How 'Hateful Eight,' 'Mad Max' Cinematographers Got Their Oscar-Contending Looks
John Seale, who worked on 'Fury Road,' says of creating the movie's aesthetic with director George Miller, "[His] initial instinct was to not go with the standard look of a postapocalyptic film, the life-of-the-planet-is-coming-to-an-end-and-it's-miserable look."
This story first appeared in a special awards season issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Will history be made in the cinematography category at the Oscars? A win for The Revenant's director of photography, Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki — who has prevailed for Gravity and Birdman the past two years — would make him the first to win an unprecedented three consecutive Oscar cinematography statuettes.
Revenant, filmed on location in remote regions of Canada, re-created the fierce 19th century world of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio). About 40 percent of the photography used the ARRI Alexa 65, a new 6K large-format digital cinematography camera.
A third Oscar also would put Lubezki, 51, in a tie with other greats who have won three, including Freddie Young (Lawrence of Arabia), Conrad Hall (American Beauty), Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now) and Robert Richardson (JFK), 60, who also could make history with a fourth award for his work on Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, shot in 65mm with Ultra Panavision lenses that had not been used since the 1960s.
According to Richardson, this gave him "stunning blacks and a soft, luscious sensibility that is mostly evident in the skin tones of the actors." He notes that in addition to what the resolution and wide format brought to his panoramas — shot on location in Telluride, Colo. — he was "able to include as many characters as possible within the shot without having to single them out. Having them all there, especially as the tension rises, makes it more of a thriller." Hateful Eight also will be part of a two-week "roadshow," offered in select theaters with "glorious 70mm" projection.
Others to watch include the great Roger Deakins, 66, who has earned a dozen Oscar nominations for such seminal works as The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn't There, No Country for Old Men and Skyfall. This year, he is in contention with the drug-cartel thriller Sicario, his second outing with director Denis Villeneuve (their first collaboration, 2013's Prisoners, earned Deakins one of his Oscar noms).
Deakins was integral to Villeneuve’s plans for Sicario
Villeneuve says he wanted to bring authenticity and tension to Sicario: "I was inspired by reality and the film Seven Samurai, where the tension is very strong. That's why I thought I must convince Roger to do the movie — because Roger has that strength to create strong images that you can stretch in the editing room and they don't lose their power."
John Seale, 73, who won a Oscar for 1996's The English Patient, was eyeing retirement when his director friend George Miller asked him to shoot Mad Max: Fury Road. "George's initial instinct was to not go with the standard look of a postapocalyptic film, the life-of-the-planet-is-coming-to-an-end-and-it's-miserable look. He went for a scorched look, a dried-out look but with color," says Seale, who used ARRI Alexa cameras. The cinematographer adds that he worked to keep "all the cameras on the move: Steadicam, handheld, bungee work on the rigs."
Seale (left, with Miller) brought the heat to the desert odyssey Mad Max: Fury Road.
Ed Lachman, 67, already has been honored for his work on Todd Haynes' Carol. He shot with 16mm film and used midcentury references for the 1950s-set drama about two women who fall in love, giving the movie a soft, muted look to "mirror their emotional feelings."
Lachman also "shot through windows, elements of weather, through reflections, to diffuse the image and obstruct the frame. … [Each] character is seeing through the obstacles, expressing something about their emotion that's being hidden but also visible."