Oscars: Cinematographers Explain How They Got Their Shots
Art and Experience: Jarin Blaschke — “The Lighthouse”
The startling black-and-white cinematography of “The Lighthouse” struck a chord with the Academy, resulting in Blaschke’s first nom after 20 years of work in the independent film scene. Having previously collaborated with director Robert Eggers on their acclaimed horror film “The Witch,” the duo went to new lengths in psychological terror with “The Lighthouse,” with Blaschke relying on off-kilter angles to induce viewer anxiety.
“Fritz Lang and Group f/64 [a photography collective founded by Ansel Adams] are my most obvious references,” he says. “The lighting is stark, but that’s my natural tendency — to simplify and purify ideas rather than evoke a type of film, at least consciously. It’s been so many years digesting and then executing this film that I’ve forgotten a lot of references. My brain soaked them up.”
Shot in ultra-boxy 1.19:1 aspect ratio, which ratchets up the level of visual claustrophobia for the audience by creating an almost-perfect square for the image, Blaschke opted for the monochromatic presentation, utilizing flashes of lightning as primary lighting sources.
“Consistent with my desire to eliminate the superfluous, I find shooting black-and-white very rewarding. I haven’t shot enough black and white movies to decide that I favor it universally, but I could certainly do it a few more times,” says Blaschke.
The American Society of Cinematographers also took notice, giving Blaschke a Spotlight Award nomination.
Roger Deakins —“1917”
Crafting a war film in what appears to be one continuous shot might have seemed daunting for some, but for Deakins, who finally received his first Oscar for 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049” after 13 previous nominations, it was just another day on the battlefield of moviemaking.
“We had a much longer pre-production process with an extensive rehearsal schedule where we fully worked out all of the logistics before it came time for shooting,” he says.
Reteaming with director Sam Mendes after previously collaborating on “Jarhead,” “Revolutionary Road” and “Skyfall,” Deakins brought his signature sense of visual clarity to the World War I story of two British soldiers tasked with crossing the front lines in order to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 lives.
“It was Sam’s idea to attempt the seamless shot approach, and at first I wondered if the style was appropriate. But I quickly realized how the form would complement the narrative,” he says.
Deakins, whose partial list of Oscar-nommed credits include “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Kundun,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Fargo,” is certainly no stranger to year-end kudos.
For his groundbreaking work on “1917,” Deakins has snagged the cinematography award from the Online Film Critics Society and nominations from the ASC and BAFTA.
“The end result came out pretty close to how we imagined it. We got very lucky with all of the elements.”
Rodrigo Prieto — “The Irishman”
Those who were looking for flashy visuals, whiplash camera moves and explosive widescreen lensing from a Martin Scorsese gangster epic had their expectations upended by Prieto’s austere, measured and patient aesthetic approach in “The Irishman,” which serves as the cinematographer’s third motion picture with Scorsese, after shooting the raucous black comedy “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and then landing an Oscar nomination for his painterly work on religious epic “Silence.” Prieto was also Oscar-nominated in 2006 for his highly praised work on “Brokeback Mountain” and is a four-time ASC nominee, with the group most recently calling attention to his efforts on “The Irishman.”
Because “The Irishman” centers on themes of tragedy, regret and grief, Prieto needed to ground the film in a somber atmosphere and tone. “Scorsese is a master of camera language, and from the very beginning, he told me he wanted an almost home-movie approach to the entire film, as the narrative was primarily built upon a series of memories,” says Prieto.
He notes that the ambitious project was shot on a 50/50 split between digital and 35mm film in order to accommodate for its extensive CGI/de-aging process.
“The entire film was inspired by the look of still photography from the past, and we used a Kodachrome color palette for the scenes in the ’50s, and went with an Ektachrome look for the stuff in the ’60s,” Prieto says. “I also used the ENR printing process to create an image with less color saturation and higher amounts of contrast and grain.”
Robert Richardson — “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Three-time Oscar winner Richardson (“JFK,” “The Aviator,” “Hugo”) delivered one of his most visually laid-back films in years with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which served as his sixth team-up with filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Re-creating the cultural atmosphere and visual ambiance of the late ’60s and early ’70s in Los Angeles required a loose yet dynamic shooting style. The way that Richardson captured light and texture is a reminder of how velvety and rich things appear when shot on 35mm film stock. Richardson says he wanted to visually convey “a period of time that could be captured without resorting to tricks and that felt both contemporary and had a history sewn into its fabric.”
It’s clear while watching “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” that there’s a strong kinship between director and cinematographer, with Richardson reserving high praise for Tarantino’s cinematic instincts.
“His scripts are akin to reading a novel. They are dense and highly inspirational. The translation is often written into the script. Shots or an overall feel is within the description of many of his scenes. I also deeply respect Quentin’s passion for film. It is his life. Film is also my life.”
Also nominated for “Hollywood” by the ASC for achievement in cinematography, Richardson has taken home top lensing honors from the Boston Online Film Critics Assn., the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and was nominated by over a dozen more organizations for his work on the movie.
Lawrence Sher — “Joker”
Celebrating his first Oscar nomination for his striking and gritty work on the mega-blockbuster “Joker,” Sher says his love for the Academy Awards had been instilled in him from an early age.
“This has always been my Super Bowl, and over the years I’ve made it a point to throw a party with friends and family and have a great time watching the show,” Sher says. “It’ll be a true honor to attend this year.”
The film marks Sher’s fifth collaboration with writer-director Todd Phillips, with the two of them forging a distinct aesthetic bond that has evolved from project to project.
“We really wanted to take a big swing with ‘Joker,’ and we always said from the beginning that the project needed to be unique and uncompromising. Warner Bros. really gave us the creative latitude to do something special.”
Sher will forever be associated with one of the key barrier-busting genre entries in terms of overall Academy acceptance, as the dark, pseudo-superhero film received 11 Oscar nominations in total, further cementing its place in pop-culture history after a billion dollars in worldwide box office.
“People have been chipping away at the genre and trying to elevate it, with films like ‘Logan’ and ‘The Dark Knight,’ so it’s exciting to follow in those footsteps,” says Sher.
He has also been cited with first-time nominations from the ASC and BAFTA. He recently took home the Golden Frog, the top prize at the Camerimage festival in Poland.