Elliot Davis

Thirteen

Director and co-screenwriter Catherine Hardwicke pushed the theme of teen angst to the brink in her indie-produced and financed “Thirteen.” In developing the film’s aesthetic, Hardwicke and cinematographer Elliot Davis decided to shoot on Super 16mm film but keep the camera as unobtrusive as possible.

“The camera was hand-held and images are very fluid,” Davis says. “There’s a high-energy feeling that plugs into a 13-year-old’s energy. The camera is fearless, like they are.”

Davis, who studied architecture in college, reveals that he sees and lights actors’ faces in a structural way, almost like buildings. “I like looking at women to bring out their inner beauty,” explains the d.p., whose credits include “White Oleander,” “Out of Sight” and “Legally Blonde 2.”

“Thirteen” is both expressionistic and minimalist in its design, says Davis, who is reluctant to impose a signature visual style on the films he lenses; as a cinematographer, he feels, his foremost challenge is to be true to the material.

After completing his architectural studies at the University of Virginia, Davis was hooked by filmmaking after directing a student film. He then attended UCLA’s graduate film program. He recently completed lensing “A Love Song for Bobby Long,” directed by Shainee Gabel and starring Scarlett Johansson and John Travolta.

“Thirteen” evokes a very on-the-edge hyper-reality. Davis pushed the film’s exposure rather than using a larger light package. He kept it simple with Kino Flos and a few mid-sized HMIs. The film’s post-industrial, rough-and-tumble appearance comes in part from the desaturated hues.

“There was a lot of experimentation in terms of contrast and color,” says Davis. “It’s done in a very contrasty yet desaturated palette, almost like burning a candle at both ends.”

Snapshot
Key tools: Super 16mm, color manipulated via digital-intermediate.
Aesthetic: “Post-industrial, rough-and-tumble edgy, hyper-reality.”
Biggest challenge: The compressed shooting sked (24 days) combined with work-hour regulations for the minor age actors.

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