Frederick Elmes has collaborated with such iconoclastic directors as David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch, but Charlie Kaufman and “Synecdoche, New York” presented particular challenges.
“You try to realize what the director has in mind,” Elmes says, “and though Charlie always wanted to keep it looking as real as possible — in most cases we used natural light — we also knew it was fantastical.”
The decades-long narrative involves overlapping encounters and characters portrayed by multiple actors. But Elmes says in subtle visual ways, each person and situation was differentiated from the other, be it through camera technique, lighting or the desaturation of color — most of which was done in camera rather than post.
According to Elmes, Kaufman, who was not originally supposed to direct his own screenplay, was “learning as we went along what was needed to make his story.
“It was a relatively low-budget film,” Elmes adds, so ingenuity was essential.
“At one point we lost track of what house we were in,” he says, which led to one of the houses being set on fire and photographed that way throughout.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Camera: Arriflex 435
Secret weapon: A set of older, hand-made lenses, which provided a “sweet visual quality.”
Aesthetic: “Keeping it as real as possible.”