February 05, 2017

Cinematographer Wally Pfister gives an inside look at ‘Inception’

By Bob Fisher

HollywoodNews.com: “Inception” is coming to movie screens in your neighborhood this week. The film marks the sixth collaboration for cinematographer Wally Pfister, ASC, writer/director Christopher Nolan and producer Emma Thomas.

It follows in the wake of “Memento,” “Insomnia,” “Batman Begins,” “The Prestige” and “The Dark Knight.” All of those films were critically acclaimed, fan favorites. Pfister is a former television news cameraman who earned Oscar nominations for his last three co-ventures with Nolan and Thomas. The trio take visual story-telling to an new level with “Inception.”

Leonardo DiCaprio plays a master criminal who invents a way to invade people’s dreams and steal their most valuable secrets. “Inception” is a throw-back to the Golden Age of movies. Pfister filmed scenes at practical locations in Japan, Morocco, Los Angeles, France, Canada and England.

Thomas observes, “You can do amazing things on a set pretending to be in Morocco, but the energy feels different at the real location.” About half of the film was produced in wide screen 35 mm anamorphic format with Pfister drawing on his news cinematography background while handholding the camera for more intimate shots. They used 65 mm film to create a sense of depth for scenes designed to transport audience to big locations.

Pfister explains, “We shot a busy street scene in Morocco in 65 mm format. Then, I put a 35 mm camera on my shoulder while we shot close-in, intimate shots while walking with two characters down the street.” The real magic happens when they shot dream sequences on sets built at Cardington Studios, in England. There are shots where gravity is suspended and characters walk on the ceiling and walls, and breathtaking, ultra-slow motion sequences shot at up to 1,000 frames a second that pull audience deep inside of dreams.

My final question for Pfister was, “What do you do for an encore after Inception?” He just looked at me and smiled. Stay tuned. The best is yet to come.

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About Bob Fisher

Bob Fisher was born and raised in Brooklyn. He earned a journalism degree from Long Island University, and began his career as a cub reporter at the New York Herald Tribune. Fisher was drafted into the U.S. Army in mid-1958. He served for two years as a journalist at an army base in Anniston, Alabama.That experience gave him a different view of the world. Several weeks before he was scheduled to complete his military obligation, Fisher answered an ad for a six-month job in Los Angeles writing a book based on interviews with members of the American Society of Cinematographers. Fisher had no idea what cinematographers did. The attraction was getting to see Los Angeles. Fisher estimates that he has subsequently written between 3,000 and 4,000 magazine articles about cinematographers and other narrative and documentary filmmakers. He is one of seven living honorary members of the American Society of Cinematographers. Four of the others are astronauts.

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