Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Sven Nykvist on filming The Sacrifice:
And Tarkovskij knew what he wanted. He had a scene he had dreamt about doing for a long long time, for ten years, he claimed. It was to be the final scene of The Sacrifice. The main character's house burns down to the ground before his very eyes, he apparently goes insane and is taken away in an ambulance. The entire scene was supposed to be done in one single take while the camera moves along a hundred meter long rail. We had special-effects people brought in from England as there was a requirement in place that the house burn down in eight minutes and ten seconds sharp. Otherwise the film cartridge would run out.

For an entire week this scene was meticulously rehearsed. We had decided to not shoot the scene under sunlit conditions, and so we were forced to get up at two o'clock in the morning, do a few test runs, and then to commence shooting the scene at a carefully selected moment just prior to sunrise.

Approximately half-way through the take, my assistant yells out, "Sven - the camera is losing speed! We got twenty..., now we're at sixteen frames per second! What shall we do?"

Just to be on the safe side, in case problems should arise, I had deployed another camera approximately midway along the rail, so I said, "Swap the cameras!"

Within thirty seconds he had changed the camera and we continued filming. Tarkovskij had not noticed that we had changed camera, nor had the majority of the others. They were all watching the fire, and when it was over and the ambulance had made its exit everybody cheered over the fact that everything had turned out so well.

Then I got to tell about what had happened. Tarkovskij almost cried. The film was immediately developed to see if we in spite of everything could use some of the existing material. But, there was no way. Whatever the case, it was definitely not the sequence Tarkovskij had dreamt about for all these years - and it was even supposed to be the climactic sequence of the movie.

We really didn't have the funds to re-build the house and to do a second take. Long discussions ensued, where even Erland and I were involved in our roles as co-producers. The actors were fortunately still under contract for another while. We received some additional funding through our Japanese co-producer, and in the end we all decided to give it another shot. Nothing is impossible, as Ingmar Bergman was fond of saying. It was his gang behind the camera here. The house was re-built!

This time, however, I requested of Andrej that he agree that we build two sets of rails, and that the shoot should, just to be safe, be be shot simultaneously by the two cameras mounted at slightly different elevations. For an entire day we rehearsed with both cameras to ensure that they both moved in identical manner. We shot the scene one morning when everything seemed just right, but at the same moment Andrej was about to yell "Camera!" the sun appeared.

Tarkovskij shouted, "What shall I do?"

I said, "Look, there's nothing you can do,...! The sun is coming out, the house is already on fire - and we're on our second house!"

Fortunately, it turned out just fantastic. As the smoke billowed forth from the house the sun shone right through it and generated some truly great shading on the ground. It was a lucky strike indeed that the sun appeared - entirely to our advantage, and Tarkovskij was exceedingly pleased when he saw the end result.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I said, "Look, there's nothing you can do,...! The sun is coming out, the house is already on fire - and we're on our second house!"

Fortunately, it turned out just fantastic.

How come this never happens to me?

Smut Clyde said...

I know, IFTDGY; I always receive a far less positive reaction.

That first footage, where is it now? Cinemaphiles would pay good money for a Tarkovski blooper reel.

Substance McGravitas said...

I was watching him walk towards that banana peel for 5 minutes. How could he not have seen it?