That’s what a director with clout does: he gives his long-time director of photography a chance to direct. Thus Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas are backing Wally Pfister–who won the Oscar for “Inception” and just won an AFI Alumnae Award last week. He cited as his idol Franklin Schaffner (“Papillon,” “The Boys from Brazil,” and “The Planet of the Apes”) and was also inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather,” Milos Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and Hal Ashby’s “Being There.”
Pfister loves naturalistic light, he said at the AFI Life Achievement Award ceremony for Shirley MacLaine. He believes that “story is king, and the camera must always serve the narrative.” Nolan has earned three Oscars over seven Nolan films starting in 1999. Their most recent collaboration, “The Dark Knight Rises,” opens July 20. (Here’s my “Inception” interview with Pfister.) He also photographed last year;s best picture nominee “Moneyball,” as well as “The Italian Job” and “Laurel Canyon.”
Director Bennett Miller chose Pfister for his unpretentious, character-focused approach, he told TOH:
“Wally comes from news and documentary; he has a very on-his-feet, verite style. He’s the best operator I’ve ever worked with. He rolls into an environment and doesn’t want to create something out of his imagination–all of which make him a really comfortable fit for this stuff. He’ll walk into an environment and say, ‘Well, what is it, what are the sources, and how do we wrangle that in and make it manageable and allow us enough time to shoot the damn thing?'”
Pfister has directed commercials for years — and won kudos for his haunting work on “The Montana Meth Project” PSA, alongside directors Darren Aronofsky, Tony Kaye, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. (Video below.)
It will be interesting to see if Pfister shoots in 35 or digital. The main reason “Inception” is so effective, gorgeous and believable, Pfister explained at a tech panel, is that it’s shot in anamorphic 35 mm (with some IMAX 65 mm sequences) on old-fashioned grainy color stock. They used no digital intermediate. That’s rare these days. This preserves brightness, contrast and clarity.
Alcon Entertainment (“The Blind Side”) will finance and produce Pfister’s feature debut. Alcon co-CEOs Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove said that they have wanted to produce a Pfister-directed film after working together on Nolan’s 2002’s “Insomnia.” Rookie screenwriter Jack Paglen wrote an original screenplay (whose plot is not being revealed) for Pfister to direct, which was developed by Annie Marter and sold as a pitch to Straight Up Films, whose principals Marisa Polvino and Kate Cohen will produce along with Marter, Johnson and Kosove. Regency Boies will co-produce.
Principal photography will begin in fall or early winter.
Nolan and Thomas stated: ‘We have been hoping to work with Wally as a director for a long time, and are thrilled to be working on such an original and exciting project alongside him and Alcon.”