“Reese had very pale blue eyes so each time we had a close-up on her, we could see the landscape,” Belanger recalls. “I wanted to see her eyes, her skin react to the bounce off the snow or the grass or the sand. It’s like shooting the human face as the landscape and shooting the landscape as the human face.”
After discovering a naturalistic approach with “Dallas Buyers Club,” director Jean-Marc Vallee and Belanger adjusted their plan when roughing it in Oregon. “Jean-Marc has a very simple theory about camera movement: it only moves when the character moves,” continues the cinematographer from Montreal. “But we want to see the landscape so we used modern Master Prime lenses [with the Alexa]. And for the flashbacks, we used old [Zeiss] lenses instead of doing crazy things with the color grading. We wanted a contrastier, dirtier look.”
For instance, there was one scene in a restaurant that was supposed to be taking place during a snowstorm, but there was no snow during early fall so they shot in a café with green screen outside. “We only used one camera — we consider it the cinema’s point of view,” he says. “It was always handheld and my camera weighed more or less what Reese was carrying in her backpack so we were very together on this show, we were always tired in the same way. It was a very unique experience.
“There was no stopping and starting, no talking in between, no discussion, no fixing, nothing that would be distracting for the actors. So when you only have one slate and go for it for 15 minutes, it’s great, it’s really immersive.”
Obviously, for Belanger, it’s about the joy of discovery. “When she sees her mom [Laura Dern] dead, I thought it was amazing the way she cried. She sounded like a dog hurt by a car. I thought the scene with the little kid [singing ‘Red River Valley’] was great. Jean-Marc found this person who was speaking and acting like a small person, not like a kid. And he used that. “
Up next for Vallee and Belanger this year is the Janis Joplin biopic, “Get It While You Can,” starring Amy Adams as the iconic ’60s rock star. Their naturalistic approach should work wonderfully with last night’s Golden Globe winner for “Big Eyes,” who is eyeing her sixth Oscar nomination on Thursday.
“It’s really about a woman who could perform in front of all these men but who who could never have a love life, who could never find a good man,” Belanger explains. “So it’s going to be the show vs. the real life. I think we have one of the great actresses in Amy Adams and she’s going to be very good — she’s game.”