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Ed Lachman on Hollywood’s Need for Coverage, European Filmmaking and Finding Inspiration

TORUN, Poland – Acclaimed cinematographer Ed Lachman regaled an enraptured audience at the EnergaCamerimage Intl. Film Festival on Monday with anecdotes of his early days, his take on European and Hollywood cinema, and finding inspiration in younger collaborators.

Lachman, who has worked with some of the most prominent German New Wave directors, including Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Volker Schlöndorff and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, said he “was very lucky” to have worked with Robby Müller, describing his work with the late Dutch cinematographer as “probably the best film school I ever had.”

Lachman worked with Müller on Wenders’ “The American Friend” and on Peter Bogdanovich’s “They All Laughed.” The DoP most recently lensed Todd Haynes’ environmental drama “Dark Waters,” starring Mark Ruffalo, which hits U.S. theaters Nov. 22.

On the difference between the U.S. and European style of filmmaking, Lachman said the size of the production was one major distinction.

“I always felt like Hollywood shoots for the editing room. They want to know they have coverage, that the producer can go in or the studio can go in and make choices after you’ve shot the film, whereas in Europe, directors create their own visual language. If you’re Werner Herzog, you shoot differently than Wim Wenders or Fassbinder.

“There was, I felt, one, more respect for the cinematographer, that they were seen as equal partners, and two, that they found their own language. In other words, it wasn’t just about coverage. … Now, that’s changed. There are people in America that do that too, but they’re few and far between. If you shoot a Hollywood film you’re expected to have a certain amount of coverage.”

Discussing the changes brought on by digital technology, Lachman said cinematographers had lost some of the control they once enjoyed due to the tools now available to directors.

“There was a certain area that we controlled or had more say in.” Now, it’s easier to “see things on the set or perceive that we see things on the set, so choices can be made, and that can affect the shot.”

The connection between cinematographer and director nevertheless remains vital for a successful collaboration, he added.

“Not all directors are visual, so you have to work with each director in a different way. Probably you’re best off working with the directors that are most visual because even if you don’t agree with them, at least there’s a point of discussion about something. If you just try to do it on your own, a lot of times your ideas and images that you’re trying to execute will never be realized in the editing room. The rhythm of how you shoot the film is so integral to the approach, the style of how you’re shooting the film, that that has to be a common ground to work with, with the director.”

He continued: “When I was younger I would always figure out how something could be done and that was the way I had to do it and I would fight for that. Now as I get older, I find out there’s more than one way to do it and in some ways I welcome if they want to do something totally different because it forces me into a solution that I wouldn’t normally put myself. Probably the best directors you work with are always pushing you into solutions that you wouldn’t normally put yourself in.”

Collaboration, particularly with younger colleagues, and attending festivals like Camerimage remain important not only to Lachman’s own career, but also to his continued appreciation of cinema.

“Working with younger people I learn things that I wouldn’t normally be around. That’s been why I’ve continued to work with younger people, and also their interests. Even why I come to Camerimage with a film or without a film is because the inspiration you have gives me inspiration, or reminds me why I was interested in film in the first place. When you just work in the industry as a business you can forget that because there are so many other things you have to deal with. This is more of a pure form here.”

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