For “Eastern Promises,” d.p. Peter Suschitzky used the grizzled faces of actors who play Russian mobsters as his canvas, artfully manipulating light to achieve a chiaroscuro effect on their sinister mugs. “Light only becomes interesting when there’s shadow to make you aware of it,” Suschitzky says. “I wanted the eye of the audience to make a bit of a journey into the mystery of the dark. It allows them to imagine a bit and to work a bit.”
Helmer David Cronenberg jokes that he could barely get through Suschitzky’s flags and screens to approach the actors and give them direction. “He’s like a sculptor,” the director says. “He goes through so much to shape the light.”
“Promises” was the first real work Suschitzky had done in his hometown of London in 24 years. “We wanted to make London look as gritty and gray as we could,” Suschitzky says. “Most of the scenes were not a gift to the cinematographer. So I had to work hard to make them interesting.” Ironically, they couldn’t rely on London’s infamous fog to provide the necessary weather, so they had to shoot in a variety of different lights to ensure the right gloom.
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“People came up to me and said they’d never seen London like that,” Cronenberg says, “and I think a lot of it had to do with his lighting.”
Awards pedigree: Genie Awards for “Crash” (1996), “Naked Lunch” (1991) and “Dead Ringers” (1988). National Society of Film Critics Award for “Where The Heart Is” (1990).
Mentor/inspiration: “I’ve always had a whole bunch of filmmakers whom I’ve loved, and they’re all unfortunately long-gone dead, like the great French directors and Bergman.”
Visual aids: “I look at art and photography and practice photography myself all the time, so I didn’t have to look at anything in particular. I did look at and start to read a book on Russian criminal tattoos though.”
Favorite tool: “Simply instinct. … You can get great results with the most simple and old-fashioned equipment or the most modern, sophisticated equipment. All that matters is whether you have any creativity.”