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Michael McDonough: Lighting is paramount

10 Cinematographers to Watch

Lighting excites me the most,” says cinematographer Michael McDonough, speaking from Dublin where he’s currently filming Rodrigo Garcia’s “Albert Dobbs,” a period drama starring Glenn Close. “I’m a big believer in working closely with the camera operator, but concentrating on the lighting. As much as I’ve worked hands-on with highly mobile cameras, all the way back to ‘Down to the Bone,’ I’ve been happy to step back from operating the camera and concentrate my energies on the quality of light and how it plays out in every scene.”

Role model: Vilmos Zsigmond, Gordon Willis, Conrad Hall, Haskell Wexler and Brits Roger Deakins, Chris Menges, Barry Ackroyd, Dick Pope.

From collaborating with such American indie filmmakers as Debra Granik (both “Down” and “Winter’s Bone”), McDonough has been moving up the budget ladder to such projects as Lawrence Kasdan’s recently wrapped “Darlin’ Companion” and “Albert Dobbs.” “On a low, low budget,” notes McDonough, “lighting has to be simplified and operating can be more important, while on bigger budgets, lighting can be more developed, allowing me the time to pick the optimum light choice and finding a variety of ways to shoot a scene.”

Another time element that bigger budgets allow is the ability to research. For “Albert Dobbs,” McDonough examined a wide selection of Irish painting (such as the work of William Lavery) that would provide crucial models to follow for color variations and temperatures, lighting and the integration of the lit image with production and costume design.

“The more I work, I’ve found myself shifting from my early tendency for naturalism toward more magic realism,” he says. “The key in making a move special is tapping its poetic possibilities, so if a shot is set up to look realistic, I’ll introduce a magical realist touch that will push the scene toward something interesting and surprising.”

VITAL STATS:
Role model: Vilmos Zsigmond, Gordon Willis, Conrad Hall, Haskell Wexler and Brits Roger Deakins, Chris Menges, Barry Ackroyd, Dick Pope.
Camera & film used: The RED camera; “I’ve become a big proponent of digital cinematography.”
Fave tools: 10K Molebeam (for “a ‘magical’ shaft of light”); the Lecko (“very controllable”); the Dedo kit (“brilliant, efficient German design”); RIFA 88 (“love it”)

10 Cinematographers to Watch:
Adam Arkapaw | David Boyd | Benoit Debie | Zoltan Honti | Yorick Le Saux | Jody Lee Lipes | Michael McDonough | Reed Morano | Kramer Morgenthau | Andrew Reed

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