Cinematographer Dicusses His Work on The Empire Strikes Back

Ever wondered how the filmmakers of probably the best-looking Star Wars movie managed to light Darth Vader's blacker than black costume without seeing the light fixtures in the helmet? The answer to this and a few more nuggets of film history and cinematography tricks are revealed in this short but fascinating interview.

Black is one of the most problematic colors to photograph. Not only does it absorb the most amount of light that is thrown at it — often requiring extra or more expensive light sources — but when it's also a shiny surface, the reflections can betray a little too much of what's going on behind the lens. Here, experienced cinematographer Peter Suschitzky — who has been behind the camera of a number of cult classics, including The Rocky Horror Picture Show and is David Cronenburg's go-to guy for a lot of his work — not only talks about how to light one of the the most iconic villains in cinema history, but also about how he came to be selected for what many consider to be the best of the Star Wars series, despite having no experience with visual effects. 

Stories of what go on behind the silver screen have always fascinated me, mainly because they humanize the people involved. These are usually people who are idolized in the media and by fandom, but when you boil it down, they're just regular people who have happen to have excelled in a particular area. The other aspect that I find so intriguing about cinema lore is how sometimes seemingly innocuous decisions have shaped a film and subsequently the history of cinema. For anyone who wishes to delve deeper into these stories, I would recommend the book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Even though I think many of the stories within the book and in the writer's (Peter Biskind) other books should be taken with a pinch of salt, there is still great enjoyment to be had reading them.

Do any of our readers have an interesting film anecdote? Please let us know in the comments below.

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5 Comments

Clay Wegrzynowicz's picture

So cool to see a master of the craft talk about lighting. I can only imagine how hard it would be to keep Darth Vader lit well without getting all those modifiers in the shot.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Absolutely Epic, and that's a word I don't use lightly. Properly excellent skills.

Isn't it funny, something this important in cinematography goes by here pretty much unnoticed, yet a very simple sky replacement explanation gets all the love?

What am I missing? Generation gap?

You're right but I would say that FStoppers is 70% photo and 30% video so maybe that could be a reason?

Mike O'Leary's picture

Yeah, like g coll says, I think it's more to do with the fact that this is predominantly a photography site. I'm not a filmmaker, but I am interested in videography and cinema, so I share what grabs my attention. Cooke Optics put out some great content on Youtube. I also love Film Riot and Indy Mogul — entertaining as well as informative. Oh, and This Guy Edits is a goldmine for anyone interested in editing. I'd happily take more Youtube Channel suggestions if you have any.

Rob Davis's picture

Very nice. Thanks!