Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi has turned into a success story for 20th Century Fox which had the Yann Martel book in development for several years but could never crack the supposedly “unfilmable” property until Lee got involved five years ago and figured out a way to bring to the screen this epic story of a young man and a tiger trying to survive after a disastrous shipwreck. Earlier on Wednesday the film passed the half billion dollar mark worldwide for Fox and also just passed the $100 million milestone in America alone. Nevertheless this is a strong international smash and with 11 Academy Award nominations, a remarkable feat since none were for acting, it promises to keep growing the total and has emerged as a genuine threat at the Oscars. If anything Life of Pi stands as a testament to the art and science of motion pictures, a film the director says could not have been made even five years ago. Now it has thanks to the efforts of a group of dedicated craftsmen. Below Lee talks of the challenges as do the film’s Oscar nominees for Visual Effects, Cinematography and Music in a series of exclusive new featurettes premiering now on Deadline.
Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor.
Don’t write that obituary for film just yet. The traditional moviemaking format remains a vital tool for the top cinematographers in the field, even as digital technology improves and offers exciting possibilities for the future. AwardsLine caught up with the men who shot some of the year’s top contenders to talk about how they shot their current films, working with the top directors in the field, and how to make it all come together in the end.
Taking part in our mock roundtable are Mihai Malaimare Jr., who used large-format 65mm film to shoot the majority of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master; Claudio Miranda, who shot the sole digital and 3D picture of this bunch, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi; Wally Pfister, who mixed IMAX and 35mm in wrapping up Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy on The Dark Knight Rises; Rodrigo Prieto, who stitched together multiple formats for Ben Affleck’s Argo; Ben Richardson, who relied on 16mm to capture Beasts of the Southern Wild for Benh Zeitlin; and Robert Richardson, who reunited with filmophile Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained.
AwardsLine: How did you go about choosing cameras and formats for your current projects?
Rodrigo Prieto: We wanted to differentiate the different segments of the film. We were going to intercut and wanted as soon as you saw an image, say, in Tehran that you would know that’s where you are just by the texture of the image, especially because we were shooting in very different locations.
Mihai Malaimare Jr.: From the first meeting we had, we were discussing using a larger format for The Master. The reason is when you think about iconic images from that period, like from the ’30s and right after World War II, you are mainly thinking of large-format still photography. We started with VistaVision, but because the difference wasn’t that big from 35mm to VistaVision, we switched to the next bigger format which was 65mm, and that was giving us kind of the feeling that we wanted.
Claudio Miranda: Ang (Lee) was really interested in 3D. He said, “I’ve been really interested in 3D for almost 10 years now. Even before Avatar, I really wanted to see how to bring a new language to cinema.” It had to be digital, because with 3D it had to be really precise.
Wally Pfister: Chris (Nolan) sat back and said, “Here’s the deal: This film will stand on its own, but we are wrapping up a trilogy.” We had discussions early on about shooting in IMAX, and I said, “Dude, we should shoot the whole movie in IMAX.” But we pushed up against the limitations of IMAX, which is you can’t record synched sound with an IMAX camera — they’re just too noisy.
Ben Richardson: We instinctively knew that the only viable way for our budget and to get the kind of imagery we wanted was to go to 16mm. The great thing about a 16mm camera, obviously, is that as long as you have a couple batteries and a roll of film and a changing tent, you can keep shooting.