Six Of The World’s Best Cinematographers Share Their Craft Secrets

Six Of The World’s Best Cinematographers Share Their Craft Secrets

Meet The People Behind The Lens

♦ Over on The Hollywood Reporter, the cinematographers Janusz Kaminski, who just shot The Post, Blade Runner 2049‘s Roger Deakins; Dunkirk‘s Hoyte Van Hoytema,; Mudbound‘s Rachel Morrison; The Shape of Water‘s Dan Laustsen and Suburbicon and Roman J. Israel, Esq.‘s Robert Elswit just took part in a huge roundtable to talk about everything from digital vs film, their career highlights and more. So here’s 15 things we discovered from these behind the camera geniuses…

    1. Sometimes a happy accident works out really well in a movie as Kaminski reveals: “Getting an image out of focus into the movie. That’s a happy accident. In AI, when we introduced a little kid in the elevator, it’s looking through a long lens and was out of focus. And Steven [Spielberg] said: “This is great. Just let him come all the way out of focus, you know, into the shot.”
    2. Van Hoytema mentions a shot that looked like a disaster but worked out in the end: “We had some real accidents on the set of Dunkirk. We had one camera mounted on the wing of a mock-up Spitfire that we were going to catapult out in the sea. And the divers were all going to retrieve that camera. But the plane sank to the bottom, in a matter of seconds, and the film couldn’t be retrieved for several hours. The camera was broken. Everything was soaked. But our focus puller, Bob Hall, and our loader, they came up with a plan, and they took the magazine [the casing in which the film resides] to the darkroom and poured fresh water over it and sealed it and sent it back to America in a container immersed in water. And it’s a shot that actually made it into the film.”
    3. Kaminski explained that he wanted The Post to look as if someone else had shot it: “The idea of deglamorizing the images, I’ve been always interested in that, though the work speaks against what I’m just saying. But I’m interested in the gritty aspect of things. In this movie, I wanted it to look a little bit different than what’s generally expected from me. I didn’t want that classical Hollywood backlight. I want it to look more like I’ve shot something with a limited amount of lights. I wanted to make a movie that feels contemporary, though it’s set in 1971.”
    4. Deakins had a very specific brief with his approach to Blade Runner 2049, one that marked it out as very different from its progenitor:”Obviously it’s got parallels because it’s the same world 30 years on, but it’s very much Denis’ own take on the script. It’s a film that could stand by itself. And I’m not [Blade Runner cinematographer] Jordan Cronenweth. I could not light like Jordan. I didn’t even want to go there. I light in a more naturalistic and simpler way. And his style was so much more classic. I couldn’t do that. So you know, I didn’t even really want to go there, frankly.”
    5. Van Hoytema enjoyed his time working with Nolan on Dunkirk, he recalls: “We had a tremendous amount of fun, yes, like two little boys. We wanted to know what the G-forces do to your body and how the light changes. And to understand what it is to sit in a small sort of Plexiglas-encased cabin and feel that claustrophobia. And at the same time, feel the magnitude and the space around. There’s a lot of physics and things that really sort of directed how we were going to shoot it because we were very much interested in showing the difficulty of that very thing. Not only the beauty and the gracefulness of it, but the difficulty.”
    6. Morrison explained that the look of Mudbound was informed by her interest in photography: “Dee and I sort of knew each other from the indie circuit. We had both been mutual fans of each other’s work and knew each other a little bit socially. Mudbound was a book originally, and so the script that she sent me was sort of the first pass and then she was going to be doing another pass that was putting a little bit more of herself into it. But from that very first script, it was so relevant on so many levels. It’s sort of my dream period. I came up in photography, and Dust Bowl-era photography is a lot of the reason that I got behind the camera in the first place. So she had me at [the mention of the] 1940s, and then everything else was kind of a bonus. From the first conversation, it felt like this was a good one to do.”
    7. The shoot for Mudbound was fairly intense, Morrison admits:”It was brutal. We had initially set out to shoot it in January and, of course — between financing and casting and all those things — the next thing you know we’re in the South in July and on a plantation with no respite from the heat. The two interiors had no windows. There was no way to air condition them, even if we hypothetically could. “Mud” was in the title. If it wasn’t raining — in the South in the summer, you get one or two thunderstorms a day — we were creating mud. So you’re in the middle of a sunny scene, and two minutes later it’s pouring and then you’re cleaning off all the gear and shuffling through and trying to find some continuity with what you’ve been doing before.”
    8. Lautsen recalls that he had to be a little bit lateral in his approach to shoot del Toro’s The Shape of Water: “It’s a pretty small movie moneywise, but it looks pretty big. Of course, it was challenging because we couldn’t afford all the stuff. We had to fight for all the equipment, so we shot with a very small camera pack. And we had to fight for every crane day. Ninety-five percent of the movie is in the studio, and when we were outside, we were in the rain all the time. We were doing artificial rain — big night setups with a lot of rain. And because we were shooting in the wintertime, we had to heat up the rain because it was so cold. We had a lot of problems because it was so cold and the actors could not stand it. Poor Sally [Hawkins] was standing there with a small jacket on. It was pouring down rain for hours.”
    9. Elswit’s two most recent jobs, Suburbicon and Roman J Israel, were much easier affairs, he informs the roundtable: “I feel terrible because everyone’s had a struggle. Everyone’s in the mud and it’s raining and it’s cold, and I just had a great time. It was like 80 degrees, and we were outdoors. We had these wonderful sets that were air-conditioned. It was the opposite of a struggle. We had all this money. I’m being serious, actually. They were very simple. Both movies were done in L.A.. I got to go home at night. Didn’t have to live in some other country. So, yeah, I was very lucky.”
    10. The argument for shooting on film versus shooting digitally is one that Elswit had to consider on both films: “Well, the film versus digital discussion is one I don’t enjoy having very much. But on the Denzel Washington movie, he wanted to shoot on film. So did the director [Dan Gilroy]. And George wanted to shoot [Suburbicon] digitally. And they do have a distinct look. And I actually hope to talk to somebody here [who can] explain how to do it because my digital work seems a little bit homogenized and a little clinical looking. And I sort of fight against that a little bit. When I shoot film, it sort of automatically happens. But that’s really, I think, the real difference. “
    11. Deakins doesn’t have a problem working digitally, he reveals: “the first film I did digitally was In Time. And we made the decision to shoot that digitally because of the kind of film it was. We wanted it a bit synthetic, but we were only going to use it for part of the film. And then we just thought, “Well, I don’t see any difference.” And I just thought at that point that the time had come to start shooting digitally. I don’t really do anything differently.”
    12. Morrison does feel optimistic that the opportunities for women in Hollywood are improving all the time, behind the camera as well as in front of it: “My hope is that it’s changing and changing fast. There’s a real sort of palpable momentum out in the universe. Not so much politically right now, but at least in the Hollywood universe, where there’s a real push to get more women directing and better roles for women and certainly for cinematographers. There’s still very few of us.”
    13. Elswit does echo this a little bit: “It’s a big change in the past 10 years. I think I have three women electricians right now working on the show I’m on. Two of the loaders and one of the assistants are women. And it isn’t just the traditional roles. It used to be the script person, all the hair and makeup people, were women. It’s all different now.”
    14. Van Hoytema also sees a sea change in terms of women playing more pivotal behind the scenes roles in movies that used to be just men:”I totally agree. We have, in the camera department, a little bit over 50 percent women now, and it feels good.”
    15. The six have worked with some of the finest directors currently working in Hollywood but they were asked who they would have loved to have worked with who they haven’t done so, alive or dead. The answers were very interesting indeed: Deakins:”Andrei Tarkovsky. He was a great director. I love his films.”; Morrison:”Oh, there’s too many for me. Tarkovsky’s one. Kurosawa. Sofia Coppola. Wong Kar-Wai. Emir Kusturica.”;Laustsen: “Bernardo Bertolucci. Really classic moviemaking, telling the stories for the cameras and not afraid of that.”; Elswit:”Truffaut, I think. Or Jean-Pierre Melville. Either of those guys. That era of French film is sublime.”; Kaminski: “I would go with David Lean. Definitely.”; Van Hoytema: “It’s difficult, though, because your agent will ask, ‘Who do you really want to work with?’ And the people that you very often love, that make the most beautiful films, you kind of feel unneeded or unwanted. It’s like, “Can you add to that?” So maybe you should choose to work with the people that you don’t respect to death but just think are good filmmakers.”

To read the whole article, please visit the Hollywood Reporter here

Hollywood Reporter Cinematographer Roundtable


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