concert sequences for Almost Famous,” Bleibtreu says. “I consider him a mentor. During our first discussion about Tropic Thunder, John spoke about the overall visual approach to the film and emphasized that he wanted us to work together as closely as possible. We spoke about various technical issues, how he was exposing the film, etc. Our job was to provide footage that blended seamlessly with his film.”
Toll notes that the logistics of moving the cast, crew, and equipment though jungle settings and getting to the right places at the right times was a daily challenge on the island. “Our locations on Kauai were beautiful and very appropriate to the story, but access and logistics were sometimes extremely difficult. One would assume that moving around and finding interesting locations on a beautiful and relatively small island like Kauai wouldn’t be that difficult. Wrong. Somehow, the locations that seemed most appropriate to the story were also the least accessible and the most difficult to shoot.
“There is one location on Kauai that has more rainfall than anywhere else on earth, Mt. Waialeale. Most of our locations were within a couple of miles of it and we learned very quickly how to deal with sudden changes in the weather and the rain squalls that would blow through the set several times a day.
At times the weather would shift from overcast to dark clouds and rainfall, to bright sunlight and blue skies in an hour or less. Then, it would happen in reverse. When it rained, the only thing we could do was to cover up and wait it out. We tried shooting in overcast light as much as possible. Primarily because this is what looked the most interesting, and second, because we had more of that type of light than direct sunlight. If necessary, we used various light control techniques as much as possible, like putting up overhead diffusion etc., and we were able to shoot matching light most of the time.
However, there are some glaring mismatches that were unavoidable. Short of shutting down production for a day there was nothing we could do about it. Given the size of our production and the daily costs involved, this was never a serious option. Thinking that I might be able to minimize mismatches later in the DI made me feel better about it”.
Toll gives full credit to his crew for getting this job accomplished under very difficult circumstances. “I was extremely fortunate to have a great crew with me,” he says. “The camera, grip, and electrical crews were fantastic. The camera assistants, key grip Herb Ault, and gaffer Randy Woodside and their crews would get equipment to locations that you could barely walk to. Also, I can’t say enough about the contributions of both Josh Bleibtreu and David Nowell. David’s aerial work is a major contribution to the whole scope of the film, and Josh and his crew did a wonderful job of shooting action sequences or matching into and completing sequences that the first unit hadn’t finished…always one of the most difficult types of shooting.”
Most scenes in Kauai were filmed in daylight at exterior locations. Toll generally recorded daylight exterior scenes on Kodak Vision 2 200T, 5217 color negative film. Interiors and low light exterior scenes were recorded on Kodak Vision 2 500T 5218 stock.
I did emulsion tests before we started production,” he says. “I looked at all the tungsten and daylight balanced stocks, and could see some differences in contrast and saturation, but I decided that they were relatively subtle. I decided that 5217 was probably the best all around stock for shooting a variety of exterior conditions and its E.I. of 200 tungsten would help us out in lower light conditions and when we needed extra stop for longer lenses. When we were in very low light jungle locations we would go to 5218. I knew some different stocks might have been more useful in certain lighting conditions, but one important factor was trying to minimize the number of different emulsions we used. With the number of cameras we were using, and the difficult access of some of the locations, switching emulsions during the shooting day would have been extremely difficult.”
The opening scene of the film, where all the principal characters are introduced as members of the combat unit engaged in the