Back in the days when actor-turned-director Todd Field was studying at the American Film Institute, in a class that included helmer Darren Aronofsky and current hotshot d.p. Matthew Libatique, Antonio Calvache seemed to walk on water.
“They were all pie-eyed and in awe of Antonio,” Field recalls. “We had a lot of great cinematography teachers then. Connie Hall and Michael Chapman were guest lecturers; John Alonzo was our department head. And all those guys said, ‘Antonio Calvache is going to be the next great cinematographer.’ ”
Calvache is not a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, whose camaraderie often masks clashing egos and competing agendas. The softspoken Spaniard, who now lives in L.A.’s Silverlake neighborhood, doesn’t make a conscious attempt to glad-hand or network, nor does his style call attention to itself, which might account for his relative anonymity in below-the-line debates about who’s hot and who’s not. But his meticulous ability to milk the maximum amount of drama and meaning from a scene is undeniable.
Field’s moody directorial debut, “In the Bedroom” (2001), introduced a filmmaker who was fully formed, arriving at emotional truths with an economy and precision that is astounding. It’s now clear that Calvache’s lighting deserves some of the credit.
“Antonio has an exquisite eye in terms of the way light falls,” Field says. “He doesn’t gild anything, and there’s very little vanity in his work. You can walk into a room and say, ‘I like how this light feels,’ and you won’t feel a source (light) from him. The rooms don’t feel lit. That’s not just not lighting, that’s lighting and then subverting your lighting. And it’s a very hard thing to do.”
Fields’ recent “Little Children,” about infidelity and dashed hopes in upper middle class suburbia, presented its own set of challenges, especially in scenes where actors Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson were required to disrobe. Because only Field, the actors and a sound man were present, Calvache had to make adjustments between takes. “I need to be very quick, because that’s the reality,” Calvache says. “You don’t want to lose the freshness of the actors or get in the way of the performances. So I need to approach my work with that kind of humility.”
Favorite tool: Master Prime high-speed lenses. “They allow you to use the maximum amount of light.”
Preferred film stock: “I have a stock for day exteriors, day interiors, the magic hour, night exteriors and night interiors.”
Inspiration: Nestor Almendros, best known for Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven” and his collaborations with Francois Truffaut. “His work is the most naturalistic of any d.p.,” says Calvache. “He would shoot with mostly natural light, and I pursued a look like that.”
What’s next: “I have three scripts, and I don’t know which one I’m going to do.”
Rep: Jonathan Silverman, Endeavor