The late Vincent Van Gogh once stated, “Art is to console those who are broken by life”. We as human beings NEED to create art in order to deal with or express our feelings, circumstances, or opinions. Art allows us to approach and deal with things that nothing else provides us. One could even argue that making films is one of the greatest forms of expression available to us, but unfortunately in today's world, films are slowly becoming less and less personal.
Nowadays, it's incredibly hard to go to the movies and try to find a film that isn't a comic book movie, thriller, horror, or something that is extremely generic. Hollywood and the studios have gotten to a point where everything that they create is a drastically watered down version of a film that comes from a place of truth. They do this in order to appeal to the "generic viewer", afraid to put anything controversial or slightly different in their films because they are afraid it will have an impact on their ticket sales. The great Harvey Weinstein recently stated that: “The studios don’t care about making smart adult films for the public, but rather only care to make them as magnets for awards". He later goes on to say that the studios do not seem to understand that personal films last, due to the fact that they connect with the audience on a deeper level because they actually mean a great deal to the filmmaker and the audience can feel that place of truth and authenticity. Non personal films do not hold up like personal ones do, but are instead the run of the mill stories that everyone sees day in and day out. I mean really, could you have EVER guessed that Captain America and the Avengers would defeat the villains and save the world once again? Wow, I never saw that coming! These types of money grabbing, impersonal films that mean nothing, are forgotten one or two months later. Personal films are passed on from generation to generation. If the studios who are blinded by ticket sales and money refuse to do anything original, independent films must lead the way. That is where we come in.
Robert Richardson, a name that very few will recognize, has been nominated for 9 Academy Awards in 'Best Cinematography', and has taken home the prize on 3 separate occasions. Despite his successes, he is extremely underrated due to names like Emmanuel Lubezki and Roger Deakins taking up the spotlight. Regardless of the fact that he is very under appreciated, Richardson continues to push the limits of film and is constantly innovating. Although you may not realize it, you probably have watched many of the popular films that he has shot, including both Kill Bill's, Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, Hugo, and The Aviator.
One visionary that Richardson has closely collaborated with is Quentin Tarantino, who has used him on every single one of his films from 2003 and onward. Having worked with each other for over a decade now, they are very comfortable with one another. “'Quentin and I have grown closer and closer in terms of collaboration,' observed Richardson. 'There’s a degree of shorthand but Quentin is always extraordinarily specific about what he wants. He specifies exactly what he envisions for each shot. So the shorthand is more about friendship and trust.'"
Tarantino's trust was tested in ways it never had been before on his latest film with Robert Richardson, The Hateful Eight. From the very start, Quentin had his mind set on shooting the entire film in 70mm, a film format which hasn't been used recently because 35mm has emerged as the preferred film format due to it not being extremely wide, but Tarantino was instead looking for that highly stylized look, wanting all the characters to be able to appear on the screen at once. While most people thought that 70mm could only be used for beautiful landscapes in very large open areas, Tarantino and Richardson managed to break that stigma. They believed that although 70mm works well in these wide open spaces, if it is on an enclosed small set, it manages to make everything seem more 'intimate' and personal. After knowing Richardson for so many years, Tarantino put tremendous trust in him to deliver the look that he desired. With all of these famous Director and DP combos, like Richardson and Tarantino, Deakins and the Coen Brothers, along with Lubezki and Innaritu, it really is a great treat to watch the films that they come out with, because after all, iron ends up sharpening iron.
If there is one thing that is reluctant to institute change in today's day and age, it's the Hollywood theater system. For years, they have done nothing different but jack up the prices of tickets as well as food and beverages to make it extremely expensive to attend a movie. It's about time that they had a competitor, one that challenges them in every way, and forces them to cater to the needs of the people.
Screening Room has arrived. Founded by Sean Parker, who worked at Napster as well as Facebook, Screening Room is an on demand service that would literally change the way movies are released as we know it. Their goal? To allow people to stream movies to their household the same day that they release in theaters. Now, such an idea would initially face a great amount of animosity due to it going against what the studios as well what the theater owners have come accustomed to. Surprisingly, many renowned directors are backing the project, while obviously, others are strongly against it due to the fact that it would change the way movies are shown forever. "Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and J.J. Abrams, who are reportedly shareholders, appear to support the idea, while James Cameron and Christopher Nolan have publicly opposed it."
With the introduction of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, and many other services, the television industry has changed for the better, all giving the audience the power, allowing them to watch their shows anywhere at anytime, and for the most part, they have access to many movies as well, but not on release date. Screening Room would change that, as well as the entire dynamic of how people watch movies forever. Sure, it has the possibility of increasing piracy and discouraging people from going to the movies, but it also gives the people the power to do whatever they wish. They have options, and in an increasingly video on demand world, that makes all the difference.
When the Academy Award for 'Best Cinematography' comes to mind, one thinks of the gorgeous images that are captured by the extremely talented Cinematographers who have been nominated, but as of recently, many of them believe that the award should be split into two. Ed Lachman, the Cinematographer for Carol and countless other films, claims that "It's becoming harder and harder to make that distinction between what is original photography and what is postdigital effects and photography". A suggestion to split the famed Oscar category into two separate awards seems far fetched, but in today's age, is it?
A recent film shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant, has received a great deal of praise for it's exceptional Cinematography, also including the fact that 100% of the film was shot in natural lighting. The fact that most people do not know is that most of the film was digitally manipulated through color correction and masking to add or remove shadows. "Those were the kinds of things that we evened out and worked with the DI to find a good baseline of color for the entire scene. We worked with Chivo very closely and got a lot of his feedback to make sure the lighting and plates were matching." This is what frustrates the Cinematographer of The Hateful Eight, Robert Richardson, because he claims a lot of what is done on visual effects heavy films completely alters what was originally captured in camera, and therefore should not be considered for the same awards as a film that was not as reliant on post production.
While this reason is a compelling one for the Academy to offer two different awards based on the process that each film goes through, it would be very difficult to distinguish which film would be put where. For example, while the Cinematography of all of David Fincher's films is almost all done in camera, he goes through a process where he combines several takes of the same scene, thus creating the 'perfect take' as he calls it. Where would a film of his land? While it was all achieved in camera, many of his scenes are manipulated in ways that change the dynamic of each shot, and there are many other films that are the exact same. Lachman also admits, "I don't think there's an easy answer. Every film is so different".
Tasked with the job of being the cinematographer on the last two of Alejandro G. Iñárritu's films, Emmanuel Lubezki had an immense challenge before him. These two films were Birdman and The Revenant, which were shot back to back and were extremely difficult to complete. Due to the immersive nature that Iñárritu likes to employ, most of his films revolve around extremely long takes that allow the audience to feel as if they themselves were in the moment. However, this is easier said than done for Lubezki. For The Revenant, Alejandro wanted to shoot the film in extremely long takes as well as with all natural light, to give a more authentic feel to the film overall. To accomplish the beautiful shots that were achieved, the crew was constantly pressed for time. "We had very few hours of light. When we started, maybe four or 5 hours of usable daylight, and sometimes less than that." Some of the shots took place during "blue hour", the time shortly after the sun sets. This blue hue only lasts about 10-20 minutes at most, so they often had very few chances to get it right.
Another incredibly astonishing scene was the scene where Glass, the main character of the film, gets attacked by a bear. The whole attack was filmed in one continuous shot, so many hours of prep and discussions went into how exactly they were going to pull the scene off. This begs the question, how would you film such an intense scene in just one take? Lubezki and Alejandro had decided that a trained bear wouldn't feel as real or chaotic as they would have liked, so they turned to visual effects. After many rehearsals and the choreography for the fight was decided, Lubezki was much more confident that they could pull it off.
Lubezki also maintains the fact that he and Alejandro do not utilize these continuous long takes to look cool or flashy, but rather as a tool effectively tell the story in the most genuine way possible. He feels that the long takes in Birdman, the first film he worked on with Alejandro, contributed to the story greatly. Although it was an extremely difficult process to work out the blocking of the actors and the camera movements that were needed to make the entire movie feel as if it were a single shot, I would say that neither of them regret the decisions that they had made because both of these films are experiences that are unparalleled in cinema today.
To nearly everyone, 13 is seen as an unlucky number, right? This will be the 13th time Roger Deakins, one of the greatest working cinematographers in the industry, has been nominated for an Academy Award. One would think, he would be a shoe in to win the award with the breadth of experience that he has and how he is able to effectively tell a story, but that is sadly not the case. Roger Deakins has never one an Oscar, yet he is considered one of the 'greats.'
This begs the question, does receiving an Academy Award matter? Some big names in today's industry, like Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton, and Sigourney Weaver are in the same boat as Deakins. They constantly perform at a high level, but fail to have ever been recognized by the Academy. Perhaps one of the biggest snubs of all time is the late Stanley Kubrick, who was considered a master at his craft, but failed to receive an award for something he took a part in. Isn't it ironic that one of the greatest directors to ever live only won an Oscar for 'special effects,' something he didn't take part in? Many people have been written off by the Academy.
With people like Emmanuel Lubezki winning 'Best Cinematography' in the past two years, he may be in for a three year streak with his latest film, The Revenant. While Lubezki has done some amazing work, Deakins also deserves the award for being snubbed so many times in the past. With past films like: "Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Unbroken,True Grit, The Reader, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Kundun, Fargo and Prisoners," Being some of the few iconic films he has shot, there has been no luck on his side. It seems to be that the Academy likes to choose whatever Cinematography looks the best, but that is not necessarily what 'Best Cinematography' actually means. Deakins does not attempt to be as eye-dropping gorgeous as Lubezki, but he tries to shoot and portray a scene in a way that is the most effective to the audience. Great cinematography is something that goes unnoticed in films, because it allows the audience to get invested in the story, thinking about nothing else, but let's hope that Deakins receives the deserved attention he has been working so hard for.
Although most people credit the Director with the responsibility of nearly everything that occurs on a film set, few know that there is a position called a Cinematographer whose job it is to light the scene as well as to choose how to shoot it. Although it might not be the most glamorous or well known position, a Cinematographer is one of the most key people who help to craft a film, and are often closely associated with the Director in terms of the style and look they are visually going for.
Robert Richardson, the Cinematographer for Quentin Tarantino's latest film, The Hateful Eight, claims that having a great Director who has a very specific vision is typically what elevates a Cinematographer's work. Tarantino, for example, had this crazy idea of shooting The Hateful Eight in 70mm, which is something that hasn't been since the 1960's. To pull off the specific look that Tarantino was desperate for, Richardson had to hunt down the Panavision Ultra lenses that were used in very iconic films of the past, because those lenses were the only ones that could capture the scope Quentin desired. "The lenses, they haven't been used for years. I saw them in a back room [at Panavision] and didn't know what they were, and they were magnificent. They were like nothing I've ever seen."
Although many times a Cinematographer is supposed to listen to the Directors opinions and needs, sometimes their ideas need to be challenged for the overall betterment of the film. This exact situation happened to Cinematographer Alwin Kuchler, who was the DP on the film Steve Jobs, which aired in 2015. While shooting a scene for the film The Claim, Kuchler did not agree with a decision that Director Michael Winterbottom was pushing onto him. "There was one scene where apparently I used too much light — a night exterior. And Michael wanted just to use available light. I said, 'Michael, it's not going to work. You're just going to see a sea of little dots.' 'No, no. It's going to be fine.'"
Although these Cinematographers and Directors usually would like to be on the same page, when they do not agree with each other and challenge each other's work, that is when the best films are made. A Director is far from alone when he creates a film, and his Cinematographer should be his right hand man on set, advising and questioning him at all times.
Many of the movie theaters that we have come to know and love (despite their ridiculous ticket prices) are changing. Although a regular moviegoer or audience member may not notice or acknowledge many of the improvements that are being made, these changes are most definitely for the greater good.
For the past few decades, up until the 2000's, most movie theaters were equipped with film projectors and dozens of film prints for each specific movie that they planned to showcase. While many loved the nostalgic feel of film, and felt that it gave movies a better quality, movie theaters changed. Whether it was for the good or not, nowadays, "With financial support from the major studios, theaters over the last decade have invested $2.5 billion to convert from film to digital projectors. Virtually all of the roughly 40,000 screens in the U.S. are now fully digital." Although this switch upset many people, theaters are now saving billions on the costs of having to distribute and replace film reels, because nearly 100% of them are fully digital. These theaters are without the hassle of having to replace old film reels, due to the fact that film's quality degrades after an extended period of use. Now in the digital world of movie making, that problem is now a thing of the past.
Movie theaters have drastically improved the quality of their movies as well, because with the switch from film to digital, the picture quality and color accuracy has become much better. With film, color accuracy became a problem because as a film reel degraded, the colors would start to change. This upset many filmmakers as it would counter act the color correction that many of them applied on their movies and it was something that they could not control. With today's laser powered projectors that cast a complete array of colors, today's audiences are in for a real treat. Most movie theaters have these projectors, which provide a very accurate array of colors, where black actually looks like black, not a dark shade of gray.
Movie theaters have also changed how sound can be used. Although cinema is without a doubt a visual medium, sound is a very important aspect. It has the ability to draw the audience in, or draw them out of the scene, thus distracting them. This is why most movie theaters nowadays are equipped with "Dolby" technology, thus allowing filmmakers and studios to have more control over where the sound is coming from by tenfold.
Although film will be greatly missed by countless people who enjoyed the aesthetic look and sentimental feel that it provided, our digital world now is far more better off, and gives filmmakers more control over their movies than ever before.
When a person thinks of beautiful Cinematography in a film, your mind automatically drifts to the stunning works of Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki, Jeff Cronenweth, and many more. We all have the pre-conceived notion that the best and most well known cinematographers are those who have stunning visuals, but that shouldn't always be the case. Sometimes, some of the best cinematographers are those who are able to tell the audience exactly how a character is feeling and what they are thinking about through one single cut. This is the power of cinema, as it is a visual language that should be utilized to its fullest.
Another form of cinematography that most people overlook is it's importance in animated films. Many people believe that the final product that they see was achieved on the first try, but that is hardly the case. In fact, Patrick Lin, the cinematographer of Inside Out, has his own saying for cinematography in the world of 3D Animation. "In live-action the phrase is “Lights, camera, action,” in computer animation it is “all mixed up.” “It is actually ‘Camera, action, light’ — in other words, it is layout, animation, and then lighting.”
Although there are many differences between live action and computer animation, the camera and lenses is not one of them. In fact, Lin claims that their cameras operate the same exact way one in the real world would. This is accounted for by f-stop, focal length, and much more. Another aspect that remains unchanged is that Lin, as the DP, decides how he wants the look and feel of each scene to be like. He has the choice to vary the lighting, camera composition, and even camera movements as well. This is nearly identical to what a DP is responsible for in a live action film.
Something that I found especially interesting was Lin's deliberate use of when to switch back and forth between Tripod, Steadicam, and Handheld shots. When the main character (Riley) has her emotions under control and when everything is normal for her, Lin incorporates the use of all steadicam and tripod shots. Later on in the story, when things are spiraling out of control, Lin decided to use mostly handheld shots to show the audience that Riley is losing control of her situation. Interestingly enough, I found that David Fincher used the same exact technique in his movie, Se7en. Although he used this in a much more limited fashion in only the climax of the movie, this just goes to show that although many live action movies have terrific cinematography, many animated movies are doing the same. Just because they are from a different genre doesn't mean we can't learn from them.