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Ellen Kuras

'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'

Highlights: “Personal Velocity,” “Summer of Sam,” “I Shot Andy Warhol,” “Unzipped”
Laurels: Sundance Cinematography Awards (Dramatic) for “Personal Velocity” (2002), “Angela” (1995), “Swoon” (1992)
Tool kit: Kuras framed “Eternal Sunshine” in 1.85:1 format on Fuji Reala film (500 speed) with an Arriflex camera. The D.I. was done at EFilm.

Ellen Kuras was literally exploring new territory when she photographed “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” The story revolves around Clementine and Joel (Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey), former lovers who decide to take advantage of a high-tech service that enables them to erase the memories of each other when their relationship turns sour. It was the cinematographer’s first collaboration with director Michel Gondry, who co-authored the script with Charlie Kaufman.

“The spirit of ‘Eternal Sunshine’ stems from Michel’s idea of trying to put this film together as if it were a montage,” Kuras says. “He didn’t literally say he wanted to do that, but I got that impression when we were talking about how to construct a world of memories and differentiate it from reality. It was a fascinating exercise in figuring out to how to create looks that reflect the different worlds of reality and memory.”

There were also transitions from one recollection to another, and a poignant sequence where Joel decides he doesn’t want to lose his memories of Clementine. When Gondry explained his intentions for that scene, Kuras visualized a chase with Joel and Clementine running down a long tunnel like a fleeting memory getting farther out of reach.

Kuras says the transitions had to be subtle and nonintrusive in order to keep the story believable and the audience engaged. The solution was the nuanced manipulation of light and colors that differentiated reality from memory.

“Michel and I agreed that we wanted to do a digital intermediate finish from the beginning,” she says, “but we didn’t get permission from the studio until the very end after there was a rough cut.

“Our purpose was to shape the look of the film in ways that are impossible in an optical process. We wanted to isolate and put subtle colors into blacks, midtones and highlights in different memory scenes to differentiate them from reality.”

“The Ballard of Jack and Rose,” her third collaboration with writer/director Rebecca Miller (“Personal Velocity”), will premiere at Sundance.

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