Before Alfonso Cuarón won an Oscar for directing “Gravity” with his longtime cinematographer (and fellow Oscar-winner) Emmanuel Lubezki, the legendary collaborators were just two film school students with no real idea of where their careers would lead. During an on-stage conversation at the Tribeca Film Festival Wednesday, Cuarón and Lubezki shared several stories about how both of them fell into filmmaking through a combination of chance and trial and error.
“I wanted to be a still photographer and the art school was in political turmoil…[so] I ended up going to film school,” Lubezki said. Cuarón, meanwhile, said he always thought he would be his own cinematographer on the movies he directed. Though the pair have collaborated on films like “Great Expectations,” “Y Tu Mamá También” and “Children of Men,” they modestly point to each other rather than taking credit for much of their own success, both during and after film school, which Cuarón said had “no structure” and was “a mess.”
“Alfonso is probably the most important teacher in my life,” Lubezki said, adding that the main thing he got out of film school was meeting the director. Cuarón quickly turned the attention back on his D.P. “It was clear that he understood the whole thing way better than me,” Cuarón said.
One of the innovative techniques Cuarón admired in Lubezki was how he would find interesting ways to light scenes. “I remember that you placed a light on the antenna of a Volkswagen,” Cuarón said. “We would do crazy things.”
Though neither Cuarón nor Lubezki could explain specifically what they learned from film school (aside from Cuarón saying he learned how to “run a set”), what’s clear from their conversation is that the two men discovered how to develop a working relationship that would let them flourish as a director-cinematographer team for years to come.
“There’s a level of honesty that can be brutal,” Lubezki said. “Alfonso would come and look around and say, ‘Is this your light?’ And I would say, ‘Is this your shitty blocking?'”
While both men always aspired to do good work together, they were more concerned with learning their craft one step at a time than chasing immediate success.
“We used to say, ‘Look, if we can have one shot in this show that is decent, it’s okay,'” Cuarón said. “We were looking for the shot.”
Watch the trailer for Tribeca entry “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” below.