Christopher Doyle Calls 'Life Of Pi' A "Fucking Insult To Cinematography," Hates On 'Lincoln' & More

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by Kevin Jagernauth
March 14, 2013 10:21 AM
59 Comments
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While high-profile Oscar contenders like Best Picture winner "Argo," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Django Unchained" all had various amounts of haterade poured all over them, one movie that was pretty much untouchable all season long was "Life Of Pi." Outside of the whole mini VFX controversy thing -- which really only happened after the Oscars -- Ang Lee and his film were embraced by the industry, winning four statuettes for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Score and Best Visual Effects. But certainly, not everyone was taken with the movie.

The usually opinionated and salty cinematographer Christopher Doyle recently sat down with Blouin and made his feelings quite clear on "Life Of Pi" and the work behind it. "Okay. I’m trying to work out how to say this most politely, and no offense to – I don’t know him personally – but what a total fucking piece of shit," he declared about Claudio Miranda's win for Best Cinematography. "Let me be blunt. Ah, fuck. I don’t care, I’m sure he’s a wonderful guy and I’m sure he cares so much, but since 97 per cent of the film is not under his control, what the fuck are you talking about cinematography, sorry. I’m sorry. I have to be blunt and I don’t care, you can write it. I think it’s a fucking insult to cinematography."

But his anger seems more to be at the voting body ("Do you know the average age of the people who vote? Sixty-five. Check it out.") and the idea of anyone outside the cinematographer working on the look of the movie. “Of course they have no fucking idea what cinematography is.The lunatics have taken over the asylum, but you know we have other asylums in other parts of the world and I live in one of  them, and I intend to continue to be a lunatic," he (kind of) explained. "...The award is given to the technicians, to the producers, it’s not to the cinematographer. I think he should’ve actually, if it were me, I would’ve said fuck off. But of course it’s his career. Sorry. Personally, as you probably realised, I will say fuck off. If somebody manipulated my image that much, I wouldn’t even turn up. Because sorry, cinematography? Really?”

So, from his perspective, was it weird for "Life Of Pi" to win Best Cinematography? “No it’s not a strange choice if you understand how fucked up people are and how lost they are. You bail out your bankers, support your rich people, you say Spielberg and Tarantino are the gods of cinema. Hey, good luck.” Um, okay.

But his vitriol on Oscar contenders didn't stop there. “ 'Lincoln'! Oh! Let’s talk about patriotism. Do you not fucking realise the rest of the world just sits back laughing. Do you not realise that you poor old fuckers with your Academy bullshit, you’re just sitting back, holding onto straws. You’re holding onto straws. Let’s get on with it. I don’t give a fuck what you think about me," he said. "Some of us have to engage with the real world. And it happens not to be about the history of Mr. Lincoln freeing the slaves – which was the most disgusting first three minutes of a film I’ve ever seen. 'Oh, Mr Lincoln, oh, but you understand…' stop fucking fluffing yourselves."

However, Doyle is not a total crank and his admiration and inspiration comes from unlikely corners. “Ai Weiwei is the Tom Hanks of Chinese cinema,” he enthused. “Ai Weiwei is so fucking beautiful on film because he’s so solid, he doesn’t give a shit. He is the great male star of the future of Chinese cinema. Please quote me. He’s the George Clooney of the new wave. Once he sees [the footage] he’ll either burn everything we ever shot or he’ll embrace it.”

And he looks to the young generation to push the medium forward. “So many people ask me very often, so, how do you engage with the digital medium. I say the kids are going to teach us. We’re the students," he says. "The people who are on YouTube or engaging 24 hours of almost every day of their lives, who are online and having visual digital experiences every day, they’re the ones who are going to teach us.”

As for how he'll wrap up his own career? “I know I will die with either a camera in hand or a woman on top – what more could one ask of life?” How zen. [via Film]


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59 Comments

  • Andrea OL | March 31, 2013 12:42 PMReply

    "But his anger seems more to be at the voting body ("Do you know the average age of the people who vote? Sixty-five. Check it out.") "

    Why is Doyle anti-old people? Also, it seems to me that the old members of the academy, in having voted for a movie using the latest technology, are up to date with things.

  • Alan R | March 20, 2013 1:47 PMReply

    He's right. Even his own VFX team called Miranda out!

  • Alfred | March 20, 2013 12:27 PMReply

    A drunk can't be stopped once their mouth starts flapping.

  • Nick | March 20, 2013 9:20 PM

    This comment made me laugh. A lot.

  • connie | March 19, 2013 12:45 PMReply

    1. Claudio Miranda was also nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers.
    2. Doyle talked about so much about cinematography of "Life of Pi", but he hasn't even seen the film. Doyle does have his point, but it would be better for him to watch the film before making an argument.

  • bob hawk | March 18, 2013 2:59 AMReply

    Talented as Chris Doyle might be, and whether he's "right" or "wrong" (always debatable), this article is an embarrassment and should never have been given space. Whether he's off his meds, drunk or whatever, it's just an inarticulate rant, lacking any focus or specificity. It's pathetic -- and engendering over 40 comments to boot. Jeez!

  • theresa hughes | March 19, 2013 11:21 AM

    I totally agree with you Bob. If he is as intelligent as he seems to think he is he should know to make his point better. Once you start swearing and calling down people you lose people's attention and respect. If he really felt the picture was no good make some valid points.

  • bob hawk | March 19, 2013 7:28 AM

    Vincent: All I want is some coherent specificity. Doyle mouths off without saying anything from which I can learn, and I do want to know what he (and you) are talking about. Can you give us a short explanation as to why this is not cinematography??

  • Vincent | March 19, 2013 4:26 AM

    Nah, he is RIGHT ON. A DP myself, Pi has nothing to do with the craft. They can call it something else though, fine.

  • Michael M. | March 17, 2013 12:18 PMReply

    He seems like a competent man who has his life fixed. But come on? taking his opinion seriously is counter intuitive to his trolled objective. He hates the Academy and makes comparisons to the likes Tom Hanks.

    Sorry but his argument is officially invalid IMO.

    Oh and The Master should have collected the statuette for Cinematography.

  • John | March 16, 2013 5:10 PMReply

    Tarantino is the reason Hero got international distribution. Furthermore, Doyle has publicly talked about how several scenes of Hero were saved by digital grading.
    STFU Doyle and stop drinking on the job.

  • gilbert | March 16, 2013 5:02 AMReply

    If this is the trend, so that means we can nominate Gollum for Best Supporting Actor?

  • Stephanie | March 21, 2013 1:10 PM

    No, but you could nominate Andy Serkis for Best Supporting Actor. He was nominated for several supporting actor awards for his performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

  • Lisa | March 15, 2013 4:19 PMReply

    I'd like to remind people that "Life of Pi" was one of the 5 films nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) as one of the best-filmed movies of the year -- and, as many keep pointing out, professional cinematographers (as opposed to actors, writers, and directors) should be the ones who know which work is most worthy of praise. It doesn't seem likely to me that they would be so stupid as to nominate a film that was actually a joke from a cinematographic perspective. At the least, it certainly undercuts his argument. I agree that it is interesting to compare the history of the ASC Award Winners with the Academy Award Winners. Although the list of nominees is often similar - since the nominees for both groups are chosen by the cinematographers - it would seem to indicate that the Academy does indeed tend to lean towards the over-all final "look" of the film, CGI and all included, as compared to the ASC. It seems true that "Pi", "Hugo", and "Avatar" relied more heavily on CGI than "Skyfall", "The Tree of Life", or "The White Ribbon". Though, did he complain when "Inception" won the ASC several years ago? or when "Hugo" or "Avatar" won the Oscar? I don't know. Times are changing, and perhaps so is what constitutes cinematography. One last comment, to those who still doubt the contribution of Claudio Miranda, and who feel he was essentially shooting a guy in a boat with a blue screen behind: I would suggest that you read some of the interviews of Miranda and Ang Lee, regarding how they shot the film. I found them really interesting. Lee mentioned that he specifically chose Miranda because of his past work with both 3-D and Digital, both special skill sets in-and-of themselves. I especially remember them talking about the "candle scene". A LOT of work (and thought) went into this movie, photographically -- not the least of which was the very act of having to balance the old-fashioned cinematography with the immense computer-generated requirements.

  • Cole | March 15, 2013 10:30 AMReply

    For everyone (The Fanciful Norwegian, Ronnie D, Bob, Burgersam, Daniel, DJ) who answered my question down there, thank you very much. Sorry I don't know this guy, I don't exactly know many cinematographers...

    By the way, I'm not a "he", I am a "she".

  • CHARLES FOSTER KANE | March 15, 2013 6:41 AMReply

    Looks like Mr. Doyle forgot to take his meds.

  • Gilles | March 15, 2013 5:32 AMReply

    Nice and lively discussion here. :D

    I think there are a lot of assumptions here about Miranda's role in the whole process. I can remember from the wall-e commentary (right?) that they consulted with Roger Deakins about the cinematography and I feel his influence is really felt in the sense that this is the first animated pixar film where you have great use of the aesthetic of motion picture camera's and how these behave, including things like anamorphic-like bokeh's and the use of DOF.
    The assumption that Miranda only shot a guy in front of a blue screen might be unfouded. Because he might have played a major part in all the 'lighting' of the cgi environments.

    That being said. You could still (as Doyle does) interpret the award as insult to the craft because the creation of all these beautiful colours and whatnot (I haven't seen the film yet) had nothing to do with the craft of cinematography. The one where you work with your hands.

  • Al N | March 15, 2013 5:17 AMReply

    I would actually agree with Mr. Doyle's assessment, however, I have just one question:

    Was he even sober during this interview? If you know him at all, you'll know exactly about what I am speaking. Think he'll even remember his own comments until he reads them here? Shame. A waste of a talented man.

  • wojtekus | March 15, 2013 10:39 AM

    Well, I met him a couple of times, and he was sober. I also met him when he was drunk. No rule to that. I wouldn't call him a wasted talent. On the contrary, he's one of those I've been looking up to. It's the top class film virtuoso to take example of. Let's leave his private life out of the picture. It's the cinematography we're talking here.

  • LRS | March 14, 2013 10:10 PMReply

    The cinematographers vote for the cinematography award. There seems to be comments as well as Doyle's comments that 'everyone' votes and they don't know. If the cinematographers voted for it, they are the 'experts' so they should know for what they're voting. Specials effects or not, there had to be some great camera work done. It didn't 't film itself. And it is beautiful. And as Doyle has said, he hasn't seen it.

  • G. | March 15, 2013 3:05 AM

    The Cinematographers' branch votes for the five *nominees*; the entire Academy does indeed vote for the winner, and most of them, at least the ones who're solely actors, don't know much about cinematography. But yes, the Cinematographers did find Life of Pi's DP work to be worthy of a nomination.

  • Johnny | March 15, 2013 12:29 AM

    Stupid comment. Shooting the same guy on a boat to a blue background for every fucking shot is not great cinematography.

  • Alex | March 14, 2013 9:23 PMReply

    He's right, and as the guy who has shot most of Wong Kar Wai's best films, he has more than earned the right to comment.

  • Currently Hollywood | March 14, 2013 9:09 PMReply

    I was slightly offended by the mini VFX comment, the industry is treating these guys like 1930s day Newsies, but major blockbusters rely heavily on VFX.

  • James | March 14, 2013 7:25 PMReply

    Agree 100%. Anyone who doesn't agree is fucking retarded. And this isn't even about bias or jealousy or anything like that. It's about the simple fact that all Miranda did was shoot the kid on a boat to a blue background for every fucking shot. And then the VFX guys did all the magic. I understand the visual effects oscar. But cinematography? Really? That IS a fucking insult to the art. The oscars have been making some batshit idiotic choices these past few years.

  • Alan B | March 14, 2013 7:11 PMReply

    I absolutely agree with Doyle's point about the Life of Pi win. I couldn't hack that nomination, let alone its win. It was just like in 2010, in which Bruno Delbonnel rocked Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Barry Ackroyd killed The Hurt Locker, Robert Richardson shot the hell out of Inglourious Basterds and Christian Berger delivered a very original and shocking look for The White Ribbon ... and the guy who previously shot the Stallone remake of Get Carter won for a film that was predominantly CGI. For real? The other films had - arguably - some of the best cinematography of its decade, but Avatar wins, a film which has amazing visuals, but not-amazing cinematography in a CGI spectacle. It would be like a screenwriter winning for a script that was ultimately changed completely by the director. A bit of a fraud, really. It's disappointing, however, that Doyle completely lets down his argument with his 'Lincoln' rant. What a bunch of incoherent nonsense masquerading as a cogent thought: 'Oh my God, patriotism! Oh my God! Doesn't Spielberg know it's his job to tell us American sucks? What an asshole!'

  • Lucano | March 14, 2013 6:17 PMReply

    Doyle can eat some Hollywood cock! It's about the final result, many old timers feel the sensation of menace when it comes to new technology. Theres more to cinematography than the technic that was applied (digital,analog,CGI,etc), for example, the composition, the use of light & colors, just to name a few.
    #Doyle you lost my respect.

  • carbon | February 14, 2014 12:42 PM

    And yes, I know the difference between "your" and "you're." Hit submit too quickly and apparently there's no edit function.

  • carbon | February 14, 2014 12:40 PM

    No, your wrong. Think of it as the difference between a photographer and a painter. The painter can paint anything his imagination can dream up, while the photographer is a bit more limited by reality. Using CGI to create visual effects, while still very much an artistic expression, is not the same as cinematography.

  • Glass | March 14, 2013 5:58 PMReply

    When people say Life of Pi is "90% CGI" or something, I'm convinced they never saw the movie and they're just thinking of the trailer shots with the whale and the glassy water at sunset. Claudio can take all the credit he gets, because he busted his ass and did incredible work that shows in the final film. I guess watch the making-of on the DVD to see what I mean (or just see the movie?).

  • Bob Roberts | March 14, 2013 5:52 PMReply

    He brings up an interesting point. Although, he's not able to articulate it clearly, he's saying that an old way of awarding/praising a film's look and quality is outdated with the emergence of digital technology. We have to rethink what it means to be a cinemtographer in this new age. He thinks that the look you get from the dailies on that day is the real craft of the cinematographer. If you can get over his rambling a bit, he's saying something important.

  • John | March 14, 2013 5:12 PMReply

    By his own reasoning, he is to the English language what the film's cinematographer is to "Life of Pi." That is, he is entirely undeserving of the accolades he's getting here.

  • anon | March 14, 2013 4:36 PMReply

    "mini" vfx controversy...its not mini to those who hollywood relies on to make their billions and the audience who hope to escape from a scary reality just lost their jobs.

    the industry imploded, its a fucked up system...you should be a bit more appreciative of those that are abused for your leisure

  • harry | March 14, 2013 4:21 PMReply

    Agree with Doyle almost all the way through, except the part about learning from people online all the time. That's not living, that's dying.

  • Dan | March 14, 2013 4:07 PMReply

    The Masters cinematography should have won the Oscar, it was the best.

  • Ted | March 14, 2013 4:01 PMReply

    I agree with on about the "Life of Pi's" cinematography. It doesn't sound like he's criticizing Miranda really, but he should have made that more clear. He comes off like a dick.

    I also 100% agree about Lincoln, though. Lincoln was the only film I've ever seen where I hated it in less than 5 minutes.

  • Stephanie Martin | March 14, 2013 2:34 PMReply

    Doyle cares about his craft. There's a significant difference between that and not giving a shit about the Oscars. As for Hugo, do your research. Most of the work was done in camera and on real sets.

  • James | March 14, 2013 7:30 PM

    Agreed, Stephanie. Hugo deserved that Oscar, although I do believe the Tree of Life deserved it just as much. Avatar and Life of Pi did NOT deserve oscars for cinematography. And Avatar is my favorite movie of all time. 90% of both these movies are CGI. Which means the only part the cinematographer has in creating ANY of that "beauty" of the final result is shooting a fucking blue or green screen. Real great "cinematography" there.

  • Joe | March 14, 2013 1:40 PMReply

    For someone who doesn't give a shit about the Oscars or it's voters, he should does spend a lot of energy and anger on it.

  • Jackson | March 14, 2013 12:50 PMReply

    Also, why the hell does he care if Miranda won the Oscar if he doesn't care about Oscars?

  • Jackson | March 14, 2013 12:47 PMReply

    Yawn....another "Good-At-His-Job-but-Totally-Unlikeable" crew member who thinks he is above everyone else because they win awards. I don't care if he shot Hero, he is still a canker sore of a man and would probably insult Deakins if he had the chance.

  • sam | March 14, 2013 1:20 PM

    can't be cranky around here. never.
    btw, the man never said he was above Miranda; he said Life of Pi's visuals were mostly done by computer animators. he never bashes Miranda for his work on it. he merely says that his actual input was ultimately minimal and to reward this kind of fx work with a Best Cinematography Oscar is not understanding cinematography.

  • Toliet Baby | March 14, 2013 11:45 AMReply

    I completely agree that it's ridiculous to give a movie that's 90% CGI the Oscar for cinematography. It's a travesty Roger Deakins didn't win this year.

  • sam | March 14, 2013 11:17 AMReply

    and good call on the silly patriotism.

  • Pierre | March 14, 2013 11:16 AMReply

    "Fuck off" "Sorry" "Fuck off" "Sorry"

    haha. He's the best.

  • THOR | March 14, 2013 11:05 AMReply

    I don't get it. What movie does Ai Weiwei act in? No info on IMDb.

  • The Fanciful Norwegian | March 15, 2013 8:06 AM

    It's something in progress, they mention it in part one of the article. Doyle says he can't really talk about it yet.

  • hatr | March 14, 2013 11:03 AMReply

    Ang Lee looks like Tiger Woods

  • COLE | March 14, 2013 10:59 AMReply

    Who is this cinematographer Christopher Doyle?? Does anyone know what movie he's in for??

  • The Fanciful Norwegian | March 15, 2013 8:09 AM

    He hasn't shot all of Wong's films, just most of them (all of the '90s films and a minority of IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and 2046). They haven't worked together since and probably never will again.

  • Ronnie D. | March 14, 2013 6:02 PM

    What are you talkin about "BOBBURGER"? I'd say this is precisely the perfect blog to be asking that question; he certainly wouldn't get an answer if he asked it on ew or variety.

  • BobBurger | March 14, 2013 12:02 PM

    You're on the wrong blog to be asking a question like that..that took balls my friend.

  • sam | March 14, 2013 11:16 AM

    ... you're kidding, right?

  • Daniel | March 14, 2013 11:11 AM

    Hero, In the Mood for Love, 2046, Chungking Express, Paranoid Park, Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American... not exactly a nobody, right?

  • DJ | March 14, 2013 11:09 AM

    Er, Christopher Doyle has shot all of Wong Kar Wai's films. He has the right to say what he wants.

  • Peter | March 14, 2013 10:44 AMReply

    Spoken like a true hater

  • Nick Koge | November 14, 2013 9:50 AM

    Good, never saw any of his work, never will.

  • BEF | March 14, 2013 11:07 AM

    However, Doyle's never been nominated by the ASC, which is an oversight.

  • BEF | March 14, 2013 11:06 AM

    Not eloquent, but true; look at some of the last few Academy Awards for Best Cinematography: Avatar, Life of Pi, Hugo -- all heavily altered in post, and beating the likes of the ASC (where only cinematographers vote) winners during that time: The White Ribbon, The Tree of Life and Skyfall.

    Doyle is a jerk, but he's also correct -- it's clear that the Academy outside of cinematographers branch, by and large, don't know what cinematography is and just vote for the: I liked the way that looked, when really they're voting for special effects (all of which won in those years as well). Like in the ASC, Lubezki and Deakins should have two Oscars by now.

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