Elswit shot “Vice” and “Nightcrawler” back-to-back. The two films are both noirish indies set in California, but have little else in common.
“ ‘Vice’ was medium-budget, and shot for quite a few days,” Elswit says. “ ‘Nightcrawler’ was low-budget, and shot for 24 days.”
Helmed by Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler” takes place mostly at night, and Elswit shot it digitally, using Arri Alexa cameras, which excel in capturing details using available light. The low budget and fast schedule precluded extensive lighting. “We had to find locations that already had ambient light, that didn’t require anything except blending our lit foreground into the background,” he says.
To capture “Vice’s” period look, Elswit turned to vintage equipment: prime lenses and even some “old 35mm film stock that Kodak hadn’t made in years that was lying around in people’s attics. Director Paul Thomas Anderson is in love with film,” he says, “as am I.” (Elswit has shot all but one of Anderson’s pictures.)
Despite their differences, the two films shared a location: Los Angeles. “I got to live in my house,” Elswit says, by phone from London. “That doesn’t happen very often anymore.”