Soon after Robert Altman released his “art film” hippie Western, McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), Stanley Kubrick called from London with a burning question, “How’d you get that shot where McCabe [Warren Beatty] is lighting the cigar?” The shot—just a blink during the opening credits—is a tone poem: a distant point of flame against a black figure on a rope bridge in a pastel forest.
“Well, we just kind of waited till the end of the day [for the right light],” said Altman, who took the filtered telephoto shot through a pane of saloon glass.
Incredulous that it was done simply by “feel,” the precision-minded Kubrick pressed for specifics. “Yea, but after you shot it, how’d you know it was good?”
“Well, we didn’t.”
"Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs Miller: Reframing the American West"
Robert T. Self
University Press of Kansas, 2007