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“CLOSE UP WITH THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER” Cinematographers Roundtable Recap

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On this episode of CLOSE UP WITH THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, executive editor of features Stephen Galloway and contributing editor Carolyn Giardina lead a roundtable discussion with some of the cinematographers responsible for the year’s most visually striking films.

When Giardina asks the room what the hardest part of a cinematographer’s job is, the room runs with it, steering the discussion toward the art’s unique challenges. Industry veteran and Hateful Eight cinematographer Robert Richardson gets in the first word: “Having a good director… especially in combination with a good production designer. With a great production designer your work is only improved, and it’s that combination, that team, that’s the most vital aspect…. I’ve had it with Quentin [Tarantino], with Oliver [Stone], with Marty [Scorsese].”

Richardson goes on to detail how he originally split with first longtime collaborator Stone over his decision to work on a Tarantino film instead of Stone’s latest. Though Richardson says the two have since reconciled, he explains their failure to resume working together thusly: “He and I would have friction. He’s like a bad brother…. He can be brutal. I nearly died on a number of occasions with him as a director.”

Steve Jobs director of photography Alwin Kuchler suggests there may be value in on-set conflict: “We all truly have to understand what the director tries to achieve and how he’s trying to achieve it, but I think we’d all agree that it’s not always the case [the director is] right in every aspect…. The job is to support completely the vision, but also be the devil’s advocate. There should be some friction, I think, with all good creativity.”

Mandy Walker, the Australian master whose work prior to her latest Truth includes down-under indie standouts like Lantana and Baz Luhrmann’s epic Australia, adds of the job’s requirements, ”You have to be a general…. You’re not just an artist.”

Walker describes an unusual challenge on a recent project with a limited budget: “The numbers kept coming back and it was too expensive… [the director] let go of the script supervisor position.”

Galloway asks how the production got on without the standard crew member tasked with crucial business like ensuring continuity between takes: “We all just had to deal with it. The editor was on board and the camera department took notes and that was the sacrifice that [the director] made.”

Danny Cohen thrives on limitations, describing the “perverse” decision to construct an actual shed on the soundstage in which he shot this year’s Room instead of a set with false removable walls and the film’s resulting uniquely cramped aesthetic.  ”I think you want to be working with directors who are always going to push you. Because it’s the sort of thing where you could tread water quite happily…. I think being in an uncomfortable place, by a director saying, ‘What I’m after is this,’ and constantly pushing the boat out. I think that’s where you end up producing stuff that you even surprise yourself you’re capable of.”

Linus Sandgren, who has worked with David O. Russell on the director’s last two films including this year’s Joy, says, “I think the key to everything is to have such a relationship with the actors…. I find normally on a set you’re very much like a family.” Sandgren also complains of the vanishing availability of traditional filmstock, explaining, “It’s a huge limitation to not have the option to choose medium,” and good-naturedly gripes that “no one has any idea what we do.”

Masanobu Takayanagi’s greatest challenge is getting his hands on a project that captures his interest, despite serving as director of photography on both Black Mass and Spotlight this year. “To me the toughest part is to meet the material. I wish every script I received [had] a good story, something that I can commit to, but it’s not like that, unfortunately.”

Click here to watch the full episode of CLOSE UP WITH THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Cinematographers Roundtable.