A French cinema veteran who shot such American indies as “Gummo” and “Nurse Betty” as well as the Oscar-decorated “Good Will Hunting,” Jean-Yves Escoffier tragically passed away in April at 52, shortly after completing post-production on “The Human Stain.”
The film’s director, Robert Benton, was heartbroken by Escoffier’s death, saying he had hoped to collaborate with Escoffier for years to come in the same kind of partnership Benton once had with the late d.p. Nestor Almendros, who helped Benton win a directing Oscar for “Kramer vs. Kramer” in 1979.
Escoffier’s work on “The Human Stain,” a dark and tragic story, makes extensive use of muted colors, mixes flashbacks with present-day material, and subtly makes distinctions about race apparent in the cinematography. Although Escoffier followed Benton’s basic visual template, the director credits Escoffier with helping him develop that template, particularly with his use of a naturalistic, soft-lighting scheme and his dominance of the digital intermediate process.
“I trusted Jean-Yves so completely that I never suggested lenses or camera positions to him, and I only looked through the lens when Jean-Yves asked me to,” Benton recalls. “I knew little about digital intermediate, but Jean-Yves was so well prepared and had such a clear understanding of what he needed to do, that it was easy to let him take the lead there.”
Indeed, the DI on the film, performed at Technique in Burbank, in collaboration with colorist Stephen Nakamura, was Escoffier’s idea. Nakamura says numerous scenes in the film were slightly adjusted or manipulated under Escoffier’s watchful eye as part of extending his cinematography.
Escoffier was working on Wong Kar- Wai’s “2046” at the time of his death, a project that is being finished by d.p. Christopher Doyle.
Key tools: Panavision Platinum for ‘A’ camera and Panavision XL for Steadicam; Kodak 5274 (200 ASA) stock, with some 5279 (500 ASA) mixed in for night sequences.
Aesthetic: Director Robert Benton says Escoffier helped him create a palette filled with “muted colors, contrasting winter and spring, with winter bleak and spring bright and vivid, and with a dark look to the confrontational scenes.”
Challenge: Escoffier was particularly interested in performing extensive color manipulation and a variety of subtle corrections to the imagery during the digital intermediate process, according to colorist Stephen Nakamura.