Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Hollywood Reporter Roundtable; the Cinematographers aka where the boys are

Sean Bobbitt (left) with director Steve McQueen/12 Years a Slave

Cinematographers; most of us don't know quite what they do. And that includes not only me but dictionaries where definitions range from "A movie photographer, especially one who is in charge of shooting a movie." (The Free Dictionary) Er, that's very close to the definition of a director, isn't it? to "one who is in charge of cinematography" (Merriam-Webster). Thanks, MW, that's so helpful. 

Barry Ackroyd with director, Paul Greengrass/Captain Phillips

So what then, is cinematography? According to HowStuffWorks ...
"cinematography means bringing a story to life visually. The word's Greek roots are kinema (movement) and graph (writing). Bringing movement to screenwriter's script requires more than simply shooting photos or video of a scene. The primary cinematographer, or director of photography, works with the film's director to capture the underlying story in a way that will captivate the movie audience. Camera operators and cinematographers for specific scenes or types of scenes work to fulfill the overall vision."
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
 Cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh, Director Ben Stiller

That's a fairly nebulous definition for a job which requires mastery of motion picture arts AND science, calling on cinematographers to marry a highly developed visual aesthetic with complicated technical mastery.  And as I learned listening to THR's very first Cinematographer's Roundtable, it's a job that changes with every new director/cinematographer pairing, every new film, and with the rise of digital, every new media. 


Nebraska
Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael, Director Alexander Payne

The cinematographers here are not household names to me - just a fan, maam - but they're all proven successes in their field, men** who have time and again delivered various director's visions to the audience. Their discussion is quite a lament on the disappearance of 'film' with the rise of the much less expensive digital format and the end result: movies where the image is so crisp, clean and hyper-perfect that what it gains in clarity it loses in subtlety, nuance, and ultimately movie magic. 

Inside Llewyn Davis
Bruno Delbonnel with Oscar Isaacs and Director Joel Coen

So here are the boys talking about film vs digital, working with actors and directors and what they think of 3D;Barry Ackroyd ("Captain Phillips"), Sean Bobbitt ("12 Years a Slave"), Bruno Delbonnel ("Inside Llewyn Davis"), Stuart Dryburgh ("The Secret Life of Walter Mitty") and Phedon Papamichael ("Nebraska"and Monuments Men) It's ironic that the role of the cinematographer is becoming more widely known and celebrated just when cinematographers - especially the older guys more seasoned pros - are wondering what the future of film will be.  


** Wondering how many women cinematographers there are? According to this New York Film Academy infographic, of the top 250 films made in 2012, only 2% were shot by female cinematographers.  And the top female star earned roughly the same as the lowest paid men, and on and on. 

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