Giles Nuttgens, the British cinematographer best known for his collaborations with Deepa Mehta (“Fire,” “Earth,” “Water,” “Midnight’s Children”) and Scott McGehee and David Siegel (“The Deep End,” “Bee Season,” “What Maisie Knew”) has two indie films out this fall, both of which debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival: Stuart Murdoch’s “God Help the Girl,” which was released early last month, and Jake Paltrow’s “Young Ones,” which hits theaters on October 17.
Though both films contain immersive worlds, they couldn’t be more different. “God Help the Girl” is a musical from Belle & Sebastian songwriter and frontman Stuart Murdoch about a young woman who starts a pop band in Glasgow. Set in a dystopian future where water is scarce, “Young Ones” features Michael Shannon as a farmer, Nicholas Hoult as his conniving neighbor and Elle Fanning as Hoult’s obsessed girlfriend.
Indiewire recently spoke to Nuttgens about his two latest projects.
Though you’re best known for your work with Deepa Mehta and Scott McGehee and David Siegel, you’ve also worked on films like last year’s “Dom Hemingway,” which I didn’t realize.
When I go up for interviews, people say “Oh you did that?” And I was like “Yeah, I’ve been around for a long time!” It’s almost like you’re invisible, but when they look at your resume they realize that there’s quite a body of work down there.
How did you get your start in the business? Did you start out with the intention of becoming a DP?
I actually wanted to be a film cameraman, a film cameraman shooting documentaries. And from the age of 10 onwards, I actually knew that I wanted to be a documentary cameraman with the BBC. So that was a very, very clear thing in my head, directing a crew at work when I was 10 years old. And that’s what I did. I went into the BBC, I was a young cameraman there doing documentaries until the BBC changed its format. They released most of their film crews, there were 53 film crews at the time and about 50 of them disappeared and at that point. I shifted into feature films because that seemed to be the only way of staying with film, as in film, you know, as in a thing with holes in it.
“Young Ones” boasts a very different look than “God Help The Girl.”
There’s sort of no connect between how “Young Ones” looks and how “God Help The Girl” looks. They’re completely different films. One is 35 anamorphic, the other is 16 mil, cylindrical; one is long dolly and the other one is hand-held, they’re very different styles in that way. But they also look completely different because if there’s one thing I’ve always tried to do is make every film look different, do something different for myself so there’s a challenge. Also, I believe that every script is different and every director is different and I honestly believe that films look like their directors. So you try and fit into that space so that you’re satisfying the director’s original ideas about how he wants to make his film.
But that doesn’t necessarily doesn’t get you a lot more work because you’re not perfectioning a singular style…It’s a bit of a dangerous game in filmmaking, in the same way that if you were a pop star and you changed your music all the time. It doesn’t make it easy for you to get pigeon-holed, but for it me it makes it exciting that every job’s completely different.
And what are your thoughts on shooting on film vs. digitally?
I want to carry on working in the business so I had better say something very, very positive about digital. [Laughs] It’s part of the life. It’s an inevitability. I was part of that system in the sense that I finished off “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith” and so I was with George Lucas and Rick Mccallum when they were developing the systems…Ultimately, George [Lucas] was the spearhead for all digital systems and the shift from film to digital. So in some ways I was part of that revolution, so I can’t really deny the value of digital being part of that progression. But as a DP all I can say is that I’m more stimulated by film images when I see them on a big screen. The actual process of working, maybe because I’m very familiar with a film camera is much easier, faster, more flexible and a much more creative process.
But that doesn’t mean that digital cameras don’t have a huge value. For instance, the Alexa is an amazing looking camera…I just finished a Jack Black movie [“D-Train”] earlier this year and we just timed that film, and it was shot Alexa and all on anamorphic lenses and it looks fantastic, the film looks fantastic. I mean occasionally it looks a little digital, you know 50 percent of it looks just like film, but a little sharper.
The quality of the images now coming out of digital cameras is getting better every year. The Alexa is better this year than it was the last year. It’s moving at such a rate that supporting film just on the idea that I just happen to like those type of images is not really very practical within the film world. So I accept digital, I accept we’re moving on, I accept that I think that general level of photography will increase with the quality of photography — must increase with digital, you know, the ability to just look at what you’re actually going to get should move us on, a long way.
Most DPs understand what a director goes through. They understand how much they’ve got to give and they also understand how many years they’ve got to give to get a project off the ground. And I think that’s a really tough thing.
Life’s not long enough to do all the things you want to do. And particularly when filmmaking is such a slow process to get going…It sort of has to be something that justifies taking me away from a job that I’m so really passionate about anyway. Being a DP is something that I’ve always wanted to do as a kid, I’m doing it as a living. I can’t believe I do it in Los Angeles and in New Orleans, I do it in Detroit, you know these are big privileges to actually be able to do that, to be able to put film to a camera, particularly in this day and age, is a huge privilege and so I don’t deny the luck that I have in being able to exercise in my profession as a DP.