Monday, 4 May 2015

4 Cinematographers You Love But Don't Know Exist

With so many movies made each year it can be difficult to know who is behind some of your favorites. Maybe you’re familiar with a handful of directors, but today I want to introduce you to some of of the best cinematographers out there.

1. Roger Deakins - The Shawshank Redemption (1994), No Country for Old Men (2007), Unbroken (2014)

You’d be hard pressed to find a Roger Deakins film that didn’t blow you away with the visuals. His masterpiece, however, is Skyfall. Arguably one of the most beautiful films of our time,  almost every frame could be pulled and hung as artwork. He uses a technique called Chiaroscuro (a strong contrast between light and dark) to further root the themes of the movies (good vs evil, corruption, etc.). When you combine this with the high intensity action scenes that are emblematic of a Bond film, you end up with an almost perfect mixture of drama and action. Even the action scenes are full of emotion; you can almost feel the struggle between Bond and Silva. This use of visual effects to drive the story is what takes a film to the next level, and it’s something that Deakins has mastered. Unfortunately, Deakins is the Leonardo DiCaprio of the cinematography world; he has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards but has never won!

2. Ben Davis - Kick-Ass (2010), Seven Psychopaths (2012), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Sort of a new kid on the block, Ben has only been shooting major features since the early 2000s. Don’t let this fool you, though. The films he turns out look spectacular. My favorite is Guardians of the Galaxy, where, once again, we see a lot of Chiaroscuro. As our heroes travel through space we see the shots go from clean to increasingly gritty, until the climax (SPOILER ALERT) where they finally face off against Ronan on Xandar. It’s here that the gritty, outlawed parts of space crash into the bright and clean Xandar. It may seem small or unintentional, but details like this are what pull you into a movie and make you feel like you’re right there in the scene, experiencing what the characters are experiencing. If you haven’t already, make sure you catch Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ben’s latest film!

3. Sean Bobbitt - Hunger (2008), Shame (2011), 12 Years a Slave (2013)

The collaborative work of Steve McQueen, Sean Bobbitt, and Michael Fassbender is one of my favorite things to come out of Hollywood in my lifetime (see my previous blog for more information on that). In the roaring digital age of CGI and special effects, Sean Bobbitt has managed to slow films down and force us to really think about what we’re seeing. You’ll find a lot of almost uncomfortably long shots that are so different from what we’re used to, especially in action and sci-fi films. Just like the dialogue of the films, each shot is communicating with the viewer and telling the story in a deeper, richer way than I find in other films. The most notable example I can think of is the now infamous hanging scene from 12 Years a Slave [WARNING: This scene contains graphic material that some viewers may find offensive]. This one very simple yet complex shot, which contains no dialogue or cuts, is enough to drive the entire point of the movie home... with a sledge hammer. This is definitely one of the best films of the past ten years, so if you haven’t seen it you really are missing out.

4. Emmanuel Lubezki - The Tree of Life (2011), Gravity (2013), Birdman (2014)

Anyone who has seen Gravity or Birdman shouldn’t need any explanation as to why Emmanuel was included in the blog; his work is simply mind-boggling. While it feels criminal to discuss Birdman without discussing the excellent sound mixing I will try to focus only on the visuals. We’ll start with how the camera almost never stops moving; the visuals quite literally drive the story. I think it’s easy to forget that there was a time in filmmaking where we didn’t move the camera, usually because it was too impractical or too expensive. Emmanuel has done a complete 180 on this issue and uses camera moves to create a sense that the viewer is actually in the film, moving and interacting with the characters in nearly every shot. This is accomplished also by his use of high and low perspective. You’ll notice that the camera is almost always at eye level of the characters, exactly the way you’d see them if you were standing there looking at them. When the camera breaks from this pattern it serves to let the viewer know the scene is changing and we’re moving on to the next thing. This is probably one of the more interesting techniques I have seen used in transitioning scenes, which makes me all the more excited to see what Emmanual will come up with next.

Who are some of your favorite cinematographers? What techniques and styles draw you in personally? Let us know in the comments below or tweet to us @Swagger_Media!

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