Simple and logical -- that's how Oscar-nominated cinematographer Phedon Papamichael describes his approach to painting with light, which I think is spot on when taking a look at many of the films he has worked on over the span of his 25-year career. As the subject of an intimate and illuminating video profile from Alexandros Maragos' site, Momentum, the Nebraska DP shares details about his early years as a young cinematographer, describes how he was encouraged to work in film by indie film hero John Cassavetes, got his start in the business with Roger Corman, as well as lets us in on his beautiful, simple approach to cinematography.
We all know that there is no right way to compose a shot. The way you go about it depends on what you're looking to do -- are you trying to achieve maximum aesthetic energy? Are you looking for a laugh? Are you trying to add suspense to a scene? There are literally endless possibilities and factors that go into designing a shot, but Papamichael tends to take a specific approach in his work.
He describes his cinematic sensibility as one that isn't aggressive, but simple and logical, taking advantage of existing natural light and situations when possible. It certainly shows in his work, namely Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne, seeing how the film 1.) is essentially a simplification of color, since it's in black and white, 2.) takes advantage of the small town "charm" in a unique way, and 3.) allows the audience to linger on each one of Papamichael's shots (he notes the scene with all the old men sitting watching TV.
Papamichael's interview with Maragos is truly enlightening for DPs from all backgrounds, whether you're a seasoned vet or have yet to work on your first professional project. He takes us through how he got his start working with film students, explains why he makes the stylistic decisions he does, and even talks a little bit about his work in music videos. Check it out below:
What are your thoughts on this profile of Phedon Papamichael? Would you describe your cinematic sensibilities as simple, complex, or something else altogether? Let us know in the comments below.