Two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (“Anna Karenina” and “Atonement”) — no stranger to shooting on 35mm film — was thrilled to shoot his two latest movies, “The Accountant” and “Nocturnal Animals,” on his preferred format for both aesthetic and practical reasons.
“Film gives you the flexibility to go into any direction, which was important for these two films, which are very different,” McGarvey told IndieWire.
In “The Accountant,” directed by Gavin O’Connor (“Jane Got a Gun”), Ben Affleck plays a mathematical savant and crack hitman who cooks the books for crime organizations and functions like a quasi-superhero. The movie is smart, sensitive and full of kinetic action, and McGarvey provides a naturalistic flair.
“The start has a spare, unadorned frame — blankness — in keeping with the character’s orderly life,” McGarvey said. “We removed clutter and color and there were no errant elements. We shot at a deeper stop for expanded depth of field. There was a crispness to it.”
There are also flashbacks, some of which are from the character’s childhood, which were treated in the DI with cooler colors and more diffusion.
McGarvey shot with the Panaflex XL and converted to hand-held and Steadicam for action. “We shot spherically widescreen 2:39:1 because of the low light and two camera setups. I worried about shooting wide open on the anamorphic lenses,” he said.
For the action sequences, McGarvey exacerbated the grain and pushed the highlights and contrast. The final shootout in a house surrounded by glass was tricky because of the darkness and reflections, but he achieved an inky blackness.
“It became grittier, essentially, and that’s where I love film because we were able to pull all of the disparate looks from the negative hand-in-hand with the digital intermediate. It was fun to have that latitude to do that.”
For Tom Ford’s festival hit, “Nocturnal Animals” (November 18 from Focus Features), starring Amy Adams as an alienated LA gallery owner trapped between the past and present, McGarvey used the same camera for a different aesthetic result.
“It reminded me of the way Joe Wright works, which is very precise in terms of the color preparation,” McGarvey said. “This film is about an imagined story inside Amy’s head [she reads a manuscript dedicated to her by ex-husband Jake Gyllenhaal].
“It had to have a cinematic feel but a psychological one too. That gave us a lot of scope and leaps of faith and playing with imagery.”
Adams’ world contains an anemic aspect and the cinematographer starts out with very symmetrical frames for the environment, contrasted with edgy, peripheral frames for her character. There’s minimal camera movement and she’s often framed within a series of frames.
“And then as she starts reading this manuscript by her ex-husband, we wanted to gradually weave in almost as though she were under surveillance in her house, but using the horror movie tropes of half-framed images of her,” McGarvey said.
The internalized movie within the movie plays like a disturbing horror thriller: Driving across a lonely stretch of West Texas one night, a man (played by Gyllenhaal) and his family are abducted by a gang of rednecks (led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
“Film allowed us to play with leaping forward into the over-saturated desert, using the codes of a Western or color noir [shot in the Mohave desert],” said McGarvey. “And a lot of it was shot at night and we were blessed with a crisp, early fall.”
But to film the challenging car chase at night, they used three BB lights on trucks plus a large light on a 20-foot construction crane, but framing lights out of view and shooting in both directions.
“I found that film and film cameras are more robust and able to deal with the vagaries of temperature and conditions,” McGarvey said. “Again, when you came to the DI [digital intermediate], we have grain, we have contrast, but yet when we want to open up the negative and create a paler side, the latitude is there for the earlier scenes in her house.”