About the only thing “Lions for Lambs,” “The Great Debaters” and “The Brave One” have in common is Philippe Rousselot, the Oscar-winning French cinematographer of “A River Runs Through It.” And while each of these three films is indeed distinctly different from the other — running the gamut from political to inspirational to action thriller — Rousselot displays an impressive ease of range.
“Challenges do not come from working on films that are very different,” he says. “The change helps staying off routines and keeps one interested.”
To capture a small, racially charged Texas town in the 1930s in “Debaters” or modern-day Washington, D.C., in “Lions” or the mean streets of New York in “The Brave One,” Rousselot turned, in some scenes, to Chinese paper lanterns — a method of 360-degree lighting he began using 21 years ago on helmer John Boorman’s “Hope and Glory.”
“It was very different from what people used at the time,” Rousselot says. “Chinese lanterns are, for me, a very useful and practical way of producing soft light. The mood you achieve does not depend on the nature of the source itself, but rather on where and how you use it. I used them on these three films, in very different situations and with very different results.”
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The lanterns also lend variability to the light, and thus variability to the scene. “I like to use light in a way that it changes for every shot,” Rousselot says, “as a way of changing the light as the camera changes its course.”
Awards pedigree: Oscar for “A River Runs Through It”; BAFTA, BSC kudos for “Interview With the Vampire”; BSC award for “Hope and Glory”; NSFC awards for “Hope and Glory” and “Diva”; Cesars for “La Reine Margot,” “Therese” and “Diva.”
Mentor/inspiration: Nestor Almendros. “He was the first major d.p. I worked with, and the person who inspired me the most in film.”
Visual aids: “I work a lot with my visual memory, and that can be anything from what I see every day, or from my knowledge or experience in painting. Or from photographs and from anything that’s visual. It’s a conversion of the day and what you remember, how the light was at a certain time in a certain place.”
Favorite tools: Chinese lanterns. Also uses dimmer bulbs in a similar way.