Director of Photography: Waiting for “Her”
Falling in love with “Her” and director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema.
This shiver-inducing, behind-the-scenes featurette should start you falling if the film’s trailer hasn’t already. Love at first sight.
“Her,” Spike Jonze’s most recent feature film and his first as story- and screen-writer (for which he just won a Golden Globe), won’t find its way to the UK until the 14th of February. C’est la vie. American audiences were given “Her” in wide release this past Friday. For those of us an ocean away, we must wait for “Her.” C’est la vie.
This is our second Director of Photography feature and it differs from our first and former (on Gravity), in that we have more than just a preview to go on. We have the critical reaction to fan the flames our anticipation. There are also the film’s featurettes, to say nothing of all the interviews with Spike Jonze and his team, in which Dutch cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (of the visually striking Let the Right One In) was pivotal.
But, before we get him, let’s talk about Spike Jonze and a world without Spike Jonze. A world without Spike Jonze and his world? Not a world in which we’d care to exist. But that’s basically like asking: would you want to live in a world without magic? It’s not just movie magic to which we’re referring–the magic on screen or in front of the camera or behind the camera or in the audience–it’s the magic of existing, of allowing yourself to be surprised by beauty. Who would want to live in such a world? It’s a rhetorical question. The point in our asking is merely to say that Spike Jonze’s is magic.
If Spike Jonze is magic, what does that make director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema? He is the man that can bottle magic.
According to Hitfix, the result of their partnership was “one of the most exquisitely photographed films of the year, a full-bodied extension of Spike Jonze’s vision as a director through the lens of one of the most gifted cinematographers working today.”
Director of photography Van Hoytema used an ARRI Alexa to shoot the feature film. Yes, “Her” is all digital. (Fitting, no?) And let that be a lesson to anyone still up in arms about the growing popularity of digital. You can do soft and intimate. You can do dreamy and cinematic.
In an interview for No Film School, Van Hoytema had this to say about the decision:
I love everything about film, and I know exactly what I can achieve, texture- and feeling-wise. But we chose digital specifically for those night sequences in his apartment, where the city outside the windows is so vibrant and bright. We didn’t want to do a lot of augmenting in post, and with the Alexa we could use extremely low-level light sources [for the interior] that were still controllable.
But he couldn’t have done it without specific, nuance-attuned lenses. He had to get creative and resourceful. No Film School went over his collection of lenses in great detail:
Van Hoytema used an array of glass that would allow him to capture the intimacy of the characters’ relationship, as well as the physicality of light, something the cinematographer says was integral to the character Samantha’s experiences of seeing things for the first time. He utilized coating-less Cooke lenses, high-speed Zeiss lenses, and Canon zoom lenses from the 1970s, one of which was a Swedish f2.8 20mm–110mm Canon zoom that was used on one of Ingmar Bergman’s films.
The high-speed 35mm and 50mm Zeiss lenses allowed Van Hoytema to get close when he went handheld for the more intimate scenes, whereas the coating-less lenses allowed him to capture beautiful flares and artifacts, giving the film that romantic, nostalgic-but-not-too-nostalgic look.
We cannot say if he succeeded throughout, because we are still waiting on “Her,” but there is no doubt of the director of photography’s success as far as that trailer is concerned.