Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski would love it if people could see his latest film, the Tom Hanks Western “News of the World,” on the big screen as it was intended.
But although Universal will carry out a limited theatrical release starting on Christmas Day, he realizes Academy voters and critics group members will probably consume the film at home on their laptops or TVs.
So he thinks Christopher Nolan’s recent criticism of WarnerMedia sending most of its slate to HBO Max was misguided when the pandemic continues to rage around the world.
“There’s COVID. People are suffering way more than Christopher Nolan,” Wolski says of Nolan’s reaction.
Nolan blasted the streaming platform move during an appearance on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” The “Tenet” director said, “It’s very important that everybody remembers the exhibition business provides hundreds of thousands of jobs for ordinary people. And my work has only ever got out there in the world because of the hard work of people working in those businesses. They need to be taken into account as we’re looking at how our work is shown and where it’s shown and how the business moves forward.”
But Wolski, who also shot “The Martian,” “All the Money in the World” and “Alien: Covenant,” said, “His movie was deprived of a huge box office opening on a huge screen, but he’s not the only one.” He went on to say that as nice as it would be to see films on the big screen, cases are on the rise, “Everyone is in the same boat, we have to wait until next year.”
Wolski doesn’t think this will be the death of cinema. The cinematographer, who recently returned to finish production on Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” after it took a hiatus during the pandemic, is optimistic. “People will come back to movies. Maybe going to the movies will be more precious and special.” He adds, “We had to stop in the middle, we took a break, we finished and it’s a visual movie. We are happy that we finished, and everyone was just so happy to be working.”
Though vaccines are gradually rolling out, there’s still no certainty of when audiences can return to the theatrical experience again. He notes if there’s even the slightest possibility that “The Last Duel” could end up on the small screen, then he’s ready to accept that. “The story is very powerful, but it would still work on the small screen.”
It’s a fate he has accepted for his latest work on Paul Greengrass’s “News of the World,” about Civil War veteran Capt. Kidd (Hanks), who has to get a young orphaned girl back to her family. Sweeping vistas make the film a visual stunner. The Ken Burns documentary, “The West” and old-fashioned Westerns were visual influences, as well as Roger Deakins’s work on “The Assassination of Jesse James.” “You go and see what lights they have and what they used,” Wolski says.
He approached the shoot by looking at how he responded to the story. For this, “There was a desire to be close and other times you have to back off. Another way of portraying drama is just by putting two people in the middle of this huge landscape.” He notes that it’s more about intuition than any thought-out philosophy behind his cinematography in all his work.
As Kidd and Helena Zengel’s Johanna travel, we see them at different times of day, and for those moments, it was about playing with color, “just to distinguish the dusky sunrise from those other moments.”
His biggest challenge on the film was working on night scenes with Zengel, who was 10 years old, since she had to be off the set by a certain time. “We had her until 10 p.m., so those night scenes were shot very fast. There was a lot of preparation and we had to move fast.”
He adds, “The story is very powerful. It will still work on the small screen. If you look at the most beautiful paintings, there are beautiful little ones, and there are huge ones. We just have to be content.”
Wolski is grateful that he can be in production and working, and confirms he will team up with Scott on “Gucci,” with Lady Gaga, Robert De Niro and Adam Driver. “While we were finishing the last movie (“The Last Duel”) from 14th century France, we were looking at Gucci sweaters.”