When asked about Lol Crawley, “Ballast” writer-director-editor Lance Hammer leaves no room for doubt about his cinematographer: “Without him, the film would be impossible, and couldn’t have been made. It’s more than just a case that it’s as much his film as mine. Lol was the co-author.”
In a world of auteurs and possessory credits reinforcing the widely held notion of the director as star, these are rare words of acknowledgment.
But for those who have seen “Ballast,” about the gradual emotional and physical recovery of a fractured family after a tragedy, they’re no exaggeration. From the opening shot, picturing the young son running through a field in the pancake-flat and forlorn Mississippi Delta and causing a flock of birds to explode in a rush of flight, an exceptional sense of place and mood is established purely through the classic values of composition, light and bodies in physical space. It’s the kind of moment made possible only when a cinematographer and director are working in harmony.
“When Lance and I first met,” says Crawley, “we became allies and respected each other’s opinions right away. And because he encouraged his nonprofessional actors to discover their scenes for themselves, it meant that we weren’t strictly following a script and firm storyboards, although there were both. We had to think on our feet most of the time.
“(Cinematographer) Chris Doyle likes to remark about how he loves being in this privileged position where it’s just him, the camera and the actors. I found myself there, and it allowed me to tap into the human rhythms of people just relating to each other.”
This may also speak to why Crawley cites “truth” as the cinematography tool he can’t do without, but it also underlines that the shooting of “Ballast,” for which Crawley won Sundance’s cinematography prize, “was much more about camera operating than lighting. The final cut contains a lot more handheld shots than earlier cuts, but overall, this was a shoot where the camera had to roam a lot and capture moments and people and nature, rather than lighting things just so.”
Film that changed my life: “Breaking The Waves”
Mentor or inspiration: Anthony Dod Mantle. “He really serves the film, and adapts to circumstances.”
Tool I can’t do without: Truth
Reps: Sheldon Prosnit Agency, Los Angeles; Dench Arnold Agency, London