'Carol,' 'Erin Brockovich' Cinematographer on How He Turns Images Into Ideas

For Oscar-nominated veteran Edward Lachman, who will be honored at the ASC Awards, images are "more than just purely aesthetic."
Courtesy of Wilson Webb/The Weinstein Company
Lachman with Cate Blanchett (left) and Rooney Mara on 'Carol.'

Edward Lachman, this year's recipient of the American Society of Cinematographers' Lifetime Achievement Award, doesn't view his role as a cinematographer as just being a passive recorder. "The camera is a participant with the actor, not only creating the mood but also responding," he says. "We should be some kind of mirror for the actors."

The cinematography legend has put his own looking glass up to actors in more than 90 films, including Steven Soderbergh's Erin Brockovich and Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion. But it's for two of his movies with Todd Haynes — Carol and Far From Heaven — that he has earned Oscar nominations. "Todd doesn't reference images just as an imitation, he references them as metaphors for the story," Lachman says of the director, who also received an Oscar nom for Heaven (for his screenplay). "He researches his images and ideas so thoroughly. We both started in art school and like to think about images as ideas rather than just purely aesthetic."

Lachman, 68, has been outspoken in arguing that film should be preserved as an option for filmmakers. "We should have the ability to create and manipulate our images in different ways," he says. "Film inherently has a look, a quality that's different than digital. I don't want to limit the choice of tools to tell our stories." In fact, when the New York Film Lab (a partnership between Deluxe and Technicolor that was created to respond to film's shrinking footprint) closed in 2014, Lachman took home and stored the lab equipment in the hopes that it would be used again. And he's happy that Kodak is about to open a new lab in New York. "That was an outgrowth of frustration that there wasn't one," he says. "In fact, the last film I did with Todd, Wonderstruck [opening this year], was shot on film, and we had to ship it to FotoKem in Los Angeles for processing. I have helped Kodak, giving them encouragement. They want some pieces of the lab equipment, possibly for use in New York — if not, maybe it will go to another lab."

Lachman also has tried his hand at documentaries. As a cinematographer, he shot Lightning Over Water and La Soufriere, and he's helmed Cell Stories and Report From Hollywood. Asked what real-world stories need to be told now, he offers, "Our political life seems like an interesting subject: how it affects the individual other than the elite or someone in the Rust Belt, to really tell personal stories and how the political makeup is going to affect our lives."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.