“Django Unchained” is Robert Richardson’s fourth collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, but that doesn’t mean the duo can read each other’s minds … yet.
Shot over 120 days in Los Angeles, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and various locations in Louisiana on Panavision cameras with a wide variety of anamorphic lenses, Richardson discovered that in order to create the pulpy, reconfigured Civil War-era America Tarantino envisioned for his Spaghetti Southern, he would have to go outside his comfort zone.
“The primary change to my technique (on this film) was an emphasis upon color — upon a deeply saturated image,” Richardson says.
“Quentin thrives on creating a rich and vibrant tapestry; he wanted his western to not mimic the tendency towards a muted palette that dominates current aesthetics. So I turned my back upon what I would perhaps have attempted (for example as in ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’) and embraced Quentin’s choice. That sounds easy on paper but in life and work that is extremely difficult to accomplish.”
“Django” is Richardson’s eighth Oscar nomination as a cinematographer. He claimed his third Academy Award last year for his work on Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.” The d.p. went straight from working on “Hugo,” his first foray into 3D filmmaking, to Tarantino’s lurid, R-rated “Django,” which meant shifting gears — fast.
From the lightening-quick zooms to an insert of unpicked cotton sprayed with blood to a shot of Jamie Foxx riding into town framed through a hangman’s noose, “Django” pays homage to many of Tarantino’s cinematic influences.
His research for the film consisted of watching such films as Sergio Corbucci’s “The Great Silence,” Mario Bava’s “Blood and Black Lace,” Sergio Leone’s “For a Few Dollars More” and Don Taylor’s “The Five Man Army” among others, to tap into the visually stylized universe Tarantino sought to create.
“What (Quentin and I) found while we watched these films was their unique utilization of the zoom,” Richardson says. “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.”
But Richardson says that using authentic American landscape backdrops, not the stylized lensing, proved the most difficult part of the shoot.
“Maintaining consistency in the exterior daytime scenes was a challenge,” he says. “Quentin writes sequences that are complex and often quite long. The weather in Louisiana is tremendously fickle, in particular as the summer approaches, which is when we filmed. We were able to overcome most of the obstacles with patience, back light and the use of large frames of cover.”
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