Tom Stern’s Role in “Invictus”

invictus

Acting and most other roles in the collaborative art of filmmaking are at least as old as the ancient Greek theater. Cinematograpy is an exception. The word traces its roots to the dawn of the industry during the 1890s when the Lumiere brothers in France invented a combination motion picture camera/ projector called a Cinemagraphe. The name is a conjunction of two Greek words which mean writing with light and motion.

The first generation of cinematographers invented a visual grammar which augments the performances of the cast in collaboration with the director, their crews and everyone else who works behind the scenes. The journey continues. Invictus marks the eight collaboration for cinematographer Tom Stern, ASC and Clint Eastwood.

Morgan Freeman portrays Nelson Mandela as he uses the 1995 world championship rugby games in South Africa to heal wounds caused by decades of apartheid. The newly elected president envisioned the possibility of drawing the people of his racially divided nation together cheering for their team, the Springboks.

An early scene was filmed in the stadium before the first game is played. The stands were filled with thousands of locals who were invited to witness the filming of simulated games. There are shots of crowds in the stands and the Springboks on the field with their coach played by Matt Damon. The scene cuts to the silhouette of a man walking through a dark tunnel. The fans literally jump out of the seats, cheering wildly when Freeman walks out of the tunnel onto the field wearing a green Springboks jersey.

Nothing in the script told Stern to create a silhouette to conceal the fact that Freeman is wearing a team jersey. His instincts and understanding of Eastwood’s intentions told him the audience should make that discovery the same second as the fans in the stands. It pulls them deeper into the story as though they are participants rather than spectators.

In other scenes, Stern used suble shadows or light on Freeman’s eyes to conceal or reveal Mandell’s inner-most feelings and thoughts. That’s just a verbal snapshot of the role Stern played in bringing a compelling story to cinema screens.

(Editor’s note: The ASC after Stern’s name indicates that he is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, which was founded in 1919 to advance the art and craft.)

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