By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 26, 2012 at 1:10PM
Following our looks at actors, actresses, screenwriters and directors to watch in recent months, when the time came to put together a list of cinematographers (as we did two years ago), we went in with an open mind. But what was interesting is realizing, after the fact, that in an era where 35mm film is allegedly being phased out, that all five have done perhaps their most distinctive work on old-fashioned celluloid, rather than digital.
All have worked in digital of course, at least in the commercial world, and some have done hugely impressive work on new formats. But most of our five are fierce advocates for good 'ol 35mm, and it's another sign that the death knell shouldn't be rung for the old ways just yet. As long as there are talented DoPs like the ones below, and on the following pages, working closely with filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson, Joe Cornish and Gerardo Naranjo, we should hopefully be seeing film on screen for a long time to come. Check out our five picks below, and let us know other DoPs you've got your eye on in the comments section below.
When Paul Thomas Anderson was gearing up to make "The Master," he found himself in something of a quandry; his usual DoP, Robert Elswit, who lensed every one of his films to date (including winning an Oscar for "There Will Be Blood"), was already booked, doing globetrotting spy double-duty on "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" and "The Bourne Legacy." His choice of replacement was a surprising one: rather than going for an established A-lister -- someone like Roger Deakins or Emmanuel Lubezki -- he picked out a rising star with only a handful of credits to his name. To be exact, 37-year-old Romanian cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr.
Of course, it helps a great deal if three of those credits are with one of the most acclaimed filmmakers in history, Francis Ford Coppola, on his trilogy of semi-experimental passion projects "Youth Without Youth," "Tetro" and "Twixt." The DoP, born in 1975, is the son of two theater professionals -- his father Mihai is an actor and politician, and founder of the Mask Theater Company in Bucharest, and his mother is theater director Anca Dana Florea, and Mihai became interested in the movies after being given a video camera at 15. After training at the University of Theatre and Film in Bucharest, he worked on a number of short films, including "Canton" and "The Apartment" by Romanian new waver Constantin Popescu ("Tales Of The Golden Age"), before making the leap to features with 2004's "Lotus."
The following year, Coppola came to Bucharest to make his first film in a decade, "Youth Without Youth," based on the novella by Romanian author Mircea Eliade. Coppola explained that he ended up auditioning local DoPs through screen tests for prospective actors: "There [were] over 50 roles in 'Youth Without Youth'. How many could I cast right there? But I had an even more elaborate scheme: each time I shot a test with an actor, I'd use a different photographer. They were all fine but I chose Mihai Malaimare Jr." The then 29-year-old had never worked with digital, which Coppola intended to use, but he flew him to Sony's lab in L.A. for training, and the film proved to be a very impressive-looking piece of work.
Even more stunning was 2009's "Tetro," which saw the pair reunite, this time in Argentina (Malaimare was planning on working with Christi Puiu ("The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu") on "Aurora," but had to bow out for the Coppola film). Shooting in black and white was a new challenge, but one that the DoP embraced, commenting at the time: "In black and white, you have to be careful with the framing, with the light and shadow. Even if you’re not conscious of those things, viewers will be more conscious of what they see in terms of composition. With color it’s easier to trick viewers. So at first you might think it’s easier to shoot in black and white, but it’s actually more difficult because you have to do more with composition and light and shadow to make up for the things that you can’t express with color." And it certainly paid off -- the (somewhat underrated) film looked absolutely glorious.
One more collaboration with Coppola followed, with last year's still unreleased "Twixt," which has been fairly badly received, but the footage we've seen still looks distinctive, and demonstrates the young cinematographer showing off his talents further. He also shot a campaign for the MTV Video Music Awards in "Tetro"-style B&W, starring Drake and Eminem, among others, before PTA came calling. And that early footage of "The Master" (which is shot on film, much of 65mm film) looks absolutely stunning, saturated and glorious and very different from his work on Coppola. It can only lead to much more work down the line, with Coppola saying of his DoP, "Always observing, always thinking, he's a minimalist. And yet when we talk to him, you feel he understands what you're trying to express, even if he's not in your face with a lot of suggestions at first... Gordon Willis, Vittorio Storaro, he's definitely one of those extraordinarily talented cinematographers."