CINEPHILE: My Love for Cinematography
My past is most definitely lined with geekery, but somewhere around the release of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia something changed, I started to notice what the camera did and how shots were framed. Maybe it was because I had just started working with non-linear, or "digital," video editing, but suddenly there was a whole new dimension to film. Anderson's camera lingered, it got closer than other director's dared, it played with focus in ways I hadn't noticed before.
This weekend in Des Moines is the 48 Hour Film Project, a traveling circus of a filmmaking competition where amateur teams get 48 hours to make a film from scratch. For the first time I am leading a team, and to prepare I've been producing shorts with a few inexperienced friends for the last 7 months. Now that we're on the doorstep of producing our 48 Hour film, I've been giving a great amount of thought to how I'd like the piece to look and feel. If you know anything about 48HFP, you know it's close to impossible to pre-plan these concepts because the filmmakers don't know the genre they will be working in.
So without knowing what realm of film we'll be working in, here are a few films and filmmakers that I take great inspiration from for their treatment of the frame:
1) Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz
Whenever I bring up Edgar Wright people tend to talk of his work as "the parody guy." That is so off base it is almost shocking. Hot Fuzz, Wright's second feature film, is two hours of kinetic action spoofery in a small dingy UK town. It is parody on a certain level, as it uses every trope of buddy cop and action films made to date. Still, the cutting and camera movements are so well crafted, Hot Fuzz becomes an entirely original work on its own. Wright's follow up film, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World -which portrays the work of a different director of photography- uses many of the same lofi, non-CGI camera tricks. If you haven't seen either of these films, rent them tonight and you'll understand immediately why everyone from JJ Abrams to Steven Spielberg to Marvel Studios are clamoring to work with this guy. Two minutes into Hot Fuzz I guarantee you'll be in love.
2) Terry Gilliam's Brazil
To me Terry Gilliam's best work is akin to Tim Burton on downers. Brazil is so stark, and every frame is so cluttered, that it is nearly impossible to fully understand what is happening in the movie. Gilliam has been maximizing this style for decades now with Time Bandits, Twelve Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Brothers Grimm, and most recently The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
3) Guy Ritchie's Snatch
Snatch -or as it is known to dis-creditors "Lock Stalk with Brad Pitt"- is svelte. While Ritchie is far from a perfect director, he definitely is a man who is willing to do anything with the camera; see his mind-meltingly bad film Revolver for proof. When I first started dating my wife, she told me she was a big fan of heist films like Ocean's 11 and The Italian Job, so I thought maybe she'd dig Snatch. She hated it, something to do with the ugly people and scariness. It was about that time I realized not everyone was a fan of unique filmmaking and editing.
4) Gaspar Noe Enter the Void
I cannot in good conscience recommend this film. It is a wonder of filmmaking skill, but the graphic nature of the subject matter and horrible characters is not something you recommend if you ever want to talk to someone again. Still, Gaspar Noe may be the bravest filmmaker who's work I have experienced. For starters, the first 20 minutes of the movie are shot in first person from the main character's point of view. I could probably write a 50 page thesis on this movie, but I wont go on here for your sake. Maybe the only film in this list that considers itself "Art" before "film."
5) Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan
I am major proponent of analogue music recording practices and Darren Aronofsky may be the closest equivalent in filmmaking (if you don't take into account my previous mention of Paul Thomas Anderson). Yes, Aronofsky is the director of the CGI heavy The Fountain, but The Wrestler, Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, Pi... these films are RAW. Watching an Aronofsky film feels like what reality television would be like if it didn't have the testimonials... and if it came with a dash of terror.
These filmmakers, and the DPs they regularly use, I always consider appointment viewing. They may not always make the best stories or films, but they always look incredible. If I can steal a few of their tricks for this weekends short film project I would be greatly pleased.
Patrick Boberg is an avid film fan, a part time film director and co-founder of FWOAC.