Steve Condiotti [GAFFER]


MATRIX: How long have you been in the film industry?

STEVE: I’ve been working in the lighting and cinematography aspect of film making for about twenty years. I’ve worked on a number of motion pictures and television series, mostly in the Bay area here in San Francisco. I’ve worked on Flubber, I’ve worked on Bicentennial Man, I’ve worked on the TV series Nash Bridges, the TV series Earth 2, and also on various Second Units for other motion pictures like The Bachelor.

MATRIX: Initially, what attracted you to film work?

STEVE: I went to CCNY [City College of New York] and was a journalism major. I got more interested in visual aspects, came to San Francisco to go to Graduate School, and just ended up starting to work and found myself in this area. I think I was attracted to the movie business because of the possibility of travel and seeing new things, being exposed to new things and exposing other people to new things. The irony of all that is I enjoy staying home more now, and not traveling.

MATRIX: What does being a Second Unit Gaffer entail?

STEVE: The Gaffer is in charge of the Electrical Lighting Department. When we’re outside, there’s not a whole lot of electrical or lighting to do, other than try to maintain a similar photographic style as has been done in the principal photography unit. What we have to do is pay attention to what time of day it was, and what direction the sun was in when they shot scenes we have to intercut directly with. I work directly with the Cameraman and the Director of Photography in determining those kinds of adjustments.

MATRIX: Often, a Second Unit does a lot of insert shots; it seems your crew is doing a lot of pyrotechnics work.

STEVE: There are a lot of interesting effects being done. There’s a lot of stunt work and chases, and a lot of hardware being used. This is an unusual Second Unit, in that we get to do a lot of major action scenes, not a lot of small inserts like picking up the keys… although we do a little bit of that, but not too many close-ups of the phone. We have been trusted with some very interesting material to do.

MATRIX: How long have you been on the production now?

STEVE: I’ve been on the production for about three months, when we started work on one of our exterior sets, the Freeway set. I’ve also worked on this project in some capacity over the last year or so, being involved in R & D, and testing various lighting techniques.

MATRIX: Did your tests produce anticipated results?

STEVE: What is going on here is that so much is being expanded upon. We’ll develop a technique that seems rather straightforward, then it’ll go into the hands of the Visual Effects Department, and they’ll take it and do some very interesting, new and wonderful things with it. From my end, I am asked how I would solve a particular problem to achieve a particular shot. Then I see it some time later, and it’s completely different than what we expected. When I get involved, we don’t really know how a shot is going to turn out.

MATRIX: What has been the most challenging set you’ve had to work with here in the US?

STEVE: We do a lot of bluescreen effects work, and we’ve had to work in the bluescreen environment in a non-traditional way. We are sometimes fitting the bluescreen around certain special effects rigs that create difficult lighting and photographical challenges, based on an effect built to camera that is set up in an untraditional way. We’ve had a couple of shots like that, where it’s not just a camera, the subject and a light: we’ve got the camera moving, and it’s moving through an environment that requires a lot of bluescreen backing, which prevents us from lighting in a traditional way. Lighting wise this hasn’t been an extremely challenging movie, but we’ve had some unusual and unorthodox approaches that we’ve had to take.

MATRIX: Did shooting in the Posey Tube present any difficulties?

STEVE: Yes. The tunnel was extremely difficult because we were working in a practical environment that wasn’t really set up for lighting that way. It took a pre-rig crew about a week or so to get that ready for us to shoot for just a few hours one night. They did a lot of hard work to get it ready in a short amount of time, and to make it look quite stunning. I think that when it appears on screen it will look very interesting.

MATRIX: The Posey Tube is a public road, when were they able to set up the lighting rigs?

STEVE: They worked on the tunnel after hours. The tunnel was closed between nine pm and six am for construction that was being done anyway, so they were able to go up there and work and lay cable. Actually, they were working twenty-four hours a day, running cable several thousand feet into the tunnel (actually, it was above the tunnel that they ran the cable), and lights were placed in various places.

MATRIX: Which shot are you working on right now?

STEVE: Right now we’re preparing to do another take of this explosion where cameras are directly overhead so the audience will see an overhead view of this explosion, which is pretty much at the end of the freeway chase. The bad guys’ vehicle is overturned and explodes, so we shoot in several composites and layers: the car, them flying out of the car and, here, the explosion, all from similar angles. When you see it on the film it will look like one shot,

MATRIX: Do you remember your first reaction upon seeing the Freeway set?

STEVE: I was incredibly impressed with the Freeway set. I thought it was a remarkable set, a remarkable piece of work. To be able to work on it for such a length of time, to get acquainted with each turn and, in my case, to understand where the light is at different times of day. It was great to be able to assess where to shoot different scenes on the freeway and make them match with existing footage that it needed to be intercut with. It’s a really fun set, and to actually stand in the middle of the freeway during a chase scene and see traffic going at full speed both sides of you, was pretty incredible.

MATRIX: What did you think of the original MATRIX film?

STEVE: I enjoyed it, and thought it was very visually stunning. The basic premise of it was very interesting, so this is actually a project I was pretty excited about being on. I think the sequels are going to be absolutely incredible. If you liked the first one, it’s going to take it all another step, there’ll be a lot more of the same, just cranked up a notch.

MATRIX: Thanks Steve.

Interview by REDPILL
June 2001