By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 31, 2013 at 11:58AM
Between the Oscar nominations, Sundance, leftover films from the previous year going into wide release, and the lack of anything good to see otherwise in theaters, January can always feel a bit stop-start in the movie world. But now that the month's coming to a close, we can start taking the long-term view of the year ahead, and in particular the new talent to come.
And what better way to do so than to kick off the 2013 installments of our On The Rise feature, where we look at the rising names in various cinematic fields that may be making a big impression in the coming year or so. And having looked at some Sundance breakouts last week, we wanted to kick the series off by examining the cinematographers to keep an eye on across the next twelve months.
We've run two of these features over the last few years, and featured names like Greig Fraser ("Bright Star," "Zero Dark Thirty"), Robbie Ryan ("Fish Tank," "Wuthering Heights"), Thomas Townend ("Attack The Block") and Mihai Malamaire Jr. ("The Master"). Below, you can find our picks for 2013. You can let us know who you're tipping in the comments section below.
Last time we did one of these features, there was one name who consistently came up in the comments as a notable omission -- Bradford Young. At the time, we knew the name, but this writer, at least, hadn't yet caught his work first-hand. A year on, we've caught up with "Pariah" and "Middle of Nowhere," and now that Young has once again earned acclaim for his work, it's a no brainer to include him this time around.
The 34-year-old DoP was born in Louisville, Kentucky (where his family were funeral directors going back four generations), before studying under acclaimed Ethiopian-born director Haile Gerima ("Sankofa") and Spike Lee DoPs Arthur Jafa ("Crooklyn") and Malik Sayeed ("He Got Game") at Howard University. And his first notable credit as cinematographer came with 2007's short "Pariah," the second film from Dee Rees (one of our On The Rise '12 picks). He continued to work with Rees on her documentary "Eventual Salvation" the following year, and another short, "Colonial Gods," in 2009, before they reteamed for the feature version of "Pariah," which premiered at Sundance in 2011.
That same year, Andrew Dosunmu's "Restless City" also screened at the festival, but it was the feature version of "Pariah" that really made his name. The filmmakers didn't have that many more resources for the longer take; Young was joined by only three other crew members in the camera and lighting departments. But the film was the most impressive demonstration of Young's aesthetic to date (as he told the New York Times, "I'm big on faces. I like to fill the frame with heads. I use faces as landscapes, as architecture. That always feels like the right place to start"). Together, the two films won Young the Sundance cinematography prize.
The next year, Young was back at the festival for Ava DuVernay's excellent "Middle of Nowhere," which he describes as "an exercise in restraint and discipline." Perhaps less showy than "Pariah," it's nevertheless a gorgeous-looking film, with widescreen compositions and a shallow depth of field that give it a production value that belies its meager budget. Young's developed a reputation as perhaps the most preeminent photographer of African-American film working today, but he has no intention of being pigeonholed, as he demonstrated at Sundance this year. Alongside a reunion with "Restless City" director Andrew Dosunmu on "Mother of George," there was probably his most high-profile film to date: David Lowery's "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara.
The '70s set crime tale won raves, not least for the photography, with our review saying, "Hickory smoked and sunstroked, Bradford Young's tremendous eye makes for some breathtaking and dusty gorgeous visuals, feeling tactile and lived-in." The two films again won him the Sundance cinematography award. Wherever he goes next, it's bound to be fascinating, and he's bound to keep growing. As he told the New York Times: "I feel like I’m still in a great discovery process, trying to figure out what it is, ultimately, that I want to say with the camera. I’m exploring. I’m looking forward to the day where I can communicate: ‘This is what the intention was. This is what I do.’ It’s been a really fulfilling couple years, but it’s only been a couple years.”
You wouldn't have thought from looking at "Beasts of the Southern Wild," the wildly acclaimed, extremely beautiful, bayou-based magical realist debut film from director Benh Zeitlin, that it was shot by a British DoP with no formal training, registering his first credit on a feature. But Ben Richardson was all of those things, and still pulled off one of the more distinctive and gorgeously photographed films of 2012.
The U.K.-born Richardson knew he wanted to be a filmmaker from an early age, and ended up going into animation, telling Hitfix: "[It's] a great way to do something ambitious on an incredibly low budget. The only thing you really need is time and perseverance. You don't need a lot of materials or equipment, you know, lighting-wise. You just need a sensitivity to light." Richardson was studying in Prague in 2003 when he met Zeitlin, the pair bonding over their shared love of Czech animator Jan Svankmajer ("Alice," "Little Otik"), and five years later, shot the first half of Zietlin's short "Glory At Sea," a thematic and aesthetic precursor to 'Beasts' (Ray Tintori and Kentucker Audley collaborator Rob Leitzell shot the rest of it).
Richardson became a firm part of Zeitlin and Tintori's filmmaking collective, going on to co-direct and serve as DoP on the animated short "Seed" with Daniel Bird, which went on to win the animation prize at Slamdance in 2010. He also directed and lensed a black-and-white short called "The Drip Machine" later that year, as well as reteaming with Zeitlin on a music video for New York singer-songwriter Elizabeth & The Catapult, but even before that, they'd shot "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Originally, according to Anne Thompson, Zeitlin was going to serve as his own DoP, with Richardson working only on the miniatures for the aurochs, but the director changed his mind, and asked if Richardson would take over.
The pair rejected digital cinematography (they thought the cameras of the time weren't stable enough for the remote locations) in favor of good old-fashioned 35mm. Richardson mostly used natural light for the shoot, but there were still challenges, not least in the youthful main character. In the end, Richardson built a custom-made camera rig that enabled him to shoot from the height of his lead Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), something important in terms of establishing her POV. He told Anne Thompson, "Cinematically, what I think we were trying to achieve was a camera that was reactive and inexperienced, naïve, and exploratory. We just wanted the world to be revealed moment by moment, just the way she's discovering it."
We're sure that Richardson has lots of offers these days, and could well reteam with Zeitlin down the line, but his next gig promises to be very different, as he's teamed up with mumblecore enfant terrible Joe Swanberg for "Drinking Buddies." The film, which stars an atypically high-profile cast including Anna Kendrick, Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson and Ron Livingston, will premiere at SXSW next month, and it should be fascinating to see how an advocate of 35mm works with a filmmaker so closely associated with digital photography.