If you’ve never read Steven Spielberg’s 1981 American Cinematographer essay on the making of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” you need to remedy that posthaste. It is a fascinatingly detailed recounting of every creative and logistical decision he made to ensure that he wouldn’t go soaring over budget for once. This meant storyboarding more than he was used to, and using a second-unit director for the first time in his career (primarily to bring the film’s bruisingly brilliant truck chase in on schedule). It is an insanely lengthy piece for a filmmaker of his stature and talent to write for a specialty publication, so savor every word.
One of many valuable insights in the essay is a paragraph praising cinematographer Douglas Slocombe’s use of the sun. He marvels how the chameleon-like Slocombe’s love of the orb contrasts with a stylist like Vilmos Zsigmond’s hatred of it (while shooting “The Sugarland Express,” Zsigmond insisted on waiting for clouds to block it out).
But in terms of preparation, Spielberg’s most revealing observation is how, while shooting “Jaws” on open water, he never gave a second thought to the position of the sun. As he wrote in American Cinematographer:
“On ‘Jaws,’ the sun was the most taken-for-granted issue. It was always out and we didn’t care whether it was front, side or back, as long as the shark worked. So, really, for the first time, I became aware of how the sun could be used as a tool of great artistry and I think Slocombe used the sun on ‘Raiders’ the way Vittorio Storaro [ASC, AIC] uses his amber smokey units inside to such great effect.”