Cinematography Masterclass: Legendary DP Robby Müller Explains His Approach to Film

Ronny MullerWhen talking about influential cinematography, it's impossible not to talk about Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller. His style is as distinct as those of the famed directors he has formed long-time collaborations with, like Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch. His approach to photographing a film begins with understanding its meaning, creating emotional and cerebral connections between the narrative and the visuals, and ultimately, the film and its audience. Cinephilia and Beyond has shared an interview Müller, in which he talks about working on Down By Law, that serves more as a masterclass in cinematography. Continue on to check it out.

Beginning his career in the late 60s, Müller has managed to craft a repertoire of art, independent, and commercial films in both the U.S. and Europe, with credits including Paris, TexasBreaking the Waves, and To Live and Die in LA. To him, films are about emotions not only within the diegesis, but beyond. The ASC quoted Müller as saying:

When I choose to work on a film, the most important thing to me is that it is about human feelings. I try to work with directors who want their films to touch the audience, and make people discuss what the film was about long after they have left the cinema.

Müller's considerably consistent when it comes to the equipment he uses -- Arriflex cameras and prime Cooke and Zeiss lenses. Unless a director specifically asks for them, he steers clear of zooms, as well as gadgets, and often opts for natural lighting. He has a great affinity for simplicity, as you can see in his work on Down By Law, which was filmed in black and white. He explains how, to him, color is an "exotic thing" that tends to give "superfluous information."

Check out the trailer to Down By Law below:

Müller has so much to say not only about Down By Lawbut about the art of cinematography in general. Check out the interview, in three parts, below:

What do you think about Müller's approach to cinematography? Which of his techniques have inspired your own work? Let us know in the comments below.

[via CinemalsTheLifeCinephilia and Beyond]

Your Comment


His work is the stuff of staggering genius. Can't take my eyes off his images, he just draws you in, alienates you and kills you with emotion. The fucking best.

January 28, 2014 at 8:05PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Micah Van Hove

I think Robby Müllers approach is very true to story telling. I used to find myself mimicking Hollywood stuff for no good reason other than thinking that it's the way a film should be (it's good exercise at most). But it's 'the story' or 'mood' that must come across. I even think it's the viewers imagination that finishes the film in his/her head. We better guide that imagination well and carefully, and not overfeed it 'because we can'. Maybe the best compliment a DP can get is never to win an award :-), (the beauty of) images alone should not be noticed.

January 28, 2014 at 11:50PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Back in the 90's, when the ZAZ team was working on a "Naked Gun" films, they had a scene with Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley. In that scene, Leslie Nielsen is wearing a business suit. As the couple gets more intimate, he says to his gal, "Let me slip into something more comfortable". He disappears and returns a beat later wearing a different color (light gray, IIRC) business suit but with an ascot instead of a tie. The producers of the film didn't get the joke. ZAZ had to assure them that it would be funny once filmed. They were, obviously, right. They saw the scene in their heads before filming it. And the reason I am bringing this up is because I am of the opinion that top tier cinematographers like Müller and Deakins and Willis and Hall and Cronenweth see the images in their heads before they sit down behind the camera. You can study their techniques but until you see images the same way, you'll be like those "Naked Gun" producers - admiring the talent but never being able to match it.

January 28, 2014 at 11:54PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


He's shot some of the most interesting films of the last 30 years.
His work is beyond influential - he literally wrote the book on a number of styles that are now staple 'looks' in studio pictures, indie film and big cable drama. If you took TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA, PARIS,TEXAS, BARFLY, DEADMAN and DANCER IN THE DARK you could make an entire cinematography bible out of just those films.

January 29, 2014 at 12:11AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


he's one of my heroes! Down by Law is my nr.2 all time favourites! "I'm a good heck"

January 29, 2014 at 5:25AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Muller was invited to shoot a big Hollywood movie just once by William Friedkin for To Live and Die In LA, maybe one of the most underrated cop movies of all time. Muller got Los Angeles light perfect just as he did for Wim Wenders Paris Texas and Repo Man to other great 80's LA films.

January 29, 2014 at 11:21AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I was working in a video store in the mid-80's and must have seen "To live and die in LA" dozens of times. It is indeed very underrated.

January 29, 2014 at 12:33PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


yeah. A masterpiece. French connection, sorcerer, cruising, lots of pwerful movies. Killer Joe is also an amazing movie!!!

January 29, 2014 at 5:39PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

guto novo

My polar opposite is almost all ways, but hey, respect where it is due.

January 29, 2014 at 12:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Robert Ruffo

Down by law is a true black and white film. (Very different from this last one, where this man goes walking for his 1 million dollars in a color washed out world.) I must say, i simply fall in love with this direct communication.

January 29, 2014 at 11:53PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


"Paris, Texas," "To Live and Die in L.A." were high watermarks of the eighties. Such amazing photography.

January 30, 2014 at 9:13PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


interesting he respects jarmusch the most out of all the directors he's worked with.....also, the last 30 seconds of this video are prob the most interesting- about the necessity of B&W in muting the surroundings so you focus on the right subject, the people

December 12, 2014 at 10:00AM