Hatfields & McCoys: Turf War In Romania

Cannes Film Festival

History Channel

Arthur Reinhart knew very little about the Civil War and American history when he agreed to shoot the History Channel’s “Hatfields and McCoys.”  A German director of photography living in Poland, Reinhart was attracted to the dynamics of the feuding families and immediately immersed himself in researching the period.  When he encountered a wealth of original photos of the families, he knew he had the basis for his visual style.

“I tried to carry that into the movie, the crazy dirtiness of the city, the dirtiness of their dress,” said Reinhart.  “I didn’t want it to look too pretty.  I controlled the soft box as much as possible to get a dirty, soft light, working to get the look from the black and white photos.”

With only 69 days to shoot a three part mini-series, knowing exactly how he would achieve the series’ very specific look was the first safely crossed hurdle on a challenging course.  Determining that technology would aid his needs, Reinhart was able to convince the producers to let him switch to the Red Epic camera instead of the Alexa which was originally prescribed to the shoot.  With an incredibly tight post schedule, roughly 80% of all DI and color correction had to be done on set, Reinhart knew the Epic’s raw format would aid in this task.  He was able to do some test shooting on the sets with the actors and costumes, and achieve the exact finish required for the scenes.  He then developed a look-up table where he could illustrate to director Kevin Reynolds the look of each sequence prior to shooting.

“Kevin (Reynolds) saw very close to the final look, and this gave him a precise idea of what I was going for, “said Reinhart.  “This saved a lot of time, and Kevin was very happy.”

Shooting on location in Romania presented a number of logistical and aesthetic problems.  While Reinhart was able to hire two crew members he previously worked with: a German gaffer and a Polish camera operator, the remainder of the crew were based in Romania.  There were four different languages the English directions had to be translated to, so Reinhart quickly discovered that very specific instructions provided the best results.  Many trees in Romania are not indigenous to the United States, so he had to be extremely conscious of what the camera captured.  And with roughly two hours of daylight each day, there was little room for error.  Many of the film’s mid-day interior shots actually occurred in the darkness.

To ensure the lighting looked as natural and realistic as possible, especially with so many sunless shots, Reinhart worked closely with the production designer to maximize the opportunities settings could provide.  Since many of the structures were built from scratch, Reinhart helped the design team incorporate light spaces and rigging throughout the structures where lights could be mounted or holes where they could pass through.

"We pre-rigged lights then covered the lights with set dressing," said Reinhart.  "Pre-rigging really helped save time and overcome problems."

Green screen work also played into the complexity of the shoot.  Prior to shooting, Reinhart anticipated some digital replacements would be required, such as masking modern, non-American buildings.  However, green screens were also instrumental in replacing the windows in buildings to represent daytime scenes during night time shoots.  With the visual effects company in Canada, communication was not immediate and many of their needs had to be anticipated.  Reinhart relied upon his previous experience with CG and was able to set up trackers accurately. He also provided extensive notes and screen grabs so the VFX company would be as prepared as possible.

"Sometimes we had to make fixes on the fly," said Reinhart.  "To remove Greek structures we had huge screens on either end of a street.  The wind would make the screens move and bend – we had to anchor them.  There was not a single chance to fix them.  I was worried the movement might affect keying but it all worked out."

Although the shoot provided many challenges, Reinhart embraced them all, finding it enjoyable to come up with creative solutions.  The Civil War fight scenes, for instance, had to be shot in two days.  Reinhart decided to find seven to ten film students who would be equipped with small cameras and integrated into the scene.  Working with the costume department, the students were dressed as soldiers and their cameras were concealed with dressing or props.  Each student was advised exactly how to move and what to do during the scene, so that the kinetic, in the thick of the battle look could be captured.  Additionally, some found locations, were not configured well for shootings.  While it is not unusual for a cinematographer to have to adapt to a location that isn’t ideal, the structure used for the saloon was extremely annoying to Reinhart.  He didn’t expect a great return from the location but it ended up providing an exceptional result.

"I hated the saloon; it wasn’t built for us but we adapted the location and it turned out nice," said Reinhart.  "I was surprised at how well it worked out.  It’s funny, what I hated the most gave me the biggest wow!"