Skyball on a menace arm
extending out from the roof provided
ambience above the pool, which was
also lit from underwater by HydroPar
1,000-watt units with Par 64 globes. Par
36 landscape bulbs up-lit trees and
plants. “We put in some practicals, but
much of the illumination came from the
nice glow of the underwater lighting,”
Yeoman notes. “It felt almost like a
David Hockney painting.”
The early-’60s scenes have a
touch of Kodachrome brilliance, while
the palette later in the decade incorporates elements of garish psychedelia.
Overall, though, Pohlad wanted the
decade to look warm and romantic.
When the movie jumps 20 years ahead,
Danny Glicker’s costumes and the art
department’s work provided periodappropriate visual cues. “We gravitated
toward letting the production design do
a lot of the work, rather than doing
something super-dramatic with different cinematic looks,” Pohlad explains.
“That said, the ‘Brian-future’ era would
have a cold white and blue cast to it. We
were going for that Eighties feeling.”
Yeoman adds, “We took more
time and were more careful with the

Top: The crew uses a flyswatter rig to control the ambient daylight for a shot with Ledbetter’s
convertible. Bottom: Yeoman, Pohlad and crew prepare to shoot in the car.


July 2015


Harmony and Discord

The real-life Brian Wilson (center) poses with the onscreen Beach Boys, as played by (from left) Graham
Rogers (Al Jardine), Davern, Dano, Abel and Kenny Wormald (Dennis Wilson).

lighting [in the Eighties-set scenes]. We
tried to glamorize Melinda, but not
unrealistically. She’s the film’s guardian
angel, and we wanted to portray her in a
very positive light. We would bring in a
big, soft source — typically a small
1,200-watt HMI for a daytime scene or
a 2K with a Chimera over the camera
for nighttime.”
FotoKem assembled the lab rolls
for scanning, which was done by EFilm
Hollywood on an Arriscan system at 3K
for a sharper image that was then scaled
down to 2K. At the end of every day,
Yeoman sent notes on color and contrast
to EFilm dailies colorist Ben Estrada,
and — since the movie shot in L.A. —
he would occasionally drop by the
timing bay. “Bob and I discussed the
vision of the movie early on, and we
applied some looks to the hair and
makeup tests he had shot,” says Estrada,
who timed with Autodesk’s Lustre software. “We have the same view on color
correction: ‘Less is more.’ That approach
allowed Bob’s in-camera work to really
come through, and it produced a more
realistic image.”

July 2015

When Estrada completed the
color correction, LUTs were then
applied for each deliverable, preserving
the intended look through to temp cuts
and early screenings. EFilm provided
Avid Media on portable hard drives to
editor Dino Jonsäter, and Blu-ray discs
to Pohlad and Yeoman.
After principal photography
wrapped, Yeoman spent a couple of days
establishing looks with DI colorist Tom
Poole at Company 3 in New York.
“Tom caught on to our look right away,”
Yeoman says. “He brought some great
ideas and I encouraged him to run with
them.” Yeoman then had to leave for
Budapest to prep the Feig-directed
comedy Spy; the cinematographer later
flew to Company 3’s London office for
one weekend to screen a near-final pass
and offer feedback via e-mail.
Poole worked with 10-bit DPX
files in DaVinci Resolve 10; the
2048x1156 filmout was done on an
Arrilaser recorder. Poole says he saw his
main goal as helping to establish two
worlds that were distinct yet complementary. “The 1960s footage was all
American Cinematographer

about playing to the strengths of the art
direction and wardrobe,” he explains. “I
referenced vintage Kodachrome images
for color saturation and hue. The 1980s
footage was about that time period’s
poppy saturation.”
Matching new and archival
footage for the title sequence presented
Poole with his biggest challenge. “We
played around with coloring the negative and then filmed out to print,” he
explains. “We then [scanned and]
colored that print to create a highly stylized photochemical look. It took several
attempts to get it just right.”
The entire production team
banded together to re-create a golden
era when Beach Boys songs mythologized California and a tortured pop
wunderkind rode the crest of his mighty
talent, wiped out and ultimately resurfaced. Along the way, Yeoman gained a
new perspective on Wilson, who visited
the set and performed at the wrap party.
“I was a kid in the Sixties when all that
was going on, and I didn’t really grasp
what a musical genius Brian Wilson was
and is,” the cinematographer says.
“Working on this film brought about a
whole new appreciation. I stand back in

3-perf Super 35mm,
Super 16mm
Panaflex Platinum,
Millennium XL; Arriflex 16 SR3
Panavision Primo, Canon,
Arri Ultra 16
Kodak Vision3 200T 5213,
500T 5219, 200T 7213
Digital Intermediate

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