Oscars: The Surprising Connection Between Emotional Drama 'Lion' and Space Epic 'Rogue One'

Size-wise, the two films couldn't be more different, but cinematographer Greig Fraser discovered the same lessons applied to both.
Courtesy of Disney; Courtesy of Long Way Home Productions; iStock

Talk about multitasking: Even as cinematographer Greig Fraser was filming the modestly budgeted, recently released Lion — which The Weinstein Co. acquired for $12 million — in Australia and India, he was juggling preproduction on the massive Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which bows Dec. 16. “One of the things I love [about] my job is that I can ‘shoot on a foreign planet,’ having just shot in India,” says the director of photography, who in November received the coveted Golden Frog award at Poland’s Camerimage Film Festival for his work on Lion.

“I did a lot of prep for Rogue One while I was working on Lion , so I could take the skills I learned in India and apply them to Rogue and then take the skills I learned on Rogue and apply it to Lion.” Lion, starring Dev Patel, tells the true story of Saroo Brierley, born in India and adopted at age 5 by an Australian family, who goes in search of his birth mother.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in India. When I was a young cinematographer, I was completely enthralled by the color, the movement, the sounds,” says Fraser. “But photographically, it was very hard to capture it; photographs rarely did it justice. So to go back and shoot a movie there that tries to capture those sounds and smells was amazing.” For one sequence, in which the 5-year-old Saroo, played by Sunny Pawar, becomes lost, Fraser employed the shrewd use of scale, something that would come into play on Rogue One.

He explains, “You can do it for little Saroo, who is 3 feet tall in a very big world, or you can do it for a Star Destroyer outside of the Death Star. We tried to do that with little Saroo at the train station, on the bridge — we tried to dwarf him among this sea of things that were so much bigger than him....You get where he’s at in the world.” He adds: “The idea was we went on a journey from a visual perspective — from the joy of India to the horror of what can happen there, from the joy of Australia to the horror of not knowing who you are.”

This story first appeared in the Dec. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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