It seems as though people can't stop talking about Spike Jonze's newest movie Her -- and rightfully so. The film's story overflows with a certain humanity and honesty that may be expected from Jonze, but not as much from a contemporary love story. With such a great narrative, the visual storytelling should certainly echo its sentiments -- a task given to cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, who has worked on films such as Let the Right One In, The Fighter, and Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy. In an in-depth piece, the International Cinematographers Guild plunges head first into the beautifully lonely world of Her and asks Van Hoytema how he built it.
First, here's the trailer for the film:
Creating the world of Her, meant creating something that resonated with the worlds inside protagonist Theodore Twombly's mind and heart. According to Van Hoytema, Jonze wanted an L.A. set in the not so distant future -- a "world that was tactile and pleasant: the very opposite of a dystopian future." In the ICG article, Van Hoytema explains:
[Production designer] K.K. Barrett brought in a book by the Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi, whose work is mainly large [6×6] format. The images are pristine moments from everyday life -- serene, feminine, and quite soulful. As the movie progressed, we did add more color and more clearly designed elements. But the overall theme was a future that was soft and intimate.
The filmmakers chose to go digital and used an ARRI ALEXA, a decision that Van Hoytema says helped shoot interiors because of its latitude.
I love everything about film, and I know exactly what I can achieve, texture- and feeling-wise. But we chose digital specifically for those night sequences in his apartment, where the city outside the windows is so vibrant and bright. We didn’t want to do a lot of augmenting in post, and with the Alexa we could use extremely low-level light sources [for the interior] that were still controllable.
Van Hoytema used an array of glass that would allow him to capture the intimacy of the characters' relationship, as well as the physicality of light, something the cinematographer says was integral to the character Samantha's experiences of seeing things for the first time. He utilized coating-less Cooke lenses, high-speed Zeiss lenses, and Canon zoom lenses from the 1970s, one of which was a Swedish f2.8 20mm–110mm Canon zoom that was used on one of Ingmar Bergman's films.
The high-speed 35mm and 50mm Zeiss lenses allowed Van Hoytema to get close when he went handheld for the more intimate scenes, whereas the coating-less lenses allowed him to capture beautiful flares and artifacts, giving the film that romantic, nostalgic-but-not-too-nostalgic look.
Thanks to the latitude of the ALEXA and the speed of the lenses, Van Hoytema was able to use minimal lighting during filming:
I mostly used small LEDs, like the shot near the end where he’s standing in front of the windows -- I hung an LED light box for an overall ambience, that we could also color exactly as the city appears outside. The [light] registers we worked at were so incredibly low and subtle, which were enabled by the camera and high-speed lenses.
He also used LEDs to add color into certain scenes, something that was integral to the look and feel of the film. Different shades of red were used throughout filming -- on clothes, walls, furniture, and ambient lighting.
In this video shared by Filmmaker IQ, Spike Jonze and co-editor Jeff Buchanan talk mostly about the five-year conceptualization process of Her, however around the 3:45 mark, Buchanan talks about how they approached filming a movie that was essentially a one-person romance -- a love story where one person never shows up on-screen:
Even though Her has been out for nearly a month, there still might be some of you that haven't seen it. Do yourself a favor -- go see it. And if you just so happen to see it at an Alamo Drafthouse theater, you'll most likely see this very fitting PSA on the screen, starring none other than Siri, that tells you to shut up and turn off your phone during the movie or else she'll "become self-aware and ruin your life."
What are your thoughts on the cinematographic choices in Her? If you've seen the film, do you think the filmmakers achieved the intimate and nostalgic tone they were going for? Let us know in the comments below.
[via Filmmaker IQ]