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On The Rise '12: 5 Cinematographers Lighting Up Screens In Recent Years

by Oliver Lyttelton
June 26, 2012 1:10 PM
  • |
Attack The Block

Thomas Townend
Low-budget films about British council estate gigs battling aliens do not, generally speaking, win cinematography awards. Especially when they are to all intents and purposes the first big-screen credit for the DoP in question. Which is a shame, because to our mind, "Attack The Block" featured some of the most memorable lensing of 2011. But while his trophy cabinet didn't fill up as a result (at least for that film -- see below), Thomas Townend certainly announced himself as a major talent to watch.

Townend trained at the National Film And Television School, whose other alumni include Roger Deakins, Lynne Ramsay, Terence Davies, David Yates and Joachim Trier, and has been working mostly in the commercials sector for years, assembling an imperessive CV in the meantime. Once the 2000s got underway, he started to get major credits in the feature world, with 2nd unit DoP credits on "28 Days Later," "Harry Brown" and "Pride & Prejudice," as well as working on all three of Lynne Ramsay's films, serving as second unit DoP on "We Need To Talk About Kevin" (he also lensed a Doves music video for the director, a classmate at the NFTS).

While he was becoming more and more successful as a DoP in the promos world, it was likely due to the Ramsay collection that saw Paddy Considine pick him to serve as cinematographer as his short film "Dog Altogether" (which the actor/director went on to expand as feature "Tyrannosaur"). Work on Jennifer Saunders' TV comedy "The Life And Times Of Vivienne Vyle" followed, before Samantha Morton's harrowing made-for-TV directorial debut "The Unloved," which got a theatrical release, and much acclaim, in the U.S.

Even so, the kitchen sink drama of that film meant he wasn't an obvious choice for the directorial debut of Joe Cornish, and Cornish even admits that his producers held some reservations: "...they...cautioned me that using a comparatively less experienced (in terms of features) DoP would be a harder sell to the investors. In truth, as soon as everyone met Tom and saw his work, they were immediately as convinced as I was that he was the man for the job." And indeed, it turned out to be a stroke of genius; Townend could bring the grit, but he also brought a sense of color (and some astonishing lighting) that helped the film straddle the real and the fantastical.

Townend explained his approach to U.K. site The Incredible Suit, telling them that it was in part inspired by the low-budget lighting of films like "Escape From New York" and "The Terminator." "They didn’t have the resources to relight acres of city streets, and at the time municipal lighting in the U.S. was mostly mercury vapour lamps which appear as a green blue, as opposed to sodium vapour lamps which are orange. There’s bold use of colour throughout the film, in both the production design and costume, and it made sense for the lighting to follow suit. Street lighting is artificial by definition, and Joe wanted us to push saturated colour as far as would look plausible – partly as a reaction to the historically dingy and monochrome look of low budget British film-making, and also to up the ‘fun’ quotient."

Up the fun quotient it did, and it was one of the most distinctive-looking films of last year. Since then, surprisingly, Townend doesn't seem to have worked on another feature, but he's been busy -- one of his most recent credits was on an ad for Hiscox Insurance directed by "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" helmer Tomas Alfredson, demonstrating how he's come to the attention of big-name directors now, something only helped by him winning the Best Cinematography prize at the MTV Music Video Awards for his work on Adele's omnipresent, yet still awesome "Rolling In The Deep" clip. He's also hugely knowledgeable and uncompromising about film on his must-follow Twitter account @prarie_oysters, and took part in a discussion with FilmCritHulk about action cinema that displays what a master in his field he appears to be.

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  • paul | April 9, 2014 5:34 PMReply

    what about ELLIOT DAVIS, long time collaborator with catherine hardwicke....stunning work on the Iron Lady and keanu reeves directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi.......beautiful

  • Grey | August 8, 2012 1:49 AMReply

    No Greig Fraser? His work has been out of this world. The cinematography in 2009's Bright Star was so gorgeous.

  • Winnie Jong | July 18, 2012 9:14 PMReply

    According to critics' reviews, Marco Cappetta, AIC, should make your list. How often does a horror film get sweeping praise for its beautiful cinematography? "Bereavement" did just that, its award-winning cinematography was easily one of the best reviewed of 2011. Fantastic-looking film!

    “evocatively photographed by D.P. Marco Cappetta"
    Frank Scheck - The Los Angeles Times

    "almost flawless visually"
    John Anderson - New York Film Critics Circle

    "stylishly filmed and technically accomplished"
    Frank Scheck - The Hollywood Reporter

    "Marco Cappetta's cinematography is one of the film's key assets"
    Michael Gingold - Fangoria

    "shot with far more care than most studio-produced horror films"
    Christian Toto - The Washington Times

    “Marco Cappetta may be the finest cinematographer since Dean Cundey. "Bereavement" is beautiful, it's rare to see a horror film so lovingly shot. Many of the shots are near works of art in themselves"
    Kyle Scott - The Horror Hotel

    "The Cinematography is excellent, I’m talking Oscar-awarding excellent"
    The Horror Review

    "sumptuosly somber cinematography by Marco Cappetta. Visually, everything was simply gorgeous"
    John Fallon - Joblo/Arrow in the Head

    "One of the key assets is the cinematography, by Marco Cappetta. Touching, masterful and amazing"
    Lorenzo Ricciardi - L'Ecran Fantastique

    “Marco Cappetta gives audiences one of the most beautiful-looking horror films of the year”
    Heather Wixson – The Misadventures of the Horror Chick

    "the cinematography is striking"
    Bryan Buss - Moving Pictures

    "this film looks amazing... Marco Cappetta knows how to make horror look absolutely beautiful"
    Bryan Martinez - Film

    "the cinematography is gorgeous"
    Brad Keefe - Columbus

    "'Bereavement' looks amazing"
    Take my Life

    "the cinematography, by Marco Cappetta, looks great"
    Glenn McDonald -

    "The film looks better than many major studio horror productions"
    John Wirt -

    "the cinematography by Marco Cappetta is top-notch"
    Dustin Putman -

    “beautifully shot, compliments of cinematographer Marco Cappetta”

    “with key cinematography by Marco Cappetta”
    Carl Manes - I Like Horror

    “the cinematography of Marco Cappetta is stunning”
    Ted Payson – The Flick Cast

    “gorgeous shots, one of the most beautiful horror films I've seen in a long time”
    T.D. Clark – Death

    “the film is beautifully shot by Marco Cappetta, with some terrific cinematography”
    Jesse Miller – More

    "a great-looking film, courtesy of DP Marco Cappetta"
    Horror Movie a Day

    "beautiful cinematography by Marco Cappetta. The photography is almost surreal, artfully creating a nightmarish dimension"
    Chiara Pani - Araknex's Film Critic Horror Vault

    "with a great look by cinematographer Marco Cappetta"
    Lee Weber - AV Blue-Ray reviews

    "beautifully filmed, one of the most handsome films I've seen in ages"
    Jay Kulpa - DVD Snapshot

    “beautiful cinematography”
    Kevin Woods – Independent

  • cbh | July 11, 2012 4:33 PMReply

    Bárbara Alvarez. She shot Lucrecia Martel's LA MUJER SIN CABEZA (THE HEADLESS WOMAN, Argentina 2008) which, for me, is the best lensed feature of the decade. Period. CBH

  • jb | July 2, 2012 2:31 PMReply

    i think you mean "cairo time" under the luc montpellier section. and i second the surprise at no bradford young.

  • Suspicious | June 26, 2012 8:01 PMReply

    Very suspicious of the race quota that has been adressed here
    in the section comments.
    Favorites are a matter of taste not of democracy.
    No one has the right to demand that a Black DP should be
    one's favorite. It's ridiculous. Wake up people.

  • Wide Awake | June 26, 2012 9:22 PM

    Well @Suspicious, the last time I checked, which is every morning when I wake up; this was an industry trade site. Where, in the article does it mention the word "favorite"? If it were a list about favorites not one of us film psycho-fanatic-lovers who took pause to excitedly click on and read an entire piece top to bottom on DoP's, would give a rat's ass about who did and who didn't make the cut . Let us get one thing straight, Oliver built a solid list! And every single DoP on it deserves their seat at the table. No if, and or buts!
    The article pointedly states; "Check out our five picks below, and let us know other DoPs you've got your eye on in the comments section below."
    You don't have to agree that Playlist regularly excludes wide variety on all their given menus slash lists (click the attached links in article for their previous lists on actors, actresses, screenwriters and directors for a dose of outer perspective.) but that doesn't make it less truthful or small sighted or infer devout readers hungry for macro are asleep and need to wake up to your bountiful horizon.
    Bradford was mentioned for merit, not skin tone. The healthy question arising appears to be; what is the yard stick for getting Playlist's attention on this or any of their other killer-talentfilled lists/daily posts/career tracking?
    Sorta humorous and entitled to think you have a right to command [people to wake up] because they're filmlovers with respect for this site and are simply commenting (upon request) toward a more macro menu to dine upon...

  • Person | June 26, 2012 4:26 PMReply

    Great article. Talented batch. Don't take this personal but goodness how is it remotely possible you don't have BRADFORD YOUNG on this list? (It isn't as if he's hiding, he won "Best DP" at Sundance 2011, for 1 of 2 features on that year's roster. How many DP'S can you list with 2feature narratives at Sundance?) Had a feature in 2012 Sundance, "Middle of Nowhere", where the director won "Best Director" &it just played LAFF, Gala night. Will be released in October, with 3additional films in the can. This site needs to expand peripheral vision, you can't say you didn't see "Pariah". What about "R.C." and "M.O.N? It isn't as if Bradford's films are off the radar. Obviously off Playlist &your radar but not off "the" radar. He has 1-2 films a year at 'the' meta-domestic fest. "Restless City" is a love letter to light &tones, the cinematography is knock down enviable. When you see it, you're going to understand my frustration.
    A particular group of people, seem invisible whenever Playlist makes these lists, even when those people are right under your nose, in the 'exact-precise' same pool the entire industry is fishing from...widen the net already. I love-love this site, but damn, taller hat. (Super grt that Reed Morano is on this list.)

  • Todd | June 26, 2012 6:10 PM

    @Oliver, I didn't read that (person's) remark as a question. The period indicates a statement as in, You can't excuse your omission by stating, "You didn't see [one particular film]". The point is Bradford's had three films in circulation inside a fourteen month stretch and a quick check to IMDB reveals he's made other films, Entre Nos and Mississippi Damned. Are we to surmise those 2009 entries haven't made it to you either? This site gets heavy industry traction. Kind of seems careless, somewhat lazy not to go hunting for wide scope of talent that's out there when you're building these list. You have a forum to teach us about talent we don't know, instead of waiting for films to reach your part of the world, whereby we're bound to end up teaching you.

  • Nisa | June 26, 2012 5:03 PM

    Holy cow! In total agreement!

  • Oliver Lyttelton | June 26, 2012 4:38 PM

    See below. But to reprise, I put the list together, and Pariah hasn't made it to my part of the world yet, and neither have Restless City or Middle of Nowhere. Pariah looks glorious, but if I haven't seen the whole thing, I wouldn't feel comfortable putting him on here. Next time we do this list, I bet Young's a dead cert.

  • edward | June 26, 2012 4:18 PMReply

    lance acord in honorable mentions??? he's been around since '93. no bother in mentioning him as he's directing his first feature at his company park pictures (which did robot & frank). he's without a doubt one of the most talented working DP's working today. BAD PLAYLIST BAD!!!

  • Mony | June 26, 2012 3:17 PMReply

    Interesting article, I never really thought about the cinematographers but probably should pay more attention to them..

    Do they make good money? Some actors make more than they should, but I hope these cinematographers make some good money for all the work they do.

  • bunty | June 26, 2012 3:08 PMReply

    Nice article, Oliver. Well done.

  • jb | July 2, 2012 3:22 PM

    this is my go-to film blog, but i have to second nisa's comments.

  • Nisa | June 26, 2012 5:02 PM

    Not quite. Severely under researched and made under the lens of writer's limits and privilege. The excuse that the writer hasn't seen THREE celebrated films by directors of color shot by Bradford Young that have ALL THREE played the country's top festival is a pathetic reflection on this blog's scope and highlights an ongoing exclusion of movielovers who don't look exactly like you. Thought you guys were better than that.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | June 26, 2012 2:36 PMReply

    Greig Fraser was on our list last time around, two years ago. And mea culpa on Bradford Young; Pariah hasn't made it to my part of the world yet, though I'm sure he'd be a serious contender if I had seen it.

  • jb | July 2, 2012 3:20 PM

    not just pariah, but also middle of nowhere, ma'george, and restless city. features with considerable noise and traction in indie circles.

  • Katie Walsh | June 26, 2012 2:22 PMReply

    Robert Hauer. He's only done shorts for the most part, but as a first feature, Dead Man's Burden on 35mm is absolutely stunning. If that's any indication, he will be on this list soon.

  • Martin | June 26, 2012 1:45 PMReply

    Good list, but you should name Greig Fraser too.

  • Pierce V | June 26, 2012 1:35 PMReply

    No Bradford Young? What the hell.

  • Arch | June 26, 2012 1:41 PM

    I really was looking forward to read about him too ... yet Pariah is a few days short of being a 2012 release so I guess that's why... Great idea for a list anyway, these are people I wanna hear about !

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