Australian cinematographer Mandy Walker (“Lantana,” “Shattered Glass”) has quietly made a name for herself as an avid collaborator with a patient eye for nuance and as much technical acumen as emotional verve.
Lately Walker has excelled in the compressed dynamics of the commercial arena, where she has shot spots for such products as Chanel No. 5, American Express and Virgin Atlantic for directors like Baz Luhrmann and Chris Noonan, both fellow Aussies.
Her first love, however, is features (she last prepped the Nicole Kidman/Russell Crowe film, “Eucalyptus,” for Jocelyn Moorhouse, but the project was postponed to give the filmmakers more time to hone the script).
“I don’t want to put my stamp on a movie that doesn’t express the director’s vision,” she says over the phone from Los Angeles, where she has lived for the past several years.
Working on “Shattered Glass” (2003) with then first-time director Billy Ray, for example, Walker helped come up with a visual strategy that reinforced both story and tone. “What I had to do is really subtle,” she reflects. “Sometimes, in the early parts of the film, we had to be handheld, but not crazy handheld. This was just to be disconcerting and to set you feeling a bit unbalanced in a subconscious way.”
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In the second half of the film, Walker recalls, she and Ray placed the camera on a dolly and began to change the lighting to subliminally influence audience response.
Ray says collaborating with Walker gave him a boost. “Other than her level of confidence in me, I don’t think I would have had any in myself,” says Ray. “She is collegial, easygoing, generous, humorous and totally dedicated to her craft.”
While the harsh energy and high angle of the Australian sun taught her tough lessons about exterior light, Walker above all seeks balance in her work. “As well as being technical in my job,” she says, “the most important thing is being an artist. I very much have to work on an emotional level, too.”
Favorite tool: “Mine would have to be the balloon lights that are available now; they produce beautiful light, and are easy to put almost anywhere.”
Preferred film stock: “My favorite film stock is Kodak 5218. I tend to work with low light levels and this film sees into shadows amazingly, and it doesn’t pick up grain like the older high-speed stocks.
Inspiration: “The early films shot by Robby Muller. His compositions and use of light is so beautiful and always suited the storytelling of those films.”
What’s next: Heading back to Australia to lense Luhrmann’s “Untitled Epic,” starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.
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