This tale begins and ends with a fellow named Bob Colesberry, who taught me as much as he could about filmmaking in the three or four years I was privileged to work with him. To those who knew Bob, it will provoke warm memories to say that he was not a language guy; he understood image, and story, and the delicate way in which those elements should meet.
Bob spent a too-short lifetime on film sets, working beside real filmmakers – Scorsese, Bertolucci, Pakula, Levinson, Ang Lee – helping to shepherd the ideas of many great directors and eschewing the limelight altogether for the chance. But, hey, if you don’t believe me about how substantial his resume was, go to imdb right now and trace the arc of his career. That he ended up tethered to some ex-police reporter in Baltimore was pure forbearance on his part; for my part, I can just say I got very lucky.
It is no exaggeration that Bob had to explain “crossing the line” to me a dozen times, often twice in the same day, before my brain could grasp a concept that first-year film students everywhere take for granted. If you go to the fourth episode of the first season of The Wire, and watch the camerawork on that long scene with Freamon and McNulty in the bar, you’ll be a bystander to the moment when the linear word-brain that I drag to set every day was finally allowed a few rays of cinematic light, courtesy of a patient mentor.
“See what happens when we cross over and everything flips?” he explained for the thirteenth time. “If you see the move happen, you aren’t disoriented, but if we were to cut that moment and then suddenly be on the other side…”
He paused, looked at me. Nothing. Dead crickets.
“So…the dialogue that they’re saying when we cross the line and reverse on them – those words –we can’t cut those. You good with that?”
“Yeah, I get it now.”
“Right. Then we’re good.”
Huh. The next day, I sauntered up to Bob at the video monitors and, in my best deadpan, asked him yet again to explain crossing the line. He looked on me sadly as a terminal case, until I started laughing. No, I had finally learned something about the camera and the credit was his. I just couldn’t resist pulling the man’s coat one more time.