|Highlights: “Matchstick Men,” “Gladiator,” “Love is the Devil,” “Bye-Bye”
Laurels: BAFTA Award for “Gladiator” (2000), one Oscar nom, one ASC nom
Dream collaborators: “I would’ve loved to have worked with Sir David Lean or Alfred Hitchcock. Today it’d be Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, or anyone younger than me.”
Tool kit: On “Phantom” Mathieson used an Anaphormic “E” Series camera and Kodak 5218 and
John Mathieson says cinematography is “not an art form as some believe, but a craft. To be really good at it one must be a top technician, not a creative genius … You don’t just turn up and do your thing.”
Mathieson, whose work in “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of The Opera” is on display at the local multiplex, believes it is also important to be able to understand the vision of the director.
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“The best directors know how to explain what they are after,” says Mathieson, who has worked repeatedly with Ridley Scott, including on the upcoming “Kingdom of Heaven.” “They know the better they can articulate it, the more likely all of the important visual elements will be up on the screen. The problem is, some directors are not so visual in their language and that can create problems.”
Mathieson says “Phantom” director Joel Schumacher was very clear communicating his concept to bring the famous stage play to the bigscreen. “He seduced me into doing the film, he told me how dark it would be, and yet quite opulent — a full-on gaudy, Gothic visual trip. He was also very enthusiastic.”
Schumacher calls the film “the play on steroids; lavish, over-the-top.” He says Mathieson “did a terrific job in sometimes very unsympathetic” environments such as water-filled caves.
Mathieson knows what it’s like to work on big films, including epics like Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. His other credits include Scott’s “Matchstick Men” and “Hannibal,” as well as a number of smaller films.
The d.p. came up through the traditional camera ranks before his work on the musicvideo “Peekaboo” by Siouxsie and the Banshees and Madonna’s “American Pie” remake. He’ll parlay his pop sensibilities into the upcoming “Wild and Wycked World of Brian Jones.”
While big-name directors are often hired for their identifiable styles, Mathieson believes that a good cinematographer’s work should be indistinguishable from one project to the next.
“I don’t want people to look at a film and be able to tell I worked on it by the way it is shot,” says Mathieson. “Each film should look unique. My skills should be tested each time out.”