Frederick Elmes


Highlights: “Eraserhead,” “Blue Velvet,” “The Ice Storm,” “Storytelling”
Dream collaborator: Orson Welles
Laurels: Indie Spirit Awards for “Wild at Heart” (1990), “Night on Earth” (1991); National Society of Film Critics, “Blue Velvet” (1986)
Tool kit: On “Kinsey” Elmes used an ARRICAM camera package; Kodak Vision 5274 (200-speed) and 5279 (500-speed), Eastman EXR 5245 (50-speed daylight) and Eastman Double-X 5222 (200-speed) black-and-white negatives. DuArt in New York did the front-end lab work, and he timed release prints at Deluxe in Los Angeles.

Frederick Elmes met Bill Condon while they were judging an independent film competition. When he heard that Condon had written and was going to direct “Kinsey,” Elmes called and said he was interested.

That direct initiative was uncharacteristic for the cinematographer, best known for his work with David Lynch including “Blue Velvet.” Elmes felt “Kinsey” could be a uniquely interesting character study and a portrait of America at a time of transition.

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Condon told Elmes that he envisioned a reality-based film that would reflect the times and places, mainly at and around the U. of Indiana. The core of the script spanned Kinsey’s life from his early 20s into his 50s, with occasional flashbacks to his youth. Condon wanted to compose in widescreen format and invest as little of the relatively modest $11 million budget as possible on set construction and visual effects.

Elmes suggested shooting in anamorphic rather than Super 35 format, partially because he wanted to use lenses developed by Joe Dunton.

He explains that the lenses render crystal-sharp, distortion-free images that he felt projected the right aesthetic for revealing interactions between Kinsey and other characters. Elmes preferred anamorphic format for intimate close-ups, especially in scenes where Kinsey is conducting interviews. Those subtleties in the visual language are transparent to audiences, but they touch them on an emotional level the same way music does.

Production designer Richard Sherman found older buildings in Manhattan that matched the period architecture in the story, while Elmes mainly covered scenes with a single camera — tracking the action like an invisible character. There are no cranes and just a few Steadicam and handheld shots in places where it was impractical to lay track.

“The story skips forward and backward in time,” Elmes says. “We created slightly different looks for each period, using a combination of production design, costumes and subtle changes in lighting. There were few tungsten lights in early periods, so we created a little warmer, more natural looking light coming through classroom windows. The light is more neutral in later periods, and sex history interviews were filmed in black and white.”