Wally Pfister made a name for himself as one of the top cinematographers in Hollywood over the past decade, shooting Bennett Miller's "Moneyball," Lisa Cholodenko's "Laurel Canyon," and the films of Christopher Nolan, culminating with his Oscar win for "Inception." But with "Interstellar," Nolan has to do without Pfister for the first time since his debut, "Following," as his regular DP has greater ambitions.
Pfister's directorial debut "Transcendence" hits theaters on April 17. It's a highly ambitious, fascinating concept, but it remains to be seen whether Pfister has a shot at a long-term career as a director. In anticipation for that project, here are fifteen major cinematographers who tried their hand at directing, with varying results. [Just a quick note: this list doesn't include directors who serve as their own cinematographers, such as Steven Soderbergh or Robert Rodriguez.]
Cinematography Background: Bava got his start working with none other than Italian Neorealism master Roberto Rossellini, shooting his early shorts "The Bullying Turkey" and "Lively Teresa" in 1939. He spent the next two decades as a cinematographer in the Italian film industry, working with notable filmmakers such as Vittorio De Sica ("It Happened in the Park," co-directed by Gianni Franciolini), Raoul Walsh (the American/Italian co-production "Esther and the King"), Jacques Tourneur ("The Giant of Marathon," which he did uncredited directing on). Perhaps his most notable film as a cinematographer is the Steve Reeves sword-and-sandals hit "Hercules." Bava became known for his gifts with optical trickery, something that would serve as one of his calling cards as a filmmaker.
Notable Films Directed: "Black Sunday," "Black Sabbath," "The Girl Who Knew Too much," "Blood and Black Lace," "Planet of the Vampires," "Kill, Baby, Kill!," "Twitch of the Death Nerve" (aka "Bay of Blood" and about fifteen other alternate titles)
How Did He Do?: Pretty spectacular. Bava's lurid, visually striking horror films paved the way for the likes of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci in the 1970s, with "Blood and Black Lace" often regarded as the first giallo film. "Black Sunday," influenced the look of Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula" thirty-two years after its release, while Dan O'Bannon's script for "Alien" borrows elements from "Planet of the Vampires" wholesale. And anyone who ever enjoyed a slasher film, guiltily or not, owes it to themselves to check out Bava's spectacularly nasty "Twitch of the Death Nerve" (on Netflix as "Bay of Blood"), from which "Friday the 13th Part 2" steals one of the more memorable death scenes.
Cinematography Background: Michael Powell's films are known for their sensuous, almost impossibly gorgeous looks, and Jack Cardiff is partly responsible for three of their best works. Cardiff shot "A Matter of Life and Death" (aka "Stairway to Heaven"), with its spectacular, imaginative view of the afterlife, "Black Narcissus," for which he won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, and "The Red Shoes," surely among the most beautiful-looking movies ever made. He also worked for such A-list directors as Alfred Hitchcock ("Under Capricorn"), John Huston ("The African Queen"), Joseph L. Mankiewicz ("The Barefoot Contessa"), and King Vidor ("War and Peace"). He eventually returned to cinematography in the 80s, shooting action flicks like "Conan the Destroyer" and "Rambo: First Blood Part II."
Notable Films Directed: "The Story of William Tell" (unfinished), "Scent of Mystery," "Sons and Lovers," "Dark of the Sun"
How Did He Do?: Not bad. Cardiff had a rough start on his directorial debut, "The Story of William Tell," a passion project of Errol Flynn's that would have been the first independent film in CinemaScope, had it not been for finance problems that would ruin Flynn. Cardiff directed a few other smaller productions before shooting 1960's "Scent of Mystery," the first film shot in Smell-O-Vision, another disaster as the scent cards didn't work properly at the premiere and negative word-of-mouth spread before the problem could be fixed. Cardiff's directorial career wasn't a total boondoggle, though: his other 1960 film, the D.H. Lawrence adaptation "Sons and Lovers," was an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, while Cardiff himself was nominated for Best Director alongside Billy Wilder ("The Apartment") and Alfred Hitchcock ("Psycho"). Most of Cardiff's subsequent directorial work didn't make many waves, but 1967's "Dark of the Sun" has fans in Martin Scorsese, who calls it a guilty pleasure, and Quentin Tarantino, who used its music in "Inglourious Basterds."
Cinematography Background: After working as a camera operator on "The Landlord," "The Godfather" and "Jaws," Chapman became one of the go-to guys for photographing grungy locations and seedy underbellies in the 1970s. Working with directors like Hal Ashby ("The Last Detail"), Philip Kaufman ("Invasion of the Body Snatchers") and Paul Schrader ("Hardcore"), Chapman's best work is featured in the two films he shot for Martin Scorsese (not counting "The Last Waltz," which has several cinematographers): "Taxi Driver," with its portrait of the scuzziest sides of New York in the 1970s, and "Raging Bull," which beautifully contrasted grandiose camera movements in the ring and fly-on-the-wall compositions in the domestic scenes. Following his work as a director, Chapman mostly shot comedies like "Ghostbusters 2," "Quick Change," and "Kindergarten Cop", but he did get a few more highlights with the strikingly lit "The Lost Boys" and for his memorable work in Chicago on "The Fugitive" and "Primal Fear."
Notable Films Directed: "All the Right Moves," "Clan of the Cave Bear," "Annihilator," "The Viking Sagas"
How Did He Do?: Not great. Chapman's most well-known film as a director is "All the Right Moves," the Tom Cruise football drama that capitalized on the success of "Risky Business" by being the first film to put Cruise's name above the title. It's a pretty cliched piece of work, though it has a fan in Rose McGowan's character from "Scream" (who notes that pausing it at the right moment gives a glimpse of Cruise's penis). His follow-up, "The Clan of the Cave Bear," is a bit more ambitious, with Daryl Hannah starring as a Cro-Magnon woman raised by Neanderthals, with most dialogue done in sign language with subtitles. The film flopped, however, and Chapman's only other films as a director were the TV movie "Annihilator" and the barely-known "The Viking Sagas."
Jan de Bont
Cinematography Background: The Dutch cinematographer's first notable credit was on Andy Warhol's "Blue Movie," but his most fruitful collaboration started three years later with Paul Verhoeven's 1973 film "Turkish Delight." de Bont would later shoot "The Fourth Man," "Flesh + Blood" and "Basic Instict" for Verhoeven, along with genre hits such as "Cujo," "Flatliners" and Ridley Scott's extremely stupid but pretty "Black Rain." He had his share of duds, from both of Michael Chapman's major films as a director to "Shining Through," with Bill Cosby's disastrous "Leonard Part 6" as the lowlight. But de Bont deserves credit for shooting "Die Hard," which, on top of being one of the signature action films of the 80s, is absolutely gorgeous.
Notable Films Directed: "Speed," "Twister," "Speed 2: Cruise Control,"The Haunting," "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life"
How Did He Do?: Good start, rough finish. de Bont's best film as a director was his first, "Speed," the premise of which ("'Die Hard' on a bus") is too good to screw up too badly, and benefits from game performances by Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper. Things started to turn, however, with his not as critically admired but wildly successful follow-up, "Twister," before he returned to the runaway vehicle well for the much-mocked "Speed 2: Cruise Control." de Bont's hacky remake of "The Haunting" didn't much help, grossing less than $100 million domestically on an $80 million budget, but the final nail in the coffin of his directing career came with the little-loved "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life." Aside from work as a cinematographer on the Dutch film "Nema aviona za Zagreb" and as an executive producer on "The Paperboy," de Bont hasn't made a film since.