Christmas parties wouldn't exist without the countless lights used for decoration, which made for an interesting experience for cinematographer Ben Richardson, who most recently went to Sundance with the Oscar-nominated "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and now returns with Joe Swanberg's Anna Kendrick-starrer "Happy Christmas." Set during Christmas season, "Happy Christmas" is a family drama about Jenny (Kendrick) who moves into her brother and sister-in-law's basement after a breakup.
Which camera and lens did you use? Arri 416 with Super Speeds and Kodak 7219 (500T).
What was the most difficult shot on your movie, and how did you pull it off? The Christmas Eve scene was the biggest challenge. Once you fill an environment with that much smoke, you quickly lose the definition of space. So my gaffer and I put almost all of our (few!) lights up outside the house, playing in through the windows and blinds, and tucked small fixtures in the corners of rooms, to make sure we got good silhouettes. Maintaining that level of smoke was tricky, so we closed all the windows and doors, checked all the cues and then left the machine running until we could barely see in front of our faces before calling action.
Who is your favorite cinematographer, and why? Harris Savides. I love everything about his work, from his
compositions, to his lighting, to the photochemical and exposure
manipulations he used. Always effortlessly beautiful, Harris'
cinematography also drew you into the films he shot in the best
Do you think the shift from digital is good or bad? I think it just is. I'm still a huge fan of film, and will continue to choose it whenever I'm able. And although I think that digital capture will catch up eventually, I suspect it'll be a couple more generations of cameras before you get that magic that well-shot film offers. That said, there's not a camera out there today that can't make beautiful images if you use your eyes and put in the work.
What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? Seek out good collaborators and good scripts. It doesn't matter how beautiful your images are if they aren't in service of a great story and great performances. That's the only reason I'm in Park City.
Editor's Note: The "How I Shot That" series is part of the Indiewire and Canon U.S.A. partnership at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where we celebrated cinematography and photographed Sundance talent at Canon Craft Services on Main Street.