Eye on the Oscars: The Cinematographer

Robert Richardson calls his fourth collaboration with Quentin Tarantino on “Django Unchained,” “one of the most intense films I’ve ever been involved with emotionally.”

The film, about a freed slave (Jamie Foxx) who teams with a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to take on an evil plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) to retrieve his long-lost love, was shot over approximately 110 days in Los Angeles, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and various locations in Louisiana.

“It was very difficult not to feel the weight of slavery,” says the three-time Oscar-winning d.p.

Despite having recently worked with Tarantino on another revenge film, 2009′s “Inglorious Basterds,” Richardson doesn’t necessarily see parallels between the two statements other than Tarantino’s penchants for using a bright color palette and paying homage to other auteurs.

Shot on Panavision cameras with a wide variety of anamorphic lenses, the. d.p. used mainly Kodak 5213 (200 ASA) and 5219 (500 ASA) and occasionally pushed the 5219 stock to a 1000 ASA for night shoots to allow use of a slower anamorphic zoom lens.

“(Quentin) didn’t want to shoot ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller,’ ” Richardson says of the Robert Altman western known for d.p. Vilmos Zsigmond pre-flashing the negative to bleed some of the vibrancy from the image. “Not that he doesn’t have a great respect for that film, but he wanted something with a wider ranging color spectrum.”

In addition to several Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci films, the duo watched Spaghetti Western maestro Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 cult classic “Django” as well as his 1968 masterpiece, “The Great Silence” for inspiration.

“What we found while we watched these films was their unique utilization of the zoom,” Richardson says. “Whether for budget reasons or aesthetics, we were uncertain but we were inspired to work often with the zoom. Not just the snap zoom but to make use of the zoom in collaboration with dolly and crane moves as well as from a traditional fixed position.”

Eye on the Oscars: The Cinematographer
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