November 18, 2020

Wally Pfister, director/cinematographer PART 1: working with Christopher Nolan, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige and more

Wally Pfister grew up loving movies, and couldn’t wait to become a filmmaker. The son of an ABC news journalist, Wally got his start as a news production assistant in Los Angeles, and he worked his way up to become a news cameraman. He attended American Film Institute, where he met fellow filmmakers Janusz Kaminski and Phedon Papamichael. Together they began working for Roger Corman’s Concorde/New Horizons production company based in Venice, CA, cranking out as many as twelve B-movies per year. Wally would leave the studio literally splattered in fake blood, but he knew low-budget filmmaking work was essential for having the freedom to learn lighting and shooting while on the job. Even with his prestigious degree from AFI, Wally knew it didn’t make him a filmmaker- he still needed to learn and hone his craft before moving on to bigger projects. Those opportunities came once Phedon Papamichael brought him on as a camera operator for Phenomenon and While You Were Sleeping.

Wally loved the independent films of the 1990’s, and was happy to work as director of photography for The Hi-Line, a well-received indie feature that won awards at several film festivals. Director Christopher Nolan saw the film, and approached Wally to shoot Memento. Memento blends black and white with color cinematography, to show the main character’s broken memory as he tries to piece together who killed his wife. Nolan had purposefully scripted it so that the color sequences shown in the film are in reverse order while the black and white scenes are chronological. Wally and Chris Nolan both preferred taking a naturalistic approach to lighting and camerawork, and Wally’s experience of working fast enabled them to shoot in just 25 days.

Insomnia was a big jump for Wally and Christopher Nolan into a bigger budget movie, especially with stars such as Al Pacino and Robin Williams attached. This time, Wally had the budget, the time and the ability to make a great movie. Insomnia uses light rather than darkness as a way to build tension- it takes place in midsummer Alaska, when the sun never sets. Wally used key lighting in certain scenes to enhance the performance of Pacino, whose detective character is quite literally hiding from the light, as his guilt and exhaustion spirals down into madness.

The next project Christopher Nolan and Wally collaborated on was a huge Hollywood movie: Batman Begins, which relaunched the Batman franchise after nearly ten years. Even though Batman is a superhero/comic book movie, Nolan still wanted to take a gritty and naturalistic approach- he never wanted the cinematography to get in the way. Wally kept the movie dark and rough, rather than glossy and stylized in contrast to the previous Batman movies. Very little of Batman Begins used computer generated visual effects- Chris Nolan prefers to do all effects in-camera when possible and used models and miniatures, as in the train derailment sequence.

For The Prestige, the production crew scouted locations in Los Angeles, and found old theaters and the Universal backlot to make it seem like Europe at the turn of the century. Again, Nolan wanted The Prestige to look natural and loose, with much of the film hand-held, even when Wally was on a crane. Wally used lanterns and natural light to illuminate most scenes, and every magic trick was done in-camera, with no special effects. The Prestige earned Wally his first Academy Award nomination.

Listen for Wally Pfister, Part 2, coming next week! He talks about Inception, Moneyball, The Dark Knight Rises, Trancendence and more!

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep101/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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Twitter: @ShortEndz

October 16, 2020

Phedon Papamichael, ASC on The Trial of the Chicago 7, working with writer/director Aaron Sorkin, and more

Phedon Papamichael’s latest project is The Trial of the Chicago 7, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. The bulk of the story centers on the 1969 trial of seven men accused of inciting a riot in the park outside of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In Phedon’s view, a film is actually made three times: it’s conceived in the writing process, developed during principal photography, then reinvented and finalized in the editing process. When working with a director and writer like Aaron Sorkin, the way the film is scripted is exactly what he wants to see on the screen. The person speaking must be on camera, and specific shots are needed to sync with the rhythm of his words, like a poem. Sorkin is not a technical filmmaker, and after their initial meeting, Phedon knew Sorkin would rely heavily on him for creating the visuals. Since the majority of the action takes place in the courtroom, Phedon had to generate visual interest, making sure they had the right lenses and angles to enhance the drama, and to get good reaction shots of the jury and spectators. He used the lighting within the courtroom to enhance the moods and tension, and adjusted the light coming through the windows to reflect the changing seasons. When shooting the protests in the park and the violent clashes with the police, the camera crew went hand-held documentary style. Some of the footage from the protests was actually intercut with real footage taken from a film called Medium Cool, a combination documentary/fiction film by famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who shot actual footage of the riots in the park from the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

You can watch The Trial of the Chicago Seven streaming now on Netflix.

Find Phedon Papamichael: https://www.phedonpapamichael.com/
Instagram: @papa2

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

IT’S A BOOK GIVEAWAY! Enter to win the Video Palace book- Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man Collected Stories- signed by our host, Ben Rock, who also authored one of the stories! The book expands the world of the Video Palace podcast that Ben directed for Shudder. http://videopalace.shudder.com/

TO WIN: SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel, LIKE and COMMENT on the “How To Vote” breakdown we just posted! We will randomly select a winner from the comments. We’re expanding and adding to our YouTube channel, so look for new content there, too! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNQIhe3yjQJG72EjZJBRI1w

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep96/

Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

December 16, 2019

Phedon Papamichael, ASC talks Ford v. Ferrari, his love of racing and classic cars, working with director James Mangold

Phedon Papamichael and director James Mangold created an exciting, visceral experience of auto racing for Ford v. Ferrari, rather than the basic panning wide shots used in sports broadcasting or car commercials. Phedon had to shoot extremely close to the speeding cars in order to capture the effect of high velocity.

June 24, 2018

SPECIAL PODCAST- Phedon Papamichael, ASC – LIVE at Hot Rod Cameras “Cine Beer” Summer Bash! Talks about his films with Alexander Payne, Oliver Stone, James Mangold and more.

SPECIAL PODCAST- Phedon Papamichael, ASC – LIVE at Hot Rod Cameras “Cine Beer” Summer Bash! Cinematographer Phedon Papmichael, ASC In our first ever LIVE podcast Academy Award nominated cinematographer Phedon Papmichael, ASC discusses his collaborations with director’s of Alexander Payne, Oliver Stone, James Mangold.  Phedon also discusses his early career working for Roger Corman and