Alexander Witt has been working with Ridley Scott since 1989, but it wasn’t until “Body of Lies” that the Chilean-born camera pro found a window in his schedule to actually d.p. one of the director’s features.
“We’ve been trying to do this for years,” Witt says, but things got complicated:
Between “Black Rain” and “Black Hawk Down,” Witt had become one of the industry’s most sought-after second unit directors. (All the helicopter shots in the 2001 war picture are Witt’s handiwork.)
Witt’s first big promotion actually came from “Black Rain” d.p. Jan de Bont. Though he had moved to Europe with an acting career in mind, Witt instead found work as de Bont’s focus puller. When it came time for de Bont to direct “Speed,” he asked Witt to manage the second unit (a position typically reserved for those with experience in stunt coordinating), leading to similar opportunities on “Gladiator,” “The Bourne Identity” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Finally, on “American Gangster,” Scott insisted Witt should d.p. the next movie. He would have done it sooner (the idea came up as Scott was about to make “A Good Year”), but Witt was simply too busy flipping cars for “Casino Royale” and making “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” to shoulder d.p. duties for an entire feature.
“I was offered ‘Indiana Jones,’ and I said no because I really wanted to wait for Ridley,” says Witt, who appreciates the fact that Scott pays attention not only to the performances but also those supporting details that create visual interest.
“He brings a frame to life, (which) takes the audience into the scene, makes you smell and feel the place,” adds Witt, explaining what he has learned from Scott. Consider the bonfires that blanket a Jordanian landfill in “Body of Lies.” “He was an art director before, and I think that gave him an edge.”
Film that changed my life: “I was probably 14 when I saw ‘Toby Tyler,’ about this little kid that runs away from home and joins a circus, and I fell in love with the girl. That’s when I decided I had to work in films so I could meet her.”
Mentor or inspiration: “Heinz Feldhaus, who worked for Panavision and Arri, took me under his wing and introduced me to
cinematographers like Sven Nykvist, Gerry Fisher, John Alcott, Doug Slocombe and others.”
Tool I can’t do without: “The camera exposes the film, but it doesn’t do the photography. That is 100% the photographer,” says Witt, who swears by camera operators Ken Fisher and Clive Jackson.
Rep: Ann Murtha, the Murtha Agency