‘Carol’ Cinematographer Ed Lachman on Challenges of a Tight Budget

Director of photography Edward Lachman earned his first Oscar nomination for 2003’s “Far From Heaven,” which also marked his first collaboration with director Todd Haynes. This year, he finds himself nominated for another Haynes film with a same-sex love story — “Carol,” based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Price of Salt,” and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Though “Carol” is set in the 1950s, I understand you and Todd Haynes wanted it to have a very different look from “Far From Heaven”?

Absolutely. It’s a different time period — just after the war. The country hasn’t rebuilt itself. So it’s a much more austere era. And it fit the subject matter of Patricia Highsmith’s book. We were interested in documenting the time, and not the way it would have looked in cinema at the time, so we looked at the still photographers of the time. At that time, color photography wasn’t really seen as an art form, and they worked with early Ektachrome film. So the palette of the film is like early Ektachrome — it doesn’t have the full range of the color negative. And we shot Super 16 instead of 35 or digital, because those are almost grainless. We liked how the grain mimicked the feeling of an older photograph. And the way the colors mix on film is different in the digital world. I wanted that contamination of warm and cool colors.

When you’re filming a book adaptation, do you read the novel? 

It depends. I did in the case of “Carol.” But on “Mildred Pierce,” Todd didn’t want me to read the book because we didn’t want to reference the film noir techniques Michael Curtiz used in the 1945 film. He wanted it to be more of a character study.

What were some of the challenges of making “Carol”?

It was a very tight budget. Our film probably cost what craft service was on most of the other films. We were made for under $12 million, all on location. We shot everything in Cincinnati, because Cincinnati today looks more like New York at that time than New York does (now). And Cincinnati in 2014 was a really bitter winter.

Aside from working with Todd, what was a highlight of the process? 

Working with Cate and Rooney is a dream. They have such elegance, and know how to play a frame.

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