Started by edison, January 18, 2008, 08:47:02 PM
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QuoteI'd like to go all the way back to Magnolia, where you play the pharmacist Julianne Moore explodes at in what may be the most famous scenes of her career. Do you remember what that experience was like? To see her go to the places that she goes to in that moment?The funny thing about that early success was that I was certainly really grateful to be there. Boogie Nights was a movie that I think I saw three times when it came out, maybe four times, so I was really excited to be in that movie and be there with her. But at that point I was cocky. I just figured, "Yeah, I'm here. I'm one of the stars of this." A lot of actors talk about this—about being an egomaniac with low self-esteem. I felt that way, but I'm sure I felt completely insecure, too. And the day of shooting that scene, it was really remarkable the enormity of what she came and did, and I think she did that in maybe three takes. I remember she showed up for the rehearsal probably before makeup and hair, and she just looked like a movie star. I worked with Jessica Chastain recently, and they show up you're just like, "Oh right, they look like that in real life." Like they have a diffusion filter on them the whole time.And so that was pretty remarkable, and she was incredibly nice. And Paul [Thomas Anderson], he's a year older than me, so that seemed like we were contemporaries, even though I acted in a scene in Magnolia when I was 27 years old, and Paul made Magnolia when he was 28 years old. [Laughs.] She did that, and I was knocked out by it, so it wasn't hard to react to, I was just being there. And in fact, the camera is not really even on me that much, so it's pretty remarkable and flattering to me that, for some people, it's still the biggest thing I've done. That will probably change now with Saul, but it's still the thing people bring up to me the most.Last year, John Oliver did [a segment on] the economy or something. I wish I could remember what it was, maybe you can find it. [! — ed.] And he says, "That kind of abuse is safe for pharmacists." And it shows a picture of me from Magnolia, and he does the whole thing and everyone understands it. And this is 20-some years later. That's remarkable.
QuoteZaillian, he adds, knows precisely what he wants the shots to be. The director doesn't want to edit a three-page scene by choosing from a dozen or more setups. Elswit notes that some of his other frequent collaborators, including Paul Thomas Anderson and brothers Dan and Tony Gilroy, employ a similar approach. "They're not making coverage; they're making shots," he says. "It's the most difficult but also the most gratifying way to photograph a movie.""It's an old-fashioned way of thinking, but I'm an old-fashioned guy. I'm always thinking about movies made before zoom lenses and reflex cameras, when they had very slow film, didn't move the camera much and somehow made some of the greatest movies of all time."
QuoteThe fact that he still does his own operating is another aspect of Elswit's process that could be considered old-school. "A few of us still do it, even though we're getting up there in age," he says. "It's a matter of taste. Steve Zaillian is sensitive to what the operator does, and what he wants is very specific. Sometimes it's just more efficient for me to operate."His preferred operating method has proved well-suited to the Covid19 era: He uses remote camera heads with vibration-isolator mounts on a dolly. "There's no crew in the space with the actors unless it's a [moving] dolly shot," Elswit notes. "I can be at a monitor, next to the director, and I'll be on the camera if I have to be. It's a wonderful way to work."
QuoteElswit doesn't like to spend too much time in the final grade, but sometimes it's difficult to avoid. "I've spent three weeks grading some digital movies because the visual effects were coming in slowly and I kept having to go back," he says. "On There Will Be Blood, we timed the dailies, the negative was conformed, and a print was made, and then we made two more rounds of corrections — so we sat through the movie just three times.
QuoteWhen he shoots digital, he sets a LUT at the beginning of a show and then strives to capture the final image as much as possible on the day. He recognizes that this is not how everyone works. "The digital process allows you to do so much, and you can chase it all the way down the rabbit hole," says Elswit. "Paul Thomas Anderson doesn't like digital not only for the look, but also because he wants to know what his movie is going to look like on set. He doesn't want to be told, 'Here you go. We can go in a room a year from now and create the look of the movie.' You can do that with digital; you don't have to commit to anything."Regardless of format, getting the look he and the director want requires not only careful planning, but also an openness to changing course, as was the case on There Will Be Blood, which tracks the rise of oil prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) at the turn of the century. "We were trying to make southwest Texas look striking and startling and unique, and it did," says Elswit. "We looked and looked and found this incredibly expressive landscape, and then it was about finding the right time of day for the sun and sky and weather. If we didn't like the way something looked one day, we could say, 'Well, why don't we do this scene instead?' Or, 'Why don't we move over there?'"One vanishing practice that Elswit laments is the ritual of cast and crew gathering in the evenings to screen dailies. Today, people commonly evaluate digital rushes by themselves using iPads. "We used to screen dailies together every day, and that made us all think tactically and creatively about what we were going to do the next day," he recalls. "We discovered the movie as we made it."