Behind the Lens: 'Tracks' Cinematographer Describes Shooting in a Dust Storm


Tracks is the unbelievable true story of Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) who trekked from Alice Springs in Central Australia through almost 2,000 miles of sprawling desert to the Indian Ocean, accompanied only by her loyal dog and four unpredictable camels.

When director of photography Mandy Walker first looked at the script for John Curran’s Tracks, the story of a woman who sets off on a 1,700 mile trek across Australia, “it was evident that the photography was an important part of showing her emotional and physical journey.”

Tracks, based on the memoir of Robyn Davidson and starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver, was shot on location in Southern Australia, largely relying on natural light. The camera moves are deliberate. It’s sometimes frantic, or more elegant and smooth during quieter moments in the journey. In other shots, Walker used a close focus, low depth of field lens “to separate [Wasikowska] from the background so the audience would concentrate on her emotional state.”

Curran preferred to shoot 35mm anamorphic “mainly because we were going to be in harsh conditions in the desert and he wanted to capture the dynamic range and color rendition,” said Aussie cinematographer Walker, who previously worked on Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.

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Walker said she also photographed Tracks to reflect the ‘70s setting, inspired by movies from that decade as well as the paintings of Australia’s Sidney Nolan.

Tracks recently premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where U.S. distribution rights were picked up by The Weinstein Co., before heading to scheduled appearances at Telluride and then Toronto.

Dust storms presented the biggest challenge of the shoot. “Dust was blowing into the lens and into Mia’s face. She was performing with dust in her eyes and mouth,” Walker said. “It was the toughest to shoot, but emotionally it came out really well because you see the hardship of her journey.”

The cinematographer complimented the professionalism of Wasikowska. “She was on set almost every day and she was amazing. … We were [traveling] to remote areas and didn’t have too much time; she was a team player.”

The challenges of the dust storm didn’t cease when the camera stopped rolling. Walker related that there were 20 or so vehicles, including stake bed trucks for carrying cranes, camera dollies and track. “We had to drive home that night -- an hour and a half drive that took twice as long. We couldn’t see more than about 10 feet in front of us, and cars were getting flat tires.”

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Twitter: @CGinLA