BYDGOSZCZ, Poland — Top cinematographers may have finally accepted that digital is the way forward but the look of films is still too often based on technological choices, not artistic ones.
So argue America’s top lensers, who made their case Monday — sometimes to cheers — at Poland’s Camerimage fest, arguably the world’s leading showcase for DPs.
“We lost a sense of the magic,” according to Steven Poster, who’s lensed “Donnie Darko” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” “We’re in a very dangerous period now.”
Camera manufacturers have made incredible strides, DPs say, but too often concentrate on resolution gains rather than color depth, rich blacks and the imperfect, organic qualities that give film its emotional impact — such as grain.
Colleague Matthew Libatique, a collaborator with Darren Aronofsky on “Black Swan” and lenser for “Iron Man,” concurs.
Particularly troubling is the fast-eroding respect for commitments made to a film’s look before or during a shoot, Libatique argues, citing some cameras that are now even marketed as requiring no cinematographer at all.
The old fix-it-in-post saw has become a commonplace mentality, he adds, to the extent that producers and even colorists feel free to adjust, relight and even recompose images without much thought for the deliberate look that a DP has created in concert with a helmer.
“We have too many options,” he says.
Cinematographer Ed Lachman, an industry maestro with 68 features under his belt including “Erin Brockovich,” “The Virgin Suicides” and “I’m Not There,” adds that even choosing to shoot non-digitally is increasingly tough. “I’ve tried to hold onto film,” he says, even if that means going with Super 16mm.
Among his reasons — shared by the others — are that helmers and producers now tend to fixate on monitors that often don’t represent the true look a lenser is getting.
“There are 40 films being shot on film in Hollywood this year,” he points out. “Why is that?”
Cinematographer Nancy Schreiber, whose credits include “Chain of Desire” and “Dead Beat,” says that when budgets are squeezed, it often means that someone not involved in shooting will take liberties with footage in post — and there won’t be coin for the lenser to be present. On such projects, she says, “It’s all I can do to get my look all the way through.” She recommends that shooters stick around for editing “even if they don’t want us.”