One of the key people that has helped to bring Michael Mann success is his Director of Photography. Dante Spinotti was the first to collaborate with Mann on a feature film, this being Manhunter. Spinotti is now something of a cinematographer legend, and here is an excellent interview with him. I include an excerpt below about his arrival on the set of Last of the Mohicans, but he refers to some of the other movies he has worked on. To read the full interview click here, but an excerpt is included below:
DCR: What about The Last of the Mohicans?
SPINOTTI: Michael Mann called and spoke with me about this film, and he sent me the screenplay. What else would you want from life than a chance to film a great story set in 1700? Michael’s visual references included a couple of paintings, including Thomas Cole and Alfred Bierstadt. This is very typical of Michael. He shows you a simple image and says, ‘this is the movie.’ The paintings all showed how small human beings are in the scope of nature. Michael wanted everything to be extremely accurate. He offered me the picture, but it took a lot of time for him to put this project together. While I was waiting, Gary Marshall offered me a film called Frankie and Johnny. That was the film, which finally allowed me to get into the camera Guild. That opportunity was very important to me. It enabled me to work on other films in Hollywood, and also because I was always connected to union activities in Europe. Gary Marshall is a wonderful director and human being. A few weeks after we finished Frankie and Johnny, I was in Rome.
One of the producers called and said Michael Mann wanted me to shoot The Last of the Mohicans. They booked me on a Concorde on a three-hour flight on Friday night. I was jet-lagged when I arrived and saw this amazing set of a British fort with actors dressed in military uniforms from 1700. All of our lighting was going to be based on sun and moonlight bonfires, torches and candles. There was a wonderful cast, including Daniel Day Lewis and Madeleine Stowe. Michael said he wanted was to keep the look monochromatic. One of the scenes that I was happiest with reproduced the pounding power of a waterfall in an interior shot set in a cave at night. You can’t see the waterfall, but you can feel its immense power in the pounding water on the faces of the actors. We bounced light from a couple of 4K Xenon’s with some big 12 x12 Mylar frames that a grip was shaking in front of them You can see the pattern of moving light on the faces and feel the power of the waterfall.
See the effect Dante mentions about reproducing the flickering light on the faces in the scene below: