The Oscar for Best Cinematography (Shot on a RED) Goes to...

February 9, 2017
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On Friday, we celebrated female cinematographers, a demographic sorely overlooked by the Oscars yet again this year. Women aren’t the only underrepresented demographic in the Best Cinematography, though. RED hasn’t lensed a cinematography nominee in five years! How serious is this issue? Not very, but we’re pouring one out for RED with our own Best Cinematography category anyway. This time, though, only REDs are invited.

Sergio Armstrong - Neruda

Neruda behind-the-scenes.

Neruda was the third Pablo Larraín movie this year (Jackie and The Club) and it might be the best of the three. The film is a historical biopic by way of film noir, and Sergio Armstrong’s cinematography (shot on a RED Epic with no lens mention) lushly embraces the noir style. From Mike D’Angelo’s review of Neruda for the A.V. Club:

“The movie’s meaning resides in the deliberate disconnect between Peluchonneau’s iconic film noirpresence (enhanced by cinematographer Sergio Armstrong’s aggressively digital photography, which creates silhouettes that look as if they’re encased in crushed velvet)...”

Maybe more than any other film on this list, Neruda embraces the digital RED format as a way of modernizing classic cinema genres and motifs. Many travel sequences feature rear projection shots that were achieved with five cameras running at the same time. Sergio Armstrong gets the nomination for beautifully bringing celluloid ideas to RED’s digital brain.

Drew Daniels - Krisha

DP Drew Daniels (left) and Director Trey Edward Schultz (right).

Krisha opens with an extended tracking shot and a switch in aspect ratios. The visual ambitions don’t stop there. Director Trey Edward Schultz took an improvised approach to this panic attack of a family drama. Do do that, Schultz and Daniels shot on a RED Epic and RED Scarlet with Cooke S4 and Kowa Prominar Lenses, often using both at the same time to get as much coverage as possible. In an interview with No Film School, Schultz notes:

“We barely ever shot traditional coverage. Usually, our scenes play out in one long take. For scenes that don't—the ones that are more montage-y—all we would do was shoot one improvised scene in twenty minutes. Then we would either shoot it from a new angle or slightly tweak the scene for another twenty minutes. And then we would move on.”

The film isn’t traditionally beautiful. The shot composition is tight and creates a sense of claustrophobia. Moreover, the lighting only draws attention to itself when it needs to shine menacingly on Krisha, the main character. Drew Daniels gets the nomination for bold artistry over technical performance.

Stéphane Fontaine - Elle

Elle is Paul Verhoeven’s provocative, subversive, rape revenge thriller that catapulted Isabelle Huppert to the top of this year’s Actress in a Leading Role race.Stéphane Fontaine’s cinematography is clean and polished. The camera is delicately handheld, colors stay cool and muted, and close-ups rarely become intrusive. Using a two-camera setup of a RED Epic Dragon and a RED Epic Dragon carbon, (with Angenieux 28-76 Optimo Leica Summicron-C Lenses) Fontaine gets maximum coverage in each scene. The actors, and mystery, get ample room to breathe. As Catherine McLaughlin of Little White Lies praises:

“Set in the run up to Christmas, DP Stéphane Fontaine (Jacques Audiard’s long-time collaborator) expertly utilises the twinkle of fairy lights and the glow of nativity scenes to conceal a nasty underbelly of activity. It’s all utterly absorbing to behold.”

Stéphane Fontaine on set.

Fontaine gets the nod for creating rich, beautiful, image while showing stylistic restraint for the good of the film.

Zach Kuperstein - The Eyes of My Mother

Zach Kuperstein

RED isn’t often associated with black-and-white, as indie filmmakers often try to at least emulate analog for their aesthetic. The Eyes of My Mother, though, is no ordinary black-and-white film. This psychodrama from first-time filmmaker Nicholas Pesce is filled to the brim with disturbing imagery that will chase away as many moviegoers as it will attract. Kuperstein uses the RED Epic Dragon and modern Cooke anamorphic lenses to get as much contrast between the film’s harsh lights and deep shadows as possible. In an interview with No Film School, Kuperstein notes:

“... Trying to get that slick, modern aesthetic, but in black and white. We chose modern lenses that are pretty new, but Cookes that are kind of soft. We're not shooting with the master Anamorphics that are pristine. They kind of fit in this weird in-between time, so the audience is unsure of when the period is.”

Kuperstein gets the nod for creating one of the most visually rich and unsettling horror experiences in years.

Daryl Pittman - Little Sister

The plot of Little Sister revolves around a horribly disfigured war veteran and the nun-to-goth transformation of his younger sibling. For that reason, Daryl Pittman’s cinematography (shot on a RED Epic Dragon with no lens mention) doesn’t need to draw attention to itself. Watching director Zach Clark’s film, though, there’s a soft, dreamlike, feel to the setting that contrasts harshly to the sharp, unflattering, focus on the characters’ faces. David Ehrlich of Indiewire writes:

“Tender, funny, and blanketed in the haze of a half-remembered idyll (Daryl Pittman’s dreamy, autumnal cinematography gives the sense that Colleen’s fog-soaked family home is an anomaly from another time), Clark’s film is so attuned to the pain of reckoning with the past that every detail feels remembered rather than invented.”

Daryl Pittman.

Pittman gets the nod for visually treating his harsh subjects with a nuanced, tender, touch.

And the Oscar Goes to…

Sergio Armstrong - Neruda

Sergio Armstrong embraced RED cinematography on a project that screamed for analog, and came away victorious with striking, digital-as-hell, images that make a case for RED in every frame. While cinematography is always about the artist and not their tools, focusing on films shot on the same family of cameras allows us to appreciate the range of artistry that can exist with a single tool.

In other words, to the 2016 RED masters, good on you! Let’s see if we can up the ante in 2017.

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Brent L Zaffino

I am a filmmaker out of Atlanta, Georgia currently working as a freelance director and videographer for music videos, short films, and corporate videos.

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