May 25, 2015

Color, Lighting, and Composition breakdown of scenes from 'Prisoners' and 'Inglourious Basterds' by Matthew Scott

This film has some of the best cinematography I've ever seen...as I'll explain below, in great detail.

SCENE/SHOT ANALYSIS
Here's the dissecting part....so it took me a while, but I decided to go through the entire film and look for things that I may have missed during my first viewing. Instead of writing paragraph upon paragraph, detailing the craftsmanship that I noticed behind each scene, I decided to sort of make a book. I for one like pictures and the less I have to read, the more engaged I am. That's just me, but I'm sure you'd rather this format than listening to me waffle on for pages at a time.
Please keep in mind that I had nothing to do with this film! The notes I have made cannot be accurate in the sense that I actually don't KNOW what is going on, what lens was used, etc. They are more of an observation based on, dare I say, educated guesses. In any case, I found it to be a great learning experience as I looked for beauty and subtle details in these shots.

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CINEMATOGRAPHER STYLE (pun intended)
A cinematographer's "style" could be put down to things he or she does on a consistent basis that are noticeable from film to film, right? Noticing a style means that you notice elements within the art form that you've seen before and can associate with  the artist across their body of work. When I look at Roger's work, it's almost as if he has 'no style'. Now, please don't stop reading this blog after that sentence! hehe....allow me to elaborate.
For me, Roger seems to be SO exquisitely in tune with the story that needs to be told, the directors vision and his own artistic vision that the resulting cinematography is so perfect and so fitting, it's almost unnoticeable! His style is literally a service to the story, 100%. That being said, I could say that I've noticed Roger seems to like wider lenses. It's pretty rare that you'll see an 85mm closeup in his work. He's often pushing in close with a 50mm and sometimes wider. I could also say that it's quite rare for Roger's camera to be moving frantically around, even during intense, high impact scenes. It's almost always smoothly moving precisely where it needs to move in order to frame what is happening, with absolute perfection. You could also say that his lighting seems to be driven by practicals rather than back-lighting every shot to make it look good. He has perfected (and continues to perfect) the art of lighting a scene with existing sources, only adding emphasis where it's needed with extra light, but doing so in a way that is mostly unnoticeable. He is for me, at the top of his game. Where I want to be. I've never been so inspired!
It's important to note that many of the things I point out in this study aren't related to cinematography. Things like set design, color choices, framing and shooting angles for example, aren't necessarily the sole decision of a DoP. If you've read any of my other articles, you'll quickly realize that I appreciate and talk about the many departments it requires to make a film, and my understanding that film-making is a massive collaboration between departments. With that said, I still think there is value in the points I have made and I hope you gain some insight from my study!
Okay, so with that out of the way lets take a look at the colour palette that makes up the outdoor stuff, and compare that to the indoor stuff :) I love this stuff!
Showing the general colours of a scene is great, but it's also interesting to see that a "true" or 100% black point doesn't exist in many of these shots, and the same goes for a white point. In fact, I was shocked to notice that the outdoor scenes have a lower white point than the indoor scenes! Very interesting :) It's also nice to look at saturation and luminance levels on an actual scope, at least, these are the values I monitored when looking at my DVD copy.
Something I try to make clear on a regular basis is that cinematography is only a part of the many pieces that make up a film. Lighting, blocking and framing aside, colour and set design are obviously a big part of what we need to pay attention to, and here you can see a very specific pallet has been chosen for this film. From scene to scene there are different splashes here and there, but overall, shadows are warm and highlights cool - often, it's the other way around. Regardless, I absolutely love how colour was handled in this film.
The pace of the first chapter is so perfect and the tension that Tarantino builds is almost traumatizing! To hit that sort of perfection you need amazing actors - Denis Menochet and Christoph Waltz bring so much to the story, far beyond, I believe, the genius words that Tarantino placed in front of them. The music and sound design I've left till last, because it is as equally impressive and fitting.  A quick Google search revealedJoe Bard's in depth sound anazlysis, which I hope he doesn't mind me sharing here :) Nice work man!
Finally, I know there are many other films out there that have been acclaimed to have amazing cinematography, but we all have our own taste, right? I mentioned in the previous breakdown that I love the simplistic and masterful approach that Deakin's employs with his work. The camera isn't moving unless it helps the story. Light is added or subtracted just enough, and motivated by the environment. Everything is done SO well that you barely notice it at all, unless you look for it. That's what I'm talking about, and this chapter is FULL of perfection in my opinion. Many of the frames look like beautiful paintings rather than photographs. The balance, depth and attention to detail of the work below is just gorgeous. Robert Richardson is a master!
Alright, enough waffling, let's take a look!
So that took me a loooong time....reminded me of high-school actually, having to finish some project hehe. The difference here is, I'm actually learning too, and it's great to be able to share with others what I'm thinking. Like I've said before, don't bet that any of this info is actually accurate, it's literally just my analysis - a detailed brain fart. If it was an enjoyable read, great :) If it was helpful or inspiring, awesome! Even if you got ONE thing out of it, then I'm happy :)



Original sources here and here.