Eye on the Oscars: The Cinematographer

Romanian-born cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. used digital formats to shoot “Youth Without Youth,” “Tetro,” and “Twixt Now and Sunrise” for Francis Ford Coppola. But his latest, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” used 65 mm film and a completely photochemical post path.

Malaimare says he wanted to evoke the crispness and shallow depth of field characteristic of iconic post-war still photography, which was often captured with large format 4×5 Speed Graphic still cameras and sharp lenses.

The 65 mm format is generally used for sweeping landscape dramas (see Ron Fricke’s “Samsara”) but here the power of the larger negative is often focused on the contours of the human face, especially that of Joaquin Phoenix, who plays a neurotic vet who forms an unlikely, intimate bond with a charismatic cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

About 15% of the picture was done in standard 35 mm, including scenes done in tight quarters or with multiple cameras. Malaimare chose a range of exotic lenses, in part to smooth over the differences in the two formats. Initially, the filmmakers planned to use the bigger negative for only 20% of the film.

“As we were looking at dailies, we saw that every 65 mm shot was so amazing,” Malaimare says. “After a week or two of shooting, we switched, and ended up shooting something like 85% of the movie on five-perf 65 mm.”

He chose to shoot extensively on slower, fine grain film stock. There was no digital intermediate.

“Paul really believes in the photochemical process,” Malaimare says. “It delivers better quality. By using the large, low-speed negative, not using any filters and using these very sharp lenses, you get extremely high-image quality — and you don’t want to ruin that with a scanner. In certain scenes, we recreated a colorful, Kodachrome look, and for ideas on how to shoot on board boats, we looked at ‘The Black Stallion’ (1979, directed by Carroll Ballard and shot by Caleb Deschanel). We copied some shots directly from that film.”

Eye on the Oscars: The Cinematographer
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