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  • Originally published on
  • Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016
Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki on location for "The Revenant"
Artisans Share Insights Into Lensing "The Revenant," Cutting "Room"
DP Lubezki, editor Nugent discuss their collaborations with directors Iñárritu and Abrahamson, respectively

DP Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, ASC, AMC scored the hat trick, having won the coveted ASC Award for Achievement in Feature Film for the third straight year, starting with Gravity in 2014, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) last year, and The Revenant (Twentieth Century Fox) this past Sunday (2/14) in Los Angeles.

Lubezki went on to win the Oscar for both Gravity and Birdman, and is now positioned to duplicate his remarkable “three-peat” feat at the Academy Awards should The Revenant top a cinematography category which also includes fellow nominees Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC for Sicario, Ed Lachman, ASC for Carol, Robert Richardson, ASC for The Hateful Eight, and John Seale, ASC, ACS for Mad Max: Fury Road.

Lubezki is an eight-time Oscar nominee, starting with A Little Princess in 1996, Sleepy Hollow in 2000, The New World in ‘06, Children of Men in ‘07, The Tree of Life in 2012, then Gravity, Birdman and The Revenant.

On the ASC side of the awards ledger, Lubezki has six career nominations, starting with Sleepy Hollow, then Children of Men, The Tree of Life, Gravity, Birdman and The Revenant. The latter five films all wound up winning the ASC Award.

Chronologically the order of the two most recently acclaimed films was supposed to be different with The Revenant originally scheduled to precede Birdman. Both films were directed by Lubezki’s compatriot, Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Lubezki recalled, “Alejandro sent the script for The Revenant to me before Birdman. The plan was to do The Revenant first. In fact, I didn’t know anything about Birdman when we were prepping The Revenant. Alejandro wanted to make a multi-layered movie and that’s what attracted me to the project. He did not want to make only a revenge film--something he morally and ethically had issues with. He wanted to take advantage of the time period [the 1820s] to tell a story about the beginning of capitalism in America, the relationship between trappers and ecology, the Native Americans and the trappers, commerce and nature. There were all these different stories to explore--the most important being the relationship between a father [legendary explorer Hugh Glass, portrayed in an Oscar-nominated performance by Leonardo DiCaprio] and his son, and a Native American father and his daughter.”

Lubezki shared, “We immediately knew we wanted to do this story in real, natural environments, to make the experience very immersive--all that came from my first conversations with Alejandro. We felt the journey we were going to take would impact the spirit and feeling of this movie. We also saw this as a personal opportunity. Alejandro and I are middle-aged filmmakers. We very much wanted to do a movie like this, which is physically demanding. As you get older, that can get tougher and tougher to do. So we saw this as a last chance to do this kind of movie in demanding environments, which was very exciting to us.”

But that excitement dissipated when the movie fell through--at least temporarily, leading to Iñárritu. and Lubezki detouring to Birdman, a film that “was almost the opposite of what we were planning for The Revenant,” observed Lubezki. “Birdman was done in a very controlled environment with a one-shot approach. As I got more and more into it, I became enamored with the idea behind it. Thankfully, when we were about to finish Birdman, The Revenant came back to life.”

Initially the plan was to shoot The Revenant in the U.S. but the forests scouted didn’t fit the bill. “The rivers are all dammed so the water is not rushing through anymore. There were also cables, train tracks and roads all around which took us out of the time period we were trying to create.”

Canada proved to be a viable alternative. “Throughout the process of location scouting, Alejandro and I had time to talk a lot; I got to more fully understand what he was trying to do, which made me a better collaborator. We also were fortunate that Alejandro got his wish to rehearse a lot--like we did for Birdman. We were lucky because the studio accepted this. For the studio to spend money on rehearsals with cast and crew is quite something--a practice which is often perceived as a waste of money, with you being pushed to do storyboards or something less costly instead. Through the rehearsals, though, Alejandro was able to describe and create a unique world.”

Glass’ journey through this world was shot chronologically in order to maintain a natural flow. “The story has a lot to do with the change of seasons. It also has to do with the actors and their makeup,’ explained Lubezki. “At the beginning they are cleaner, healthier, stronger. But as the movie progresses, all that changes. You see how the weather affects them, particularly Leo [DiCaprio] and the wounds he sustains. The makeup artists showed us a map of how Leo’s makeup evolved from how he starts the movie, then after the first battle, then the bear attack, how his wounds were healing--or not healing. It was the most beautiful, detailed presentation I had ever seen. So much of the movie is expressed without the help of dialogue--creating atmosphere, expressing feelings in a very visual way.”

Another key decision was to commit to shooting the film relying on only the sun and fire light, bringing in no artificial lighting from a later century and simply working with the light of nature in creative ways. “The light of nature is what we went with,” related Lubezki. “Think about it. This movie happened before kerosene lamps. Candles were made of fat and wax. At night, you’re able to see the stars clearly. It’s all very naturalistic.”

Lubezki deployed the ARRI Alexa 65, utilizing a range of wide lenses from 12mm to 21mm to create extreme depth. This facilitated camera movements that seamlessly blend close-ups with panoramas. “You have a closeup of a character that includes the environment,” said Lubezki. “With the lens so wide, we can pan from a very close, intimate shot of Leo to his environment which we can see a big chunk of. That relationship between characters and their environment makes for a very immersive feeling. It’s like what Leo said the other day, that some parts of the movie ‘feel like virtual reality.’”

Room with a view from Nathan Nugent
Oscar prognostications largely saw Room (A24 Films) reserved for no more than a leading actress nomination based on the strength of the performance delivered by Brie Larson and perhaps a Best Adapted Screenplay nod for Emma Donoghue. However one of the pleasant surprises to emerge was this brilliant, emotionally moving film ultimately scoring four noms--the two already mentioned along with recognition in the marquee categories of Best Picture and Director (Lenny Abrahamson’s first career Oscar nomination).

Room tells the story of a woman (portrayed by Larson) who’s been in one-room captivity for seven years, since she was 17, and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who was fathered by their captor.

Among director Abrahamson’s collaborators on Room was an editor, Nathan Nugent, with whom he is most familiar. While Nugent didn’t earn an Oscar nom for Room, he was integral to the film’s success, affirmed Abrahamson.

Nugent has cut three pictures for Abrahamson, the first two being What Richard Did and Frank. In SHOOT’s October 2015 Directors Profile, Abrahamson said of Nugent, “He’s a vital component in the creative process for me, a great editor.”

Nugent recalled, “I read the book [‘Room’ by Donoghue] and was keen to work on the film. Lenny was kind of developing the script with Emma. I jumped at the chance to get involved. From an editing point of view, you’re in a room for the first half of the movie. One of the challenges was how to show the passage of time. You cannot cut to exteriors to show time moving on because the environment is confined to the space where the characters are held captive. At the same time, the space isn’t as confining as it would seem as we dip into Jack’s imagination and the four walls of the room disappear. That’s the power of a child’s imagination to see wonder in his world. There’s a naturalism in every scene and Lenny lets the story take over. Viewers get a feel for what a full day feels like in the room. Working with Lenny over the years, I feel I can represent his voice in a fairly trustworthy way. We trust each other to make sure the emotional journey of the film takes shape and does justice to the characters and the story.”

That emotional journey continues outside of the room during the second half of the film. As Abrahamson explained to SHOOT, “Once our protagonists escape physically, they aren’t yet liberated. It takes the whole film to set them free. You have to preserve the audience’s attention through the escape, showing in the second half what the protagonists have to deal with after physically leaving the room.”

Nugent observed, “There’s something intrinsic in the scenes which leads to where Lenny is trying to get. There’s no one way to cut a scene. He won’t tell you how to cut it. He’s a brilliant collaborator. He gives you a lot of space to try things and as changes evolve everyone working with Lenny feels they have ownership of the changes which always realize a naturalism. He has a strong, bold sense of what the spirit of each scene is and through that sets the tone for the story.”

Abrahamson’s producer, Ed Guiney, originally brought the director together with Nugent. “I had done some work for Ed and he suggested Lenny and I have a chat,” recalled Nugent. That chat led to Nugent cutting What Richard Did, for which he earned an Irish Film and Television Award nomination for Best Editing in 2013. “It was the first of Lenny’s movies which put him in the U.S. spotlight,” recalled Nugent. “I was glad to be a part of that. Lenny was on a tight budget, We worked really well together, which resulted in my cutting his next film, Frank.”

Frank too garnered Nugent a Best Editing nomination for an Irish Film and Television Award in 2015.

This is the 15th in a multi-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards. The Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network at 7 pm ET/4 pm PT. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.
(For information on SHOOT’s Academy Season “FYC Advertising” print, digital and email blast marketing opportunities, please visit here.)



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