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German cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister created what he describes as an “authentic, intimate observation” and gave Cate Blanchett “editorial power” in lensing a crucial moment in Todd Field’s contemporary drama Tár, which stars Blanchett as fictional composer, conductor and EGOT winner Lydia Tár.
The Focus Features film follows the maestro in a downward spiral, and Hoffmeister’s cinematography — which will be in competition at the Nov. 12-19 EnergaCamerimage cinematography festival in Toruń, Poland — employed a visual style that was a lot about restraint. Hoffmeister discussed the film in a new episode of The Hollywood Reporter‘s Behind the Screen podcast series.
“If you want to create a world that feels so real that it’s immersive, the visuality has to be authentic,” says the DP. “Todd would emphasize the idea of observation. For example, in the big concert hall for all the rehearsals, he was adamant that it should feel like a workspace. We didn’t want to romanticize the music, which is your first instinct.”
One pivotal scene was filmed as a long, continuous take as Tár gives a master class at Juilliard. The drama escalates with a tense exchange with a student, who soon walks out of the classroom. “It’s probably one of the scenes that we spoke about most. Todd was adamant from the start that it should be a single shot, but not for the reason of showing off or following somebody.”
Hoffmeister says that as they discussed the scene, they had roughly 35 shots in mind. “The idea was to create a movement of the camera that would follow those 35 setups — you would have wides, you would’ve had more intimacy with her, you would’ve followed her closely, you would’ve had a two-shot at the piano. We would go through all those stages that we felt were the appropriate angles.
“The idea was that with the camera, we would reach those different angles to do these very individual moments of the scene justice, but what would drive it was Cate’s performance. In essence, you give her the editorial power over that sequence.”
Shot on location in a theater in Germany, where most of the movie was made, this scene was a technical challenge. The filmmakers considered several approaches, including the use of a crane, before they built a rig with a stabilized camera head that the grips could carry and pass around.
They did a technical rehearsal and a full day with Blanchett before they began filming the scene. “I still remember, the very first take was absolutely perfect [until the last 15 seconds],” Hoffmeister says. “It’s 10 minutes. You think, ‘Are we actually going to be able to pull it off?’ And just at the very end, we slipped technically. So we had to go again.
“I want to say what a privilege it was to work with Todd and Cate in that particular instance, because they just move on. There’s nobody to blame. We committed to this. We went another 12 times to finally get everything right. And then it worked. And, of course, that was tremendously pleasing.”
Watching the sequence felt like a dance. “Wherever we wanted the camera to go, people had to hand-carry it. People would pass it from the stage down into the auditorium, they would carry it up through the seats,” the DP says. “Then you had the focus puller in socks running after the camera and a boom operator trying not to get filmed … while you have this amazing actress immersing herself in this performance.”
You can listen to the full podcast episode here:
This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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