From the moment the idea was conceived, I wanted a visual language that could contrast the very plain setting of the story. I wanted to give a voice to every detail of this pool hall. The pool table had to become an expression of the character’s internal conflicts. The balls had to portray a violent fight (fast shots and unconventional framing) as well as a love dance (shots with precise and choreographed camera movements).
I wanted to make the game almost like an action movie where the balls were actually fighting against each other. I really wanted to be expressive with the pool table, rather than everything around it. When you play pool it's really like you're having an actual fight. It's all about strategies. It's like playing chess: if you hit the ball here, you need to place the ball in an uncomfortable position to the opponent so that he cannot strike anything. It's all a game of strategy and there's a lot of tension to it. Every time when we were shooting I was thinking: what if I was the ball? From the first moment I thought of that, I talked to Brandon Lattman, my cinematographer, and said that we also need to make the story about the balls and what's happening on the table. Besides The Color of Money (1986) I think no other pool movie has gotten that close to the balls, so I really wanted to push it.
The film, "8", is made of 100 different shots. About 90 of them ended up in the final cut. Brandon Lattman had a really important role in this film. We have worked together in the past many times, but in this one Brandon really tried to pull off the best out of each of those 100 complex shots. The camera was often on a dolly, jib and steadicam. The work of the cinematographer Vittorio Storaro for Bertolucci’s films has been one of the main references for the camera movements. Another big reference were the epic westerns close ups by Sergio Leone.
We used handheld for the entire final match of pool. The imperfect shakiness of the movements keeps the audience at the edge of their seat as they perceive the last match as something unplanned. This contrast of highly designed and imperfectly filmed shots manages to trick the audience to think they are struggling to catch up with a game that is running on a faster lane than the one they are used to drive on.
Lighting the pool hall was relatively simple. We had Jokers 800 and 400 to bring up the general ambience while we used the table lampshades as the main lighting source for the faces (sometimes we used the Kino Flo to enhance the table lights).
One lighting gig that was really fun to do was to use the fans to cast shadows on the pool table. Originally we didn’t plan to use the fans, but during the shoot we included them in so many shots that they turned into another motif of tension.
Apart from the fan gigs, the lighting plan was pretty simple. Since we had so many shots to execute we knew we had to keep it plain. Plus, me and Brandon always give priority to frames rather than lighting. We do believe that sometimes you don’t need to overcomplicate your lighting setups. Sometimes you really need just few lights enhancing what you’re looking at. That’s it. Use natural light as your best friend. Sometimes, shadows on faces bring up way more nuances than a perfectly lit face do and Brandon understands this really well.