Awards: British Film Award for “The Hours.”
Tools: McGarvey utilized Panavision Platinum cameras with Primo lens and “predominantly a high-speed stock, Kodak 5218.” Also key was Panavision’s Hylen System, at the time still in prototype form, which aided in “finding subtle ways of suggesting the slipping in and out of consciousness.”
With Hylen, McGarvey could select an egg-shaped area of the screen to keep in focus while making the rest of the frame go completely soft. Says McGarvey: “It was wonderful because we were able to explore the whole landscape of Nic Cage’s face when he’s in these near-death experiences.”
Aesthetic: “From the earliest discussions, I had with (director) Oliver (Stone), we always talked about an approach of restraint,” says the Irish d.p. That meant eschewing camera operatics in favor of finding “the epic in the everyday. … We wanted to keep a real sense of veracity, believability and respect.”
Visual references: While “The Battle of Algiers” informed the opening section of “World Trade Center,” McGarvey cites French auteur Robert Bresson as the film’s main photographic influence, “Diary of a Country Priest” in particular: “His camera has such an innocence and a purity.”
Challenges: Because much of “WTC” takes place in “the hole” where John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno are trapped, employing realistic lighting was a major concern. “My worry was that there actually wasn’t much light down there,” McGarvey says. “In the early stages of prep, I spent a lot of time testing how far we could go into the dark, how far we could take the negative into blackness.” Ultimately, Stone urged him to keep it dark and “just let me see the eyes.”
What’s next: “Atonement,” based on Ian McEwan’s bestseller. “I’ve seen a rough cut, and it’s an absolutely extraordinary film,” McGarvey says of the Joe Wright-directed pic.