When it came time to shoot “Milk,” helmer Gus Van Sant wanted d.p. Harris Savides to get the naturalistic style he had in mind by borrowing from another genre’s techniques.
“He wanted to shoot it like we were a documentary crew and approach everything as if it was news happening and there was no narrative,” says Savides. “But it wasn’t working. You noticed it. So we decided to shoot it more like a regular movie and keep it as simple and naturalistic as possible.”
Van Sant and Savides — who first met when they worked together on a Levi’s commercial in the early stages of their careers — pushed the documentary look further by mixing their footage with that taken in the era of Harvey Milk.
“This is the least stylized of the films I’ve done with Gus Van Sant,” says Savides, who also worked on Van Sant’s “Finding Forrester” and “Last Days.” “We just decided to keep it very realistic after we lost our first plan.”
Savides — who was also d.p. on films as diverse as “The Yards,” “Margot at the Wedding” and “Zodiac” — is not about to leave his fingerprints on the look of a movie.
“I don’t want to repeat myself,” says Savides. “I have a real issue with that. You shouldn’t be seeing me. You should be seeing the film.”
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Camera: 16mm Canon Scoopic and Arricam Studio Lite
Secret weapon: “I’m there for the story and I let that inform all my choices.”
Aesthetic: “My philosophy is to always light naturally if I can.”