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Immersed in Movies: Shooting Whedon's 'Much Ado About Nothing' in Black-and-White (VIDEO)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood June 7, 2013 at 12:20PM

Joss Whedon's marvelous Shakespeare house party in modern dress, "Much Ado About Nothing," is part of a mini black-and-white resurgence this year that also includes Noah Baumbach's screwball "Frances Ha," Alexander Payne's chilly "Nebraska," and Godfrey Reggio's counter-intuitive "Visitors." Maybe it's "The Artist" factor or maybe it's just time to go monochromatic again as a retro exercise in naturalism. For "Much Ado" cinematographer Jay Hunter (who previously worked with Whedon on the "Dollhouse" TV series), shooting in black-and-white was nirvana -- a mixture of film noir and the French New Wave.
"Much Ado About Nothing"
"Much Ado About Nothing"

By contrast, the wedding scene gone awry was an instance of Hunter forgoing ideal light to capture Clark Gregg's big moment as the outraged father, Leonata, who believes the slander about his daughter's infidelity. "It was his key scene where he gets to show off his acting chops," Hunter explains. "But the sun was in this horrible position overhead and what I needed to do was take 20 minutes to move the overhead diffusion so he was in better light. And so we got one or two takes on Clark and he's emotional and covered in sweat. And Joss wanted to stop for lunch to give us all a break, but Clark wanted to keep going.

"And I so I walked up to him and said, 'Joss, screw it -- let's just push on. Everyone's going to be fine and we'll eat a little late.' But he said, 'What about the light? Doesn't it look horrible?' 'Fuck the light -- look at Clark, he's in the zone. I think that was the best answer he could've heard and Clark was relieved and we powered through."

The after party scene with the sun rising out of the windows was full of hard shadows that actually works better in black-and-white, according to the cinematographer. But while shooting it, he thought it was going to ruin his career because it looked cheap or raw in color. But then he was relieved when checking it out on the monitor. "There's something about black-and-white that loves the crisp, hard shadows," he explains."It really captured the early morning vibe."

One of Whedon's slight alterations was changing Conrade's gender from male to female by casting Riki Lindhome, which added a new sexual dynamic in bed with the villainous Don John (Sean Maher). But even though the dark scene lacks back light separation on the walls, it works in a naturalistic way, just as "Breathless" did with the soft light wrapping around Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in the bedroom. "It was just this cool, gentle mood, as they fool around while hatching the plot."

There's talk of Whedon wanting to take on "Hamlet" at some point. Maybe the break between production and post on "The Avengers 2" will provide another Shakespeare house party with the same troupe. Hunter says he'll march into battle anytime with Whedon.

Our TOH! review of "Much Ado About Nothing" is here.

This article is related to: Much Ado About Nothing , Joss Whedon, Immersed In Movies, Features

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.