Thursday, October 27, 2016
  • Friday, Feb. 5, 2016
ASC Awards Preview: Whatever Serves The Story Best—From Super 16 To Digital
Ed Lachman, ASC
Theatrical feature nominees reflect a wide range of approaches, tools, palettes

“I went to see The Revenant the other night and it hit me how the whole spectrum of film language is being used to tell our stories,” said Ed Lachman, ASC, who shot Carol on Super 16mm film. By contrast, Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, ASC, AMC, deployed the ARRI Alexa 65 digital camera with lenses from 12mm to 21mm to shoot The Revenant.

“From digital to the beginning of the filmic world, we tap into what serves the story best,” continued Lachman. “My point is that not all stories should be told the same way. That’s why we need to keep film available as an option.” (See this week’s installment of The Road To Oscar for more on Lachman’s approach to shooting Carol.)

Both Lachman and Lubezki are ASC Award nominees this year for Carol and The Revenant, respectively, in the theatrical release category of the 30th annual American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards for Outstanding Achievement.

They are joined by Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC for Sicario, Janusz Kaminski for Bridge of Spies, and John Seale, ASC, ACS for Mad Max: Fury Road.

The winner will be revealed and honored on February 14 during the ASC Awards gala at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

Lubezki won the ASC feature category the last two years for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2015) and Gravity (2014), and also took top prize for The Tree of Life (2012) and Children of Men (2007). He was nominated in 2000 for Sleepy Hollow.

This is Deakins’ 14th ASC nomination. He previously won for Skyfall (2013), The Shawshank Redemption (1995) and The Man Who Wasn’t There (2002). His other nominations include Unbroken (2015), Prisoners (2014), True Grit (2011), The Reader (2009), Revolutionary Road (2009), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2008), No Country for Old Men (2008), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2001), Kundun (1998), and Fargo (1997).

Kaminski was previously nominated for the ASC Award for Lincoln (2013), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2008), Saving Private Ryan (1999), Amistad (1998), and Schindler’s List (1994).

Lachman was nominated in 2012 in the television movie category for HBO’s Mildred Pierce, and in 2003 for the feature film Far from Heaven.

Seale earned top honors from the ASC for The English Patient (1997) and received nominations for Cold Mountain (2004), The Perfect Storm (2001), and Rain Man (1989).

In this week’s issue, part 13 of our The Road To Oscar series includes an interview with Seale who shares insights into the lensing of Mad Max: Fury Road, which marked his second career collaboration with director George Miller, the first being the emotionally moving 1992 family drama Lorenzo’s Oil. To go along with his five career ASC nominations, Seale has collected five Oscar nods, the first coming for Witness in 1986, then Rain Man in ‘98, The English Patient in ‘97, Cold Mountain in ‘94 and now Mad Max: Fury Road.

Seale, who won the Oscar for The English Patient, shared, “I’ve always been amazed at the awards and what they represent. I regard the ASC Awards and the Oscars as a wonderful comment on a great crew who worked hard to put together a film that a director and DP had envisioned. It’s a vision that cannot be realized without everyone involved, getting all these people on board with a sense of purpose and commitment. On Mad Max: Fury Road we had a multi-international team shooting in Namibia. We didn’t have the worst conditions in Namibia but also not the best. But this team worked wonderfully together.

Every morning they were enthused, ready and loved what they were doing.

“I’ve always felt any of these lovely accolades—such as the ASC Awards and the Oscars—are a credit to all those crew members. You see what Margaret [Sixel] put into the editing of the film, and the work of so many others.  I find it amazing that a film released nine or ten months ago—spurred on by everything that George put into it—has the legs to maintain momentum and go into the awards season with recognition from both the ASC and the Motion Picture Academy. These are tremendous honors.”

Lubezki said of The Revenant, “Going on this adventure with Alejandro [director Inarritu] and the team was truly one of the most amazing, challenging, interesting experiences of my life.”

In addition to Seale, Lubezki too picked up an Oscar nom this year for The Revenant as did Deakins for Sicario and Lachman for Carol. Lubezki won the Oscar for Birdman last year and Gravity in 2014.

The only ASC nominee not part of the current Oscar-nominated field of cinematographers was Kaminski.

Robert Richardson, ASC, wound up scoring the remaining Best Cinematography Oscar nod for The Hateful Eight. Interestingly both Kaminski and Richardson are represented as commercial directors; Kaminski via production house Independent Media, and Richardson through Tool of North America.

Sicario, Bridge of Spies
Prior to the ASC unveiling this year’s nominations, SHOOT in its The Road To Oscar series connected with Deakins and Kaminski who discussed their respective work on Sicario and Bridge of Spies.

Sicario marks Deakins’ return engagement with director Denis Villeneuve, the first being Prisoners (which earned Deakins nominations for both the ASC Award and the Oscar in 2014).

For Deakins—who has amassed 15 career Oscar nods—the perspective of the story was key. “Denis and I talked about that a lot and thought it had to be centered for the most part primarily around Kate [portrayed by Emily Blunt]. We didn’t want to just shoot conventional action. We wanted a viewpoint to it.

We put the audience in Kate’s position. Then it shifts to Alejandro’s (Benicio Del Toro) perspective as we start to understand him more as a character. And finally we arrive at the perspectives of both Kate and Alejandro. It’s kind of a split perspective at the end. Denis steered away from coverage of action just to make it exciting. He went after a personal kind of perspective on the action—the perspective of leading characters.”

For Sicario, Deakins went with the ARRI Alexa XT. “It’s the best digital camera, with strong color fidelity.

It feels much more naturalistic than any other digital camera,” assessed Deakins. “Also the XT Studio has an optical viewfinder which relies on my vision—I prefer it over the electronic viewfinder. The Alexa with ARRI/Zeiss master primes supported the subjective points of view Denis and I wanted for Sicario.

Deakins’ collaborative relationship with Villeneuve will extend beyond Prisoners and Sicario. The DP is slated to lens for Villeneuve what’s referred to as The Untitled Blade Runner Project. Inherently that movie poses a daunting challenge given the seminal visual pedigree of the original Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott and shot by the legendary Jordan Cronenweth, ASC. Cronenweth, who passed away in 1996, had won the BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography on the strength of Blade Runner, which also earned him a British Society of Cinematographers Award nomination.

Bridge of Spies meanwhile continues a long and fruitful collaboration for Kaminski with director Steven Spielberg. The DP’s first feature with director Spielberg was Schindler’s List in 1993. They have gone on to work on more than a dozen films together.

Kaminski has been nominated for an Oscar six times, winning twice for Spielberg films: Schindler’s List in 1994; and  Saving Private Ryan in 1999. Kaminski also earned Oscar nominee status for Amistad in 1998, War Horse in 2012 and Lincoln in 2013, all Spielberg-helmed movies. Kaminski’s remaining Oscar nom was for director Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and The Butterfly in 2008.

For Bridge of Spies, Kaminski went with a Panavision film camera, opting to shoot anamorphic with Hawk lenses to realize the desired look. “The lenses are not so perfect and pristine, which made them a fit for that time period, the Cold War era, we were trying to create.”

Kaminski’s approach to Bridge of Spies shed light, literally, on the relationship between James Donovan (an American lawyer portrayed by Tom Hanks) and Rudolf Abel (an arrested Soviet spy played by Mark Rylance). A single light source peered through frosted covered windows, underscoring the coldness not only of the Cold War but also the first meeting of Donovan and Abel. Over time as a connection evolved between the two characters, the cool light slowly gave way to warmer possibilities.

“Later you see the friendship between Abel and Donovan build until they eventually have to say goodbye to each other. At that point, there’s a brightness as we see their concerns for each other,” observed Kaminski. “You see Donovan’s concern over what life Abel is going to encounter back home. The possibilities of Abel being punished for possible collaboration with the FBI could be severe. The brightness, with [Donovan’s] concerns evident, is quite different from when their relationship started out in the shadows. Our approach was to set the proper environment for great actors like these to do what they do best.”

Spielberg and Kaminski have a knack for doing their best in tandem. “In some ways, our relationship has not changed,” related Kaminski. “What I see from Steven is the continuous ability to be invigorated by material. He puts his creative thinking towards how to make characters more human, better—not necessarily more entertaining. He’s collaborating with everybody—me, the actors, screenwriters—to do justice to the characters through the moviemaking process.”