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Oscar-nominated cinematographers explain how they envelop you in the story

life-of-pi-04Leading up to tonight’s Oscars, set out to take a closer look at four categories that moviegoers may mistakenly think of as “technical.” After tackling Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing, we conclude with Cinematography, with insights from Anna Karenina’s Seamus McGarvey and Life of Pi’s Claudio Miranda. (Django Unchained’s Robert Richardson, Lincoln’s Janusz Kaminski, and Skyfall’s Roger Deakins complete the category.)

The cinematographer may be in charge of how to technically achieve the shots on a film set — lighting, camera movement, and framing — but what he and the director are really collaborating on his how to tell their story creatively and emotionally. “What mood do you feel when you watch the movie?” says Life of Pi‘s Claudio Miranda, who was previously nominated for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. “When you look at the movie, I don’t want you to think about me, I want you to think about the scene. It’s very important to me that you don’t think this is a fantasy-reality play. You need to believe this. I feel like if I’m too fake with lighting, you’ll be taken away and not immersed in the story. When I’m lighting a set, I go, ‘Am I there? Am I there yet? Am I there yet? Am I there yet? Am I there yet?’ And then I’ll let go when I say, ‘Okay, we’re here. We can work with this.'”

Making moviegoers feel like they’re adrift on a boat with Pi and Richard Parker obviously presented challenges. “We had an amazing tank that we built and I helped design. We knew we were going to be inside there shooting for 2.5 months, so it was worth it to be able to do anything we want. On all these kind of scenes, we had an idea of what the weather would be like. In that tank, I can create storm clouds, nightfall. We had curtains that I can block out [light], doors to open and let in real sunlight,” Miranda says. “So lighting-wise, [the movie] had a big ebb and flow. There’s high noon, which is kind of harsh and crisp, and then it gives way to maybe like the beautiful golden light, like in the scene where the sun comes up and there’s that beautiful music that comes along with it. Pi throws the can out and it only goes so far, and then it ends with him going to the tiger, and the tiger does this little growl, and Pi backs up, and then he starts talking to God at that moment. It’s a very beautiful scene, but it’s also beautiful because there is an ebb and flow of not so much beauty beforehand. If it was all that, it wouldn’t be that special.”


Of course it’s the special scenes that moviegoers remember best about Pi. While Miranda and director Ang Lee looked at a watercolor painting for inspiration for the painterly sky in the scene described above, Miranda looked for real references for the most magical scene.

Miranda: There was a point when Ang and I went, in the middle of the night in southern Taichung, diving in the ocean in a bay that was phosphorescing. That was kind of our inspiration for the whale scene at night, and how that looked and how that felt and how the phosphorescence kind of went around your hand. As you shook your hand, the [phosphorescent plankton] get more excited and they become a little brighter. We played around with that in the movie. It ends up lighting the scene a little bit more. Being with Ang, in the middle of the night in an ocean just whacking away at phosphorescence — I just thought that was a pretty stunning moment.

Another scene that was special to him was the candlelit scene. “I really wanted the candles to light the whole scene. I decided with the crew, and I said, ‘There should be at least 50,000 candles on camera to cover the space. To last the night, they bought over 120,000 candles to keep what we see going. We had 2,000 people lighting. I don’t care what anybody says, when you’re there, you go, ohmygod, it is a beautiful spectacle. You walked away from that night, like, Ah. (Contrast that to one of his favorite scenes in Benjamin Button: “I like a room where people can walk around freely. I don’t like lighting people in a box, where they can’t move. There was one scene in Benjamin Button, when he’s saying goodbye to Mr. Oti, when I just put a light bulb in the middle of the whole scene, and I said, ‘Let’s just try this bulb in the middle, and let’s just let it be the bulb, and let it be what it is: Let it blow out, let it be horrible, let it be this, but this is the scene.’ I love that moment.”)


Lee also wanted to use 3-D as a storytelling point, with where the actors are placed. “There’s the scene where the ship sinks, and the ship is on the inside of the screen and Pi is floating a little bit outside. It’s kind of like a separation — this is his life going away,” Miranda says. “So when I lined it up, we put him in the audience-plane side of the screen and the ship was on the opposite side. We play different aggressions, like if an actor is being aggressive, we’ll put him towards screen as well. We wanted to play 3-D as a story point because it’s another way to make you feel the story.”


NEXT: Anna Karenina’s Seamus McGarvey on the beauty of elaborate Steadicam shots and simple close-ups

BAFTA winners announced, 'Argo' picks up Best Film and Director awards

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts handed out their awards Sunday in London. Argo walked away the big winner with Best Film and Best Director for Ben Affleck.

Lead acting prizes went to Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln and Emmanuelle Riva for Amour, with supporting awards going to Christolph Waltz for Django Unchained, and Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables. Click past the jump to take a look at the full list of winners.


'Skyfall,' 'Les Mis,' 'Lincoln' nominated by cinematographer society

Those who truly love movies tend to particularly appreciate the work of a good cinematographer, and the American Society of Cinematographers has come out with its list of the best in the field this past year.

Here’s the line-up: READ FULL STORY

Keira Knightley: Sex and self-destruction in 'Anna Karenina'

prize_fighter1_bannerKeira Knightley’s new film, Anna Karenina, is like a snowglobe version of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel.

As crafted by filmmaker Joe Wright (who directed Knightley in Atonement and Pride & Prejudice), the epic tale of a woman who cheats on her politically powerful husband (Jude Law) plays out almost entirely within the confines of a lush theater, which magically shapeshifts into any and all parts of czarist Russia.

But there’s more resonance to the film (which is in theaters now) than clever production design and lavish costumes. Knightley portrays a woman who is no victim, who consciously chooses to trade her fate and the misfortune that follows for a brief run of passion with the younger Count Vronsky, played by Kick-Ass actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson.


Box office report: 'Breaking Dawn -- Part 2' just misses 'Twilight' record with $141.3M, 'Lincoln' expands successfully

Say what you will about the Twilight series, but you can’t fault it for being inconsistent.

The popular vampire franchise’s final installment, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, scored the eighth biggest opening weekend of all time with a $141.3 million debut. If Summit’s estimates hold up, that’s just a touch ahead of Breaking Dawn – Part 1, which started with $138.1 million last year, and just a touch behind New Moon, which opened with $142.8 million in 2009.

Impressively, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 also earned $199.6 million in its international debut this weekend, giving it an early global total of $340.9 million. When all is said and done, the film will likely finish just above $700 million. After all, the last three Twilight films — Breaking Dawn – Part 1, Eclipse, and New Moon — earned $712.2 million, $709.8 million, and $698.5 million, respectively. Like I said, it’s a remarkably consistent franchise. READ FULL STORY

Q&A: 'Anna Karenina' up-and-comer Alicia Vikander on Keira Knightley, corsets, Denmark's 'A Royal Affair'

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander has everything going for her as an up-and-coming ingenue: a softly beautiful face that gleams pink-cheeked innocence, solid acting chops, and a modest, European approach to Hollywood far more wise than her 24 years.

In Joe Wright’s film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s late 19th century Russia-set novel Anna Karenina, out in theaters Friday, she stars as 18-year-old Princess Ekaterina “Kitty” Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya (ok, it’s easier to say “Kitty), betrayed by Keira Knightley’s dark-haired adulterer Anna Karenina when the older beauty sets her aristocratic eagle eyes on the object of Kitty’s affection, Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky, played by blonde, pucker-lipped Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

EW talked to Vikander about working with Knightley and Taylor-Johnson, wearing those amazingly cinched-in and ornate corseted dresses in the film, and starring in another period drama as different kind of royalty, the Danish queen Caroline Matilda, alongside Mads Mikkelsen (aka the villain in 2006 James Bond romp Casino Royale), in A Royal Affair, Denmark’s official foreign film entry for next year’s Oscars.


Hurricane Sandy postpones NY area filming for 'A Winter's Tale,' premiere of 'Anna Karenina'

With Hurricane Sandy inflicting a perfect storm of dramatic rain and wind, movie premieres and filming have screeched to a halt on parts of the East Coast.

New York area filming for Warner Bros. fantasy Winter’s Tale, starring Russell Crowe and Will Smith, and directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, has been shut down for Monday and Tuesday, a studio spokesman confirmed to EW.

Focus Features also confirmed to EW that Tuesday’s New York City premiere of lush period drama Anna Karenina, starring Keira Knightley, has been postponed, and a future date is being considered. The film’s Los Angeles premiere is still set for Nov. 14.

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Hurricane Sandy causes widespread movie theater closures

'Anna Karenina' trailer: Keira Knightley inhabits Tolstoy's most famous character -- VIDEO

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is an immense novel, not just in size, but reputation: It’s regarded by many as one of the best (if not outright the best) ever written in any language. So it follows that the first major feature film adaptation of the book since 1997 would look appropriately massive. Keira Knightley — reuniting with her Atonement and Pride & Prejudice director Joe Wright — stars as the title Russian aristocrat who’s married to a major statesman (Jude Law) 20 years her senior, but violates the ironclad rules of social decorum by entering into an affair with the dashing calvary officer Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson). The new trailer is filled with opulent, Oscar-baiting costumes and art direction, but the most exciting thing about it may be the final image: a title card reading “Screenplay by Tom Stoppard.”

Check it out below: READ FULL STORY

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