Q&A @ Ringling College of Art and Design

Wally Pfister and Hoyte van Hoytema
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http://arts.heraldtribune.com/2012-10-1 ... y-pfister/
Q: How has your background as a news reporter and documentarian influenced your work on feature films?

A: Enormously. On every level. Working with reality helps reduce the amount of artifice in your work and that is the style of film I appreciate. As a news cameraman on Capitol Hill in the ’80s, I had to learn to fight for space, hold the camera steady, know when the President is giving a bunch of carp so you can pull out and get a wide shot; kind of editing in the camera. It teaches you to have your instincts and your peripheral vision on alert at all times.

Q: Anything else?

A: The other important thing is that it really and truly teaches you a respect for natural light. Before you can know how to place a light, you have to understand natural light. You don’t need technology to have a good eye and an appreciation of the beauty of natural light. Go buy a book on Carvaggio or any of the Dutch Masters. To me, that’s beautiful lighting and it’s all natural and from 500 years ago.

Q: You worked on the Batman franchise with Nolan, and also some very different projects like the “The Prestige” and “Inception.” Which do you prefer?

A: I’m not a big super hero fan. In terms of the movie-going experience for me, I love the realistic stuff because it’s just that much less formulaic. When I was first approached by Christopher for “Batman Begins” I was like, really? A guy in a rubber suit?

Q: So you wouldn’t do a “Batman 4″?

A: Never say never. But I’m fortunate enough to have been successful enough that now I want to fulfill myself artistically. I guess I might do it right at the point where I had to sell my house.

Q: Who was your cinematographic role models?

A: The one person who was my greatest inspiration and who influenced me most is Gordon Willis, one of the great cinematographers that never got an Oscar, which is criminal. An incredible body and breadth of work with a lot of different filmmakers. I still believe it’s possible that, from a cinematographic standpoint, “Godfather II” is the best filmed movie of all time.

Q: How do you feel about today’s technology and the switch to digital?

A: “Moneyball” was the last outpost of my battle for shooting on Kodak film. I said, “That’s no problem for me, you’ll just have to find another guy.” They finally said OK, but added “We need you to cut your salary.” I said, “If you didn’t get the (expletive) on the last call, get it now.”

What’s troubling to me is that digital has eclipsed film before it has eclipsed it artistically. I will be accepting of digital when it is the equal of film; there’s something wrong with technology that moves you backward rather than forward.

Q: What has been your favorite film you’ve shot?

A: I think probably the most artistically fulfilling was “The Prestige.” It was fun to shoot a period piece, to create a world. But I also enjoyed the scope of “Inception.” I was able to capture things the way I saw them in my head and I felt like I’d matured as a cinematographer. Of the “Batman” films I liked my work best in the last one, of course, because anything I felt I’d done wrong on each one, I’d right on the next one.

Q: What’s most important in shooting a film?

A: What’s really important is storytelling. None of it matters if it doesn’t support the story.

I thought “The Avengers” was an appalling film. They’d shoot from some odd angle and I’d think, why is the camera there? Oh, I see, because they spent half a million on the set and they have to show it off. It took me completely out of the movie. I was driven bonkers by that illogical form of storytelling.

Q: Why are you trying your hand at directing now?

A: I think it’s really just about wanting to find a new kind of artistic expression. I wouldn’t deny that it’s about control. I’d like to make audiences laugh and cry and you have to be in the director’s chair to manipulate people’s perception of the world and their emotional responses. That is a level of power I’d like to feel.

Q: What can you tell us about the new project (currently in the casting process and set to begin filming in early 2012)?

A: I can’t talk too much about it. It’s a present-day science fiction film, a fairly big concept. It’s bigger budget — not as big as “Batman,” but not independent.

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Alex and I attended the live-commentary Wally did for the school last night. I'll mention some of the highlights.

You might notice from the panorama below, the screen was small and the projector was crappy.


Doesn't so really matter because we're there to hear Wally speak, but I asked Alex, "how happy do you think Wally is going to be when he see's his Oscar winning cinematography projected on that?"

When the movie starts, Wally says, "so I'm assuming by resolution that this is from DVD?"

"Yup," says some 'official' in the back.

About 3 minutes go by and he's talking about much of the opening being shot on 65mm. "I wonder if it will do any good in asking, but do we have a blu-ray we can watch?"

"We don't have a player," says the same guy in the back.

"There's a Best Buy down the street," jokes Wally.



Wally talked about how the opening waves being 65mm. Most of the beach is 35mm, and then we're back to 65mm when we enter Saito's palace. He said that originally there were something like 300 lanterns on the roof, but budget cuts knocked it down to about 200.


He mentioned production design and Guy Dyas a lot. The lights on the floor when Cobb breaks in to steal what's in Saito's safe — those were something Guy did at Wally's request.

Some of the people at the screening hadnt seen the movie before, so Wally was constantly making spoiler jokes.

"Like when Joe gets shot in the leg... SPOILER!"


Wally talked about the high-speed stuff, citing have data corruption issues with the digital cameras, so most of the stuff was the Photosonic cameras. He explained how you really have to shoot the high-speed stuff with tons light, and to have continuity with the normal speed stuff, he used math and ratios to match. He did later mention that he thinks the Phantoms have turned into really great cameras, but for Inception they had better luck with the Photosonics.


^^ This plane was a set built and used for an unspecified Bond film.


Those windows really go to an indoor hallway, but Wally flooded them with light to make it appear as if they went outdoors. This was filmed where Chris and Emma went to college.


^^ This was a set in downtown LA. The paper on the windows is partially for aesthetics, and partially to block out the location.


The apothecary was filmed at the same location as the Gotham PD station in BEGINS. The glass windows in the background are the same as in Gordon's office.


This scene was difficult to light, so those hanging lights are necessary and functional. Only a few lights hidden behind cement columns. Wally seems most proud of the scenes using practical light.


^^ More practical lighting. The room was partially inspired by the room at the end of Kubrick's 2001.


Wally had total freedom when filming this scene. Shot docu-style. No two takes the same.


^^ This is among a set of shots that Wally says are probably his absolute favorite from the film. It's what he used in his Oscar reels. It was filmed at a home in Pasadena.

"There's nothing quite as beautiful as light from the real sun."


^^ "Here comes the 'Bond' shot."

Wally brings up the 'Snow Fortress' and ski sequences as being heavily influenced by Bond, as we know. He specifically cites ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE.


^^ Wally said that Chris saw this guy at a casting call and thought so much like Daniel Craig and James Bond that he had to hire him.


^^ "Is that van still falling?"


Wally mentions his dislike for how the lighting in this scene came out. Used a florescent fill on the right side of Leo. "Too much fill, too pink."


Wally confirms 65mm and the 2001 inspiration for this shot. He also praised Cillian Murphy's performance in this scene.


^^ "I can say for certain that on set that top did eventually fall over. [laughs]."

Wally said he's very excited for SKYFALL. I asked if he would be shooting his own film or if he was looking into any specific cinematographers to shoot his movie. He answered that he was hiring a cinematographer, but was coy about saying who he had in mind or was looking into. When he did talk about current cinematographers he admires, he brought up Roger Elswit.

Apparently he was offered 2 Harry Potter films, but turned them down because it would've meant missing one of Nolan's productions, which is slightly ironic now considering.

There was plenty more talked about, but I've written enough for now. Lol.

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First, I got to get this out of the way:

Anyway, some interesting comments, particularly about reusing the GCPD location for the apothecary.

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Awesome stuff Teddy.

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Just one thing,.. What is DOCU STYLE standing for? Outstanding stuff of course, however!

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Neizar wrote:Just one thing,.. What is DOCU STYLE standing for? Outstanding stuff of course, however!
I assume documentary style. I can kinda see the comparison for that scene.

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Neizar wrote:Just one thing,.. What is DOCU STYLE standing for? Outstanding stuff of course, however!
Documentary style shooting. Impromptu.

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:tooexcited: Great write-up. Its so cool that you got to meet Wally and learn this cool stuff about Inception, and first hand. We need more! :JGLface:

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Crazy Eight wrote:
Neizar wrote:Just one thing,.. What is DOCU STYLE standing for? Outstanding stuff of course, however!
Documentary style shooting. Impromptu.
Uhh, Merci.

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