Oscars 2013: Cinematographers on What It's Like to Work With Tarantino, Spielberg

Issue 5 FEA Awards Robert Richardson - H 2013
Andrew Cooper, SMSP

Issue 5 FEA Awards Robert Richardson - H 2013

This year's director of photography nominees -- who also include the experts behind "Skyfall" "Anna Karenina" and "Life of Pi" -- open up about their relationships with Hollywood's top helmers.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Roger Deakins, Skyfall

"When Sam Mendes first approached me, he rang me up and said: 'Don't put the phone down. I'm going to do the Bond movie, and I want to see if you are interested -- but hear me out,' " recalls Deakins of the start of his third collaboration with the director, with whom he teamed on Jarhead and Revolutionary Road.

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"I was a bit nervous about it," admits the 10-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer. "We went for a long walk on the beach in Santa Monica, and he told me what his approach would be, that he would treat it just like any other film. OK, it was a Bond movie and a franchise, and it had to have certain elements. But he wanted to make a film that was character-driven, and he wanted to work the way we worked before, approaching it the way we approached our two previous movies. We become very in sync with the material before we started shooting, which I think is a great advantage."

Janusz Kaminski, Lincoln

After two decades working with Steven Spielberg, Kaminski is very much on the same wavelength as the director. "We have an interest in telling the same story. He tells the story through performance and directing the actors; I tell the story through nonverbal language, which is lighting and camera moves," notes Kaminski. "There isn't confusion in terms of what kind of movie we are making."

Of his approach to shooting the historical Lincoln, Kaminski -- who won Oscars for Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List -- says, "I was trying to create a sense of reality for that particular period but not go too far into stylization of the period." Even though the movie deals with historical events in the 1860s, he points out, "The movie's issues are very relevant to our current political situation, and so I didn't want people to see this as a period movie instead of as a movie of relevance."

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Seamus McGarvey, Anna Karenina

"There was a dialogue between styles that was supposed to evoke a particular place or sensitivity," says McGarvey of his approach to filming Anna Karenina, his third feature with director Joe Wright. "The [scenes in the] Karenin household used very symmetrical composition and lack of camera movement to show its stolidity."

To suggest the rush of emotion when Keira Knightley's Anna and Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Vronsky fall in love, a swirling Steadicam shot was used. "Joe loves the Steadicam; he loves exploring space," notes McGarvey. The Steadicam operator on the film was Peter Robertson, who also handled the famously extended Dunkirk shot Wright and McGarvey used in Atonement. To get the choreography right on such shots, "Everyone has to be on the top of their game," says McGarvey. "It creates a focus and discipline which I like, and I think Joe likes, too."

Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi

Miranda used 3D to shoot Tron: Legacy and put that experience to use on Life of Pi, his first film with Ang Lee -- and also Lee's first film in 3D. "He talked about how a scene is supposed to feel emotionally rather than the technicalities of it," says Miranda of the director.

Rather than weigh Lee down with technical jargon, Miranda created a scale from zero to five, representing the visual "sensations" they would achieve through the movie's use of depth. "Zero was 2D; one was very light 3D; five would be deep 3D," explains the cinematographer. "I don't think we ever hit a five or a four. We used mostly the lower numbers." Depth was incorporated, for instance, in the scene during which Suraj Sharma's Pi, beneath the surface of the ocean, watches the ship sinking in the distance. "These were two separate worlds -- his world [on the ship] is lost, and his world now that is on our side."

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Robert Richardson, Django Unchained

Richardson, who has shot four movies for Quentin Tarantino, says the director "is mad, he is passionate and a brilliant, brilliant mind. He is contagious; by that I mean his passion and love for making movies takes his entire production to another level."

Their mutual goal with their latest film, says Richardson, was "creating opera amid the brutality of a spaghetti Western." But Tarantino and Richardson approached that goal from different directions. "He comes from a perspective of performance. I come from a perspective of getting the best image for him," says Richardson. "The most important thing for Quentin and the most important thing for me is to make the best film possible. … I'm fully there to support it." He adds: "We have gotten closer, and we understand each other's characters. You don't have to question the goals. You have the same goal."