Variety’s latest batch of 10 Cinematographers to Watch hails from all corners of the globe, and touts varying degrees of experience. But what they all share is artistic daring, the yearning to work with filmmakers and material that inspires them, and the desire to punctuate story and character with the appropriate light and mood. Some took longer than others to generate steam in their film and TV careers, and some seem to have emerged fully formed out of the gate. Regardless, these are names we’re convinced will become much more familiar to our readers, and among pros outside their immediate sphere of interest, in the coming months and years.
Work on ‘Krisha’ ‘ 100% psychologically motivated’
’ From the unnerving tracking shot that opens the movie to the occasional shifts in aspect ratio, Daniels and director Trey Edward Shults devised a visual scheme for “Krisha” that would immerse viewers fully in the title character’s troubled point of view. “Every decision we made was 100% psychologically motivated,” Daniels says, noting this placed necessary limitations on his shooting style. “Your visual language has to be exactly the right language for the film.’” Shot on the Red Epic over nine days at Shults’ mom’s house, the intimate, home-grown psychological drama — which won the top narrative prize at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival — charts an eventful Thanksgiving Day when Krisha’s arrival sets off emotional fireworks. It’s feverish and claustrophobic in ways that recall the work of John Cassavetes and Roman Polanski, though its improvisational style and long, flowing Steadicam shots reveal the imprint of one of Daniels’ favorite filmmakers, Robert Altman. “I just love staying with a character and not cutting away,” Daniels says. “You can use editing and shot-reverse-shot really effectively, of course, but if I can keep things in a single shot … that’s always the best way.” Daniels is working on the Shults’ second feature and notes he’ll always feel most content shooting independent films: “Some of the best ideas in movies come from just having the freedom to experiment.”
Rep: ICM Partners
— Justin Chang
Swiss-born dp imbues ‘Jessica Jones’ with a noirish feel
American film noir and Wong Kar-wai are among the influences Billeter has been channeling into “Jessica Jones,” the gritty, dreamy Netflix series from Marvel, which has given the DP a lot of his exposure lately. In the series, Krysten Ritter’s reluctant superhero conducts her private-eye business in a slightly greasy, pre-housing-bubble Manhattan situated somewhere between Wong’s funky Hong Kong streets and the decadent asphalt jungle of James Wong Howe. “We were looking for a combination of those looks,” Billeter says from Panavision in New York, where he is checking out vintage lenses, which he uses on “Jones” in combination with a Red Dragon camera. “Marvel wants everything shot on 4K.” “With Wong, it’s not just the look, but that same kind of collaboration between director and DP,” says Billeter, who has worked on other Netflix series, notably three episodes of “Orange Is the New Black,” which is not the same thing at all. “You come into a show like that and the look has already been established.” Billeter’s already shot “Luke Cage,” which premieres in September; and “Iron Fist,” which the Swiss-born, Berlin-educated DP is lensing in New York.
Rep: Dattner Dispoto and Associates
Highlight: “Jessica Jones,” Netflix
— John Anderson
Strikes balance between mundane and surreal
The Greek New Wave — the cool strain of daring, formalized arthouse cinema that has renewed international interest in the country’s film industry in the past decade — may be shaped by the singular directorial visions of such names as Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari, but it’d look very different without the input of DP Bakatakis. The calm, observational naturalism with which Bakatakis shot Lanthimos’ Oscar-nominated “Dogtooth” and Tsangari’s “Attenberg” stood in pointed contrast to the features’ provocative on-screen content — the tonal overlap between the everyday and the outlandish — that has come to define the movement. International filmmakers liked what they saw. Ira Sachs hired Bakatakis for the explicit 2012 homosexual romance “Keep the Lights On,” enthusing that he “shoots sex better than anyone else … working today.” Since then, Bakatakis has lensed Norwegian helmer Eskil Vogt’s shimmering, Sundance-lauded debut “Blind,” and reunited with Lanthimos for last year’s English-language Cannes winner “The Lobster,” once more negotiating a striking visual balance of the mundane and the surreal. Most recently, he completed work on Australian theater director Benedict Andrews’ first feature, “Una,” starring Rooney Mara. “Because I learned my craft on very low-budget films, I’ve (gotten) used to working with very little equipment — the minimum, really — and without artificial light,” he says. “So that has become my style: more realistic, more natural in the framing and lighting. But that photography has to interact with the story.”
Highlights: “The Lobster,” “Blind”
— Guy Lodge
Gordon Willis fan known for ominous-looking genre films
Born in Belgium, trained in Lebanon and renowned for imagery on par with classic Italian giallos, Dacosse lensed several of the most visually striking European films of the past two years: Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s unsettling “Evolution,” Joann Sfar’s sexy “The Lady in the Car With Glasses and a Gun” and Fabrice Du Welz’s demented “Alleluia.” “In the beginning, I was not really interested in genre films,” says Dacosse. “My parents bought a Sony Handycam when I was 16 and I started to make short films with friends but I wasn’t a good actor, so I handled the camera.” Years later, he hooked up with horror aficionados Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, the married couple responsible for directing ultra-stylized giallo homages “Amer” and “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears,” indoctrinating him in the ways of genre filmmaking, favoring split screens, wild colors, canted angles and cameras staring directly into a character’s eyes. Dacosse, who worked quickly and with whatever was available on a limited budget, adapted to their more flamboyant sensibility, and others took note, hiring him to bring his eye to an assortment of ominous-looking projects. “I love darkness,” says the Gordon Willis fan, who deliberately underexposed much of the Alexa-shot “Evolution,” adding grain in post to approximate the look he and Hadzihalilovic had achieved on her equally creepy 16mm short, “Nectar.” Dacosse’s upcoming projects include Helene Hegemann’s “Axolotl Blockbuster,” set in dark Berlin clubs, and Nicolas Boukhrief’s starrier “The Confession.”
Highlights: “Evolution,” “Alleluia”
— Peter Debruge
DP’s work on ‘concrete night’ impresses upper-echelon peers
Flinckenberg’s poetic, black and white imagery on “Concrete Night” caught the eyes of some tough critics — the American Society of Cinematographers presented him with its Spotlight Award in 2015. In addition, he took home a 2014 Jussi Award (Finland’s equivalent of an Oscar) and a Golden Frog nomination at Poland’s Camerimage, the premiere fest showcase devoted to cinematography. And a short he filmed titled “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” was Oscar-nominated in 2014. Flinckenberg’s sensibility is informed by his extensive work in documentaries, which include “White Rage,” a glimpse into the mind of a mass murderer, and “Pixadores,” about Brazilian street artists. The latter earned him another Jussi. “I’ve always been emotionally sensitive to pictures,” he says. “There is so much a cinematographer can do to deepen the world of the story through images, and that’s my passion. I wanted to step into shooting fiction because I knew I could create subtle emotional layers for the viewer to relate to.” Flinckenberg studied at the U. of Art & Design in Helsinki as well as at NYU. He recently shot “Woodshock,” a long-gestating Kirsten Dunst project directed by fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy, using a variety of media and techniques, including double-exposure and 35 mm film. He is also busy shooting commercials in L.A., and is committed to a feature film titled “The Sound of Metal,” which will star Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson.
Rep: ICM Partners
Highlight: “Concrete Night”
— David Heuring
Mexican lenser likes to work in natural environments
Having graduated from Mexican film school, Mexican TV and a handful of Mexican shorts, Garcia made his feature debut with the much-honored U.S. festival fave “Without,” and the American-independent ethos took root in his mind. And style. “I think that I keep following this kind of indie, natural way to work,” he says from Mexico City. “I like work with natural environments, sometimes with no professional actors, and with directors who are interested in bringing a new language to film.” That’s certainly the case with Garcia’s most recent collaborators: critical darling Apichatpong Weerasethakul for whom he shot “Cemetery of Splendor”; the Brazilian Gabriel Mascaro, whose “Neon Bull” just played to raves at the New Directors/New Films series in New York; and Garcia’s countryman, the Mexican New Wave master Carlos Reygadas (“Japon”), with whom he is making “Where Life Is Born.” These are demanding filmmakers, but in synch with Garcia. “Each director has a different approach,” he says, “but all the films are very natural. I use available light. I work with the sun a lot, different times of the day. Different lenses give you different emotions. It’s a combination of getting the best things we find in the locations and at the same time we try to make it … not beautiful. But right.”
— John Anderson
Collaborations with director Ben Wheatley bear fruit
Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that the slick look on display in Ben Wheatley’s social-climbing sci-fier “High-Rise” and forthcoming shoot-’em-up “Free Fire” began with a series of deliberately crappy-looking viral videos — wildly dangerous stunts passed off as Darwin Award-worthy “don’t try this at home” mishaps for the BBC. That rough-and-tumble handheld aesthetic served Wheatley and DP Rose well on their first feature collaboration, “Down Terrace,” a tight indie thriller shot in just eight days that benefits enormously from the gritty digital approach — as did their next outing, the deeply unsettling “Kill List.” Rose had been working on reality and nonfiction TV series for years before a partnership with Wheatley that has spanned six features, each one slightly better funded — yet infinitely more ambitious — than the last. “We went off and did our day jobs in between them,” explains Rose, who picked up new skills — working with dollies, cranes and Steadicams, while building a reliable team of grips on pics such as “Cuban Fury” and “Man Up.” When it came to “High-Rise,” that training made all the difference. Shooting on stages afforded a newfound degree of control, though the underlying/unnerving sense of “camera as character” remains.
Rep: United Agents, London
Highlights: “High-Rise,” “Free Fire”
— Peter Debruge
AFI grad must feel connected to the script to commit to a director’s vision
Lenczewska’s mystical relationship with light has taken her from her native Polish countryside and carried her around the globe. She pulled a rare coup with simultaneous Sundance premieres in 2014 – “Imperial Dreams,” directed by Malik Vitthal, and Zeresenay Mehari’s “Difret,” which was filmed in remotest Ethiopia. Her imagery earned nods in Park City and in Camerimage’s cinematographers debut competition. Since then, the L.A.-based DP has framed a Polish-Swedish drama (“Strange Heaven,” directed by Dariusz Gajewski), spent three months in Greece with director Sofia Exarhou on “Park,” and returned to Africa for parts of “Message From the King” with Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz. This impressive display of versatility derives in part from Lenczewska’s insistence on waiting for the right script. Upon graduation from AFI, she shot more than 40 shorts and many commercials as she searched. These days, good opportunities are coming faster. “Each project is so different,” she says. “There’s no recipe or reason, except that I somehow need to feel connected to the script in order to devote myself to it. Meanwhile, the projects are getting bigger and more logistically complex. The energy of the material is why I’m there. Cinematography is a heavy and tiring job. You need to strongly believe in the story and fully commit to the vision of the director.” Lenczewska is shooting spots in Europe and eyeing her next feature, to be shot in Iceland.
Highlights: “Imperial Dreams,” “Difret”
— David Heuring
Apprenticeships with RSA, Pfister add weight to resume
You don’t have to grow up in a picturesque location to become a talented DP, but it helps. “I was raised in Sussex in a valley next to a river in a really remote location,” says the London-born, L.A.-based and ASC Rising Star award-winning Morgan. “My four older sisters and I ran around the woods and played in the riverbanks. It just fosters your imagination.” The BBC documentary crew that used her farmhouse as a base camp and let her look through an eyepiece at age 13 didn’t hurt, either. But none of that or the training that followed — an M.A. in cinematography at AFI, as a runner at Ridley Scott’s RSA Films, as an intern for celebrated DP Wally Pfister on “Inception” — fully explains the natural talent she’s displayed as the cinematographer behind 2013’s “The Truth About Emanuel” or the recent Sundance hit “The Intervention.” “My style is a blend between a naturalistic, free approach with a more classical, conventional approach,” she says. And without prompting over recent news that only 4% of ASC members are women, she adds, “I suppose my work is influenced by the fact that I am a female. Emotion is something that plays quite strongly in it.” Next up for Morgan are the indie “Slumber” and BBC/Sundance Channel series “The A Word.” And given her admiration for Steven Spielberg, she says she’d “love nothing more” than a studio project.
Rep: The Gersh Agency
Highlight: “The Intervention”
— Gregg Goldstein
Advertising, stints on Ridley Scott films led to DP chair on ‘Morgan,’ ‘Taboo’
Patten comes out of advertising so it seems fitting that his segue into long-form filmmaking was via another celebrated commercial-maker, namely Ridley Scott. Having directed the viral campaign spots for “Prometheus” and “The Counselor,” Patten moved into the DP chair on another Scott Free production, the upcoming “Morgan,” and was then tapped to direct the first block of the Tom Hardy-powered “Taboo,” a period piece that seems part “Count of Monte Cristo,” part “‘Great Expectations,” part “Barry Lyndon” – the lighting, at least. “When you look at a Caravaggio, or a Goya, all the light comes from a single source of light, and that was a starting point for us,” Patten says of the series’ inky, moody palette. “We wanted to emulate that period where there was no gas or electricity, trying to use natural sources as much as possible. I’d love to say it was done by candle light, which is obviously technically very difficult to do, but that was the goal, to be as naturalistic as possible.” Patten has been going nine straight months on “Taboo.” Both “Morgan’ and “Blood Orange,” which stars Iggy Pop, are nearing release. “It’s a bit mad,” says Patten.
Rep: ICM Partners
Highlights: Viral campaigns for “The Counselor,” “Prometheus”