Vision Quest: 5 Cinematographers & Their Unique Techniques

The role of cinematographer is a sort of hybrid between translator (of a director’s vision), guru (they impart wisdom to everyone on set on how a scene can be blocked, shot) and first mate. They’re as close to a director’s equal as you can get in the dictatorship that is a film. While every member of a film crew, to varying degrees, shapes the final product that we see in the theater, the cinematographer is second only to the director to the power they exert. They are, after all, involved in every single shot. It is through their lens that we experience a movie.

With that in mind, we’ve selected five cinematographers who have films coming out soon or semi-soon, and who have crafted singular, beautiful films, often one very different from the next.

Anthony Dod Mantle (Rush, September 20): When we interviewed Mantle back in April, we chatted with him about shooting Danny Boyle’s narcotic, hypnotic Trance, a movie we still can’t quite figure out but we definitely enjoyed. There were so many wow moments in that film, so many ingeniously set up shots (mirrored images, perspective shifts, that perfectly calibrated art heist sequence) that you gleefully went along despite not having a clue where you were going. His latest work can be seen in Ron Howard’s Rush, a film that follows the brutal rivalry between two Formula 1 race car drivers, and that required a fresh way of filming the race sequences. Howard told Collider he hired the Academy Award winning Mantle because he’s “well known for being very experimental, interesting, and for doing crazy camera work with multiple mediums.” Mantle’s been an inspiration to up-and-coming cinematographers like Jeff Bierman, who cited Mantle’s incredible digital work, specifically a movie called Celebration which he shot on little mini DV camera. Mantle has gone from super low-budget films like Celebration to becoming the man who put his cinematic touch on two more of Boyle’s eye-popping films; the lush, fluid Slumdog Millionaire and the kinetic, eye-popping 127 Hours. If the crowd at TIFF is anything to go on (and they are), as you can see here, his work in Rush excels.

Ellen Kuras (A Little Chaos, 2014): Kuras has had a remarkable career, working in a variety of genres on excellent films. From seminal independent movies like Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol to major documentaries like Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls (Kuras has worked with Lee on three features as well, including He Got Game and 25th Hour—one of Lee’s most beautifully shot New York movies in a career of making them). She shot the Michel Gondry’s gorgeous Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (if you’ve seen it, and can watch this clip without getting a touch choked up, you’re made of marble) and Sam Mendes Away We Go. Next, you can see her work on the recently wrapped A Little Chaos, directed by Alan Rickman. Chaos, about dueling landscape gardeners competing to design a fountain at Versailles for Louis XIV, sounds like the perfect match for Kuras's many gifts—you can bet the film will be a beauty.

Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, October 4): Five-time Academy Award nominee Lubezki needs no introduction for the die-hard film lover. His resume is proof that he has a distinct ability to marry his vision to his director’s and create something memorable. Look at the diverse list of directors he’s worked with—Ben Stiller (Reality Bites), Mike  Nichols (The Birdcage), Tim Burton (Sleepy Hollow), Michael Mann (Ali), Terrence Malick (The New World, Tree of Life, To the Wonder, Knight of Cups), the Coen brothers, and, of course, Alfonso Cuáron (A Little Princess, Great Expectations, Y Tu Mamá Tambien, Children of Men, Gravity) Children of Men was a masterclass in visual storytelling—look at the way he frames this escape scene—simple, perfect, terrifying. In this latest collaboration with Cuáron, Lubezki helped create a film that has left audiences' jaws on the floor from Telluride to Toronto. Gravity was the first time Lubezki went digital, using an Arri Alexa camera. This film, about two astronauts marooned ins pace, tasked Lubezki, Cuaron and company to devise a way to shoot their stars as if they were in zero gravity and have it not only look utterly real, but give their actors the ability to actually act. The original idea, to film in a modified plane that would drop at such a speed as to actually create zero gravity, was scrapped. It took years, but eventually they modified a cube with LED lights and digital cameras. The result is one of the most anticipated films of the year. You can watch a whole host of Lubezki scenes right here.

Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis, December 6): The French Delbonnel was nominated for his first Academy Award for 2001’s Amélie, a film that wowed audiences on both sides of the pond for it’s witty storytelling, a very lovely Audrey Tautou, and a restless camera that poured over Paris. He’s since teamed up with Amélie’s director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a second time and, earned himself his second Oscar nom, for A Very Long Engagement. He’s also tucked a blockbuster under his belt (and a third Oscar nom for his efforts) for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and now this year he’s matched his vision with the Coen brothers for Inside Llewyn Davis, capturing a week in the life of a young folk singer in 1961 Greenwich Village. Just as he did in Amélie, Delbonnel seems to have an uncanny ability to evoke not just a city’s grime and beauty, but it’s mood.

Sean Bobbit  (12 Years a Slave, October 18, Oldboy, November 27): Bobbit first worked with the artist-turned-director, Steve McQueen, on his film Hunger, about the 1981 Irish hunger strike. The film premiered at Cannes in 2008 and it was immediately evident that both first time director McQueen and his more seasoned cinematographer Bobbit (his career began with 1999’s Wonderland) had serious chemistry–the widely respected British film magazine Sight & Sound named it their film of the year for 2008. Try watching the trailer and not wanting to watch the whole film. Bobbit has put his touch on films with a slew of fantastic directors (Michael Winterbottom for the aforementioned Wonderland and The Killer Inside Me, Derek Cianfrance for last year’s The Place Beyond the Pines), and worked with McQueen on his second feature, Shame, in which he was nominated for several awards, including Best Technical Achievement at the British Independent Film Awards, and won Best Cinematographer at the European Film Awards. Shame portrayed a sleek, almost featureless New York that spoke to the void inside its sex-addicted protagonist. It’s his next collaboration with McQueen, for the upcoming 12 Years a Slave, that is already garnering major Oscar buzz. The buzz in Toronto is that 12 Years a Slave is a major Oscar contender already. As gorgeous as 12 Years a Slave is shot, it's worth mentioning it looks nothing like Bobbit’s previous collaboration with McQueen, proving that both director and cinematographer are expanding their craft. Bobbit's also got another film opening this year, Spike Lee’s Oldboy, a remake on a South Korean masterpiece of the same name. Bobbit's having a year any filmmaker would dream of.

Featured image: Director Ron Howard, left, and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, Right, on the set of Rush. Courtesy Universal Pictures


Bryan Abrams

Bryan Abrams is the Editor-in-chief of The Credits. He's run the site since its launch in 2012. He lives in New York.