Camerimage: John Turturro Talks 'Exodus,' 'Fading Gigolo' and Why He Loves Film

John Turturro
Nielson Barnard/Getty Images

The actor will receive honors at this year's Karlovy Vary Interntional Film Festival.

En route to Bydgoszcz, Poland, to be honored at the Camerimage International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography, writer-director-actor John Turturro told The Hollywood Reporter that his recent experience on the set of Ridley Scott's biblical 3D tentpole Exodus was “eye-opening.”

“I've never seen so many cameras or a more efficient orchestration,” said Turturro, who spent two weeks playing Ramses on location in Almería, Spain, where Fox's Moses epic is in production.

“[Scott] likes to shoot both directions at once, so that in a scene all the actors are being recorded in a single take,” he said. “That's a pretty unusual approach, but it struck me as very economical because he is working with a high budget but maintaining the pace of a far lower budget movie by moving quickly.

“He's a great visual stylist and supremely organized. He's shooting with 3D, there are lots of visual effects -- of the Red Sea parting, for example -- and it's a costume pic, but he is involved with every detail.”

EXCLUSIVE: Sigourney Weaver to Reteam With Ridley Scott in 'Exodus'

Turturro said he learns from all the directors he works with, and it's quite a list. His first (uncredited) role was for Martin Scorsese on Raging Bull, and he's appeared in the films of Spike Lee, Robert Redford, Joel and Ethan Coen, Robert De Niro and Woody Allen.

The latter appears alongside Turturro in Fading Gigolo, for which Turturro will receive the Camerimage Special Award for an Actor-Director at the 21st Camerimage festival on Tuesday in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

It's Turturro's fifth outing as director, following Mac, Illuminata, Passione and Romance & Cigarettes and his fourth film shot on 35mm.

“I made tests with [cinematographer] Marco [Pontecorvo], the production designer and costume designer and because most of the actors in the film were over 40 years old we thought it would look easier on the skin, and more flattering,” the director said.

Fading Gigolo, in which a mild-mannered bookseller (Allen) earns extra money by pimping out his best friend (Turturro), also features Sofia Vergara, Sharon Stone and Vanessa Paradis.

“I love film, but many cinematographers I know are now working in digital,” Turturro said. “Roger Deakins has used the Arri Alexa, and if an artist like Roger is interested in digital, then that interests me too. But even digital on a young person's skin can be a little unforgiving. Film is a more liquid form and the clarity is a little softer.

EXCLUSIVE: Joel Edgerton to Play Ramses in Ridley Scott's 'Exodus'

“Since I was making a tender, romantic movie about the passage of time, I thought it was more appropriate to use film. I even shot the credits on 8mm because I wanted a certain look, even though there are only two places in the U.S. able to process it.”

Having written or co-written his directorial projects, Turturro added that he is keen to supervise the editing and postproduction. “I've worked with lots of directors who see less need to oversee the entire edit process, and others, like Joel and Ethan [Coen], who work it like a mom-and-pop operation,” he said. “With directing, you have a whole army trying to capture stuff and if you don't get it right, then no matter how good the script or your actors, then you have no material. Scriptwriting itself is a different challenge, but you are under far less pressure. When you come to the edit, then provided you have good material, that's where you can really be the most creative, since at that point you are deciding exactly what to show. Sometimes you have most control in the edit.”

He elaborates, “Sometimes an actor realizes their performance in a certain way and you start editing in that direction because that's where the gold is. This film, I think, has depth but it's very gentle, so any change in the look or in a cut, would be felt throughout. It can be harder to edit a film when your story is a delicate one.”

With the exception of his documentary Passione, the rest of Turturro's movies were finished at Technicolor PostWorks in New York. For Fading Gigolo he worked closely with colorist Tim Stipan.

“Before we got together, I knew the whole color palette I wanted,” he said. “We had photographs and paintings and other films as reference points. I'd been involved supervising passes at film labs before, but what was new to me this time was the digital color correction process and I watched Tim every step of the way.”

Turturro revealed he has already written his next project, which he also proposes to direct, with a premise “based on an older movie.… We're in the budgeting stage. It will be exciting if I'm able to do it the way I want to.”

Camerimage runs through Nov. 23.