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Ben Schwartz

Michael Seresin

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After having been blown away by the cinematography on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (among the best work of 2004), I've been watching a lot of Michael Seresin's work with Alan Parker lately. Just had to give props to this guy...despite a relatively small body of feature work (considering how long he's been at it), his work is consistently engaging, innovative and inspired. Anyone care to share their thoughts?

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Angel Heart, Birdy, and Midnight Express were wonderfully photographed films. They were moody and yet had a sparkle to them. His work was simultaneously natural and magical.

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His work was simultaneously natural and magical.

Thanks, Bob...that's exactly what grabs me about his work. It's the ability to toe the line between naturalism and stylization. Even HP3 had a rougher, grainier feel to it that balanced out the heavy FX work, which I responded to more than the glossier work of John Seale and Roger Pratt in the first two. Much of his work with Parker seems to have that "naturally stylized" feel...which seems to me like something worth aspiring to, not to mention admiring.

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I have to rent Midnight Express. I haven't seen that in years. As for Mr. Seresin's work, I think Birdy was magnificent. I haven't had a chance to see Harry Potter...it's not something I see myself watching, good cinematography or not. But maybe I'll see it someday. Thanks for the heads up.

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First, allow me to disagree with 2 things you said:

 

Alan Parker, world's most C- grade director...

 

While it's true Parker hasn't made a good movie since Mississipi Burning, I don't know if I'd go that far...he made some pretty interesting and visceral films in the 70's and 80's.

 

...a film that looks like a simple version of all this divine complexity I'm watching now?

 

There are many ways I would describe Lubezki's work on Sleepy Hollow, but "simple" isn't one of them. Oh well, different strokes for different folks... ;)

 

But now let me second all the other stuff you said about MS...his photography is very often the best thing about the film, including all of his later work with AP. I too was glad to see him recognized for his work on HP3. I'm still interested to hear back from Max about why no one in the UK wanted to work with him.

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maybe this is directorial influence? Parker doesn't try to impose an already decided egotistical visual style onto all of his films unlike Burton.

 

Could just be story-driven decisions though -- "Sleepy Hollow" called for that storybook stylization. "Ed Wood", for example, does not look like "Sleepy Hollow".

 

I loved the look of "Sleepy Hollow", especially the first half. But I find the monochromatic approach of "Snow Falling on Cedars" to be even more personally compelling because of the variation in lighting approaches throughout. Richardson can go from hard to soft lighting in the same scene and get away with it. But again, "Sleepy Hollow" is meant to look like storybook illustrations so to some degree, there is a greater need for consistency of approach throughout, as if one illustrator had painted them. There isn't the layer of dramatic realism intermixed with the stylization as with "Angela's Ashes" or "Snow Falling on Cedars."

 

They're not great movies, but for some really nice work by Lubetski, check out "A Walk in the Clouds" or "Great Expectations", which show a wider range of lighting styles.

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Max said he knew a couple of people who declined the Seresin Potter offer, not every camera technician in the UK!

Whatever.

 

If you want to call one dimensional childrens musicals such as Bugsy Malone and fame interesting and visceral, it's all good-I'll stick to Bertolucci, Scorsese and Coppolla! ;)

Identifying Parker with Bugsy Malone and Fame is like identifying Bertolucci with Partner, Scorsese with Boxcar Bertha or Coppolla (sic) with The Rain People. Obviously those aren't the "interesting and visceral" films I was referring to. Try Midnight Express, Birdy, Angel Heart and Mississipi Burning. And while I certainly wouldn't place him on the same level as the 3 you mentioned, I just think he deserves more than a C minus. How about a B minus?

 

And hey, I agree with you...Angela's Ashes was beautifully shot. I wasn't comparing it negatively to Sleepy Hollow. But I liked the look of Sleepy Hollow, how the desaturated CCE palette was almost black-and-white except for the odd splash of brilliant blood red, how they relied more on expressive and steady compositions than camera movement, the frequent use of soft single-source illumination.

Edited by Ben Schwartz

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.......and Alan Parker, world's most C- grade director is the visionless reason we have no film industry in the UK. That said, Midnight Express looked fantastic in all of it's real and simulated available light.

 

I was very pleased to see MS recognised and selected to work on Harry Potter after all these years- I remember watching Angela's Ashes at the flicks during some of the bleak monotone countryside night stuff and thought "why has Tim Burton [On Sleepy Hollow from the same year] brought a US based DP over to the UK to light a film that looks like a simple version of all this divine complexity I'm watching now?" It made no sense that we have such an imaginative DP who can jump from project to project with all of the chameleonic versatility of a commercials DP like Derek VanLint, yet he's not doing the best projects in this country.

 

 

 

Hmmm. First of all I'm not sure about the 'we', Seresin is a Kiwi to my knowledge (and has a very successful vineyard down there by the way). In my limited experience with him he is a brilliant DP, but could be difficult, a short fuse. I worked on several commercials with him that he directed and to be honest cutting through all the poop as he did was very refreshing.

 

Parker is probably the best director I've worked with. His range of subjects is second to none, not always successful maybe, but he works with a passion and technique that is amazing. I've never worked with anyone who comes close when it comes to getting the best out of kids / poor actors / egos.

 

Just my opinion. B)

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While I'm sure there were some great UK DP's that could have shot "Sleepy Hollow" well, the argument that it wasn't necessary to bring Lubezsky (originally from Mexico) over to the UK by way of the USA because a British DP could have done the job just as well reminds me of the incident where Storaro said he was not allowed to finish shooting the last few weeks of "Reds" when it moved production to some part of the US because the union told him "we have American DP's who can do just as good as job as you." I don't know what ended up happening, if he just hired a stand-by DP like he did next on "One from the Heart" or really didn't shoot the last few weeks of the movie. If Burton liked Lubezsky's work and wanted to hire him, he should be allowed to hire him.

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I strongly disagree! I mean... You can have your own opinion. I find seresin's work on Harry Potter simply amazing! Im a digital compositor slowly trying to move towards photography, and in my department, we do alot of lighting touch ups in post. Harry Potter 1 and 2 is filled with touch ups and Britghtness/constrast tracked masks... It's like the DP lit the scene without the actors on set, the backgound is lit properly, but the actors (the subject) are lit quickly on the spot. And besides, it was way too bright and happy happy for Harry Potter,it's a very american version of Harry Potter, with Stallone-like tag lines like , don't worry, I'll always be around to save the day!

 

The first two movies are decently lit, don't get me wrong, but not nearly as interesting as the third one... I just dont understand why you find it bad... cuz it's not, it's so obvious to me.

 

Come on... tell me thats bad photography ! lol...Come on

 

http://www.thesnitch.net/galleries/index.p...%20Patronus.jpg

 

http://www.thesnitch.net/galleries/index.p...rys%20necks.jpg

 

http://www.thesnitch.net/galleries/index.p...0Divination.jpg

 

http://www.thesnitch.net/galleries/index.p...a%20Boggart.jpg

 

cheers

Edited by Benny_the_kid

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lol... Ur right about the spot, I'd have to check if its the final film, It's ,my job to rid movies of these kinds of imperfections and I hadnt seen it.. good one!!!

Fstop 1, Ben 0

 

Apart from that, you seem to be focusing more on the movie more than the photography, we could get in a debate about the movie and how Cuaron approached it if you want, I was lucky enough to talk to him about Harry Potter 3 and what I thought about it (no...I'm not lying) and I find it very interesting. His approach to the theme of adolescence is meant to provoke a response both intellectually and emotionally and for me, it worked.

 

He explained in an interview (not to me) that most kids at one point stop believing in monsters in the closet and begin to worry about their inner demons, am I ugly, am I a sissy, am I stupid, why I am not popular... those kinds of fears...and things like the boggart in the closet provoke both an emotional and intellectual response to that. The boggart is exactly that, a monster in the closet who reflects your inner fears. Most people won't see it that way, but emotionally, they can relate to the metaphor, and by so doing, relate to Harry when he faints and feels weak and afraid. This is where Seresin's style becomes appropriate. Themes like escapism (from those kind of worries) is also represented by stuff...like the flight on the hyppogriff..lol.. instead of drugs (unlike most teen flicks) Emotioanlly, its all there. I'm not saying it a literal metaphor.

 

Or thematic material like the rite of passage. Harry FINALLY finds father figures in his life, Professor Lupin and his godfather. It's only at the end of the movie that he realises that he is not weak as he thought, by saving his father figure with the patronum charm. Expecto Patronum, latin for Expelling the Father. Harry becomes a man in the third film! The rite of passage, the son takes the place of his father.

 

All the little details at the end, like harry shelting hermione with his own body from the werewolf. Becoming a man. Its very tribal, yet, very british..lol.. I find it really interesting... A director like Columbus would NEVER have gotten that out of the book. There are things that I hate in the third film as well, I told them to Mr. Cuaron. He thanked me. He's a very open, very talented director and as far as I'm concerned, my hero! lol

 

But I respect your taste, your opinion and all... just wanted to share mine more thoroughly..

 

Cheerios

 

Ben

Edited by Benny_the_kid

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Oh and by the way... I totally agree with Ben Schwartz !!

 

"Even HP3 had a rougher, grainier feel to it that balanced out the heavy FX work, which I responded to more than the glossier work of John Seale and Roger Pratt in the first two. Much of his work with Parker seems to have that "naturally stylized" feel...which seems to me like something worth aspiring to, not to mention admiring."

 

It's so true! I heard it did make the work harder for the compositors at MPC and framestore cuz they couldn't rely on the glow filter so much (which is overused 90% of the time to cover the CG-ish look) !!! lol But it looks so much better because of that!!!!

 

 

Ben

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lol... Ur right about the spot, I'd have to check if its the final film, It's ,my job to rid movies of these kinds of imperfections and I hadnt seen it.. good one!!!

Fstop 1, Ben 0

 

UPDATE: Muhhaha, it's a production pic, it's not in the movie sorry. There's no spot in the movie, it's a window, think it's been post processed.

 

post-1654-1112915706.jpg

 

Apart from that, you seem to be focusing more on the movie more than the photography, we could get in a debate about the movie and how Cuaron approached it if you want, I was lucky enough to talk to him about Harry Potter 3 and what I thought about it (no...I'm not lying) and I find it very interesting. His approach to the theme of adolescence is meant to provoke a response both intellectually and emotionally and for me, it worked.

 

He explained in an interview (not to me) that most kids at one point stop believing in monsters in the closet and begin to worry about their inner demons, am I ugly, am I a sissy, am I stupid, why I am not popular... those kinds of fears...and things like the boggart in the closet provoke both an emotional and intellectual response to that. The boggart is exactly that, a monster in the closet who reflects your inner fears. Most people won't see it that way, but emotionally, they can relate to the metaphor, and by so doing, relate to Harry when he faints and feels weak and afraid. This is where Seresin's style becomes appropriate. Themes like escapism (from those kind of worries) is also represented by stuff...like the flight on the hyppogriff..lol.. instead of drugs (unlike most teen flicks) Emotioanlly, its all there. I'm not saying it a literal metaphor.

 

Or thematic material like the rite of passage. Harry FINALLY finds father figures in his life, Professor Lupin and his godfather. It's only at the end of the movie that he realises that he is not weak as he thought, by saving his father figure with the patronum charm. Expecto Patronum, latin for Expelling the Father. Harry becomes a man in the third film! The rite of passage, the son takes the place of his father.

 

All the little details at the end, like harry shelting hermione with his own body from the werewolf. Becoming a man. Its very tribal, yet, very british..lol.. I find it really interesting... A director like Columbus would NEVER have gotten that out of the book. There are things that I hate in the third film as well, I told them to Mr. Cuaron. He thanked me. He's a very open, very talented director and as far as I'm concerned, my hero! lol

 

But I respect your taste, your opinion and all... just wanted to share mine more thoroughly..

 

Cheerios

 

Ben

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And just to compare... look at the stills from the new film... which is NOT lit by Seresin. Its Roger Pratt (chamber of secrets)

 

http://www.mugglenet.com/gallery/details.php?image_id=91

 

It's not bad.... but come on, not nearly as good as Seresin. The light doesnt seem to have a logical and unifed source, it's just ligting for lighting, like a telefilm!! ;)

 

Ben

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Seresin's lighting is more natural and realistic, but that doesn't mean that cinematography always has to be more natural and realistic. When doing fantasy films, the question always comes up as to how much to stylize the photography -- one theory that Seresin sort of followed is that the more realistic the photography, the more you accept the fantasy. On the other hand, one of the best-photographed fantasy films is "Excalibur", which deliberately varies wildly from gritty naturalism to stylish expressionism and even old-fashioned glamour. It's myth afterall, not a realistic view of history.

 

Pratt's approach to the first "Batman" film used b&w film noir / German Expressionism elements in the lighting (and production design), something reduced in the later Batman films. Pratt's never been as strict a naturalist or realist as Seresin.

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Pratt's never been as strict a naturalist or realist as Seresin.

 

yeah you're right... I think formalism can be pretty cool too... I'm a huge fan of peter jackon's early films... and it terms of look, there's nothing logical about the lighting.... its purely driven by the emotions in the scene + it has that B-movie low budget look... which I tend to associate with formalism I guess.

 

But in this instance, I just don't understand where the light comes from... You can tell where the spots are, very very clearly. You can tell where the kicker is, the keylight... but there's no windows, no candles, no lamps. Know what I mean ? I just find it hard to sale. It feels very very studio-ish. I mean... Tim burton's Batman (also Pratt, like u said) also feels very studio-ish, but its stylised. And you accept it because its a style. I just dont see the style in Harry Potter 4 yet... but yeah... I should wait for the trailer ... or the film for that matter..lol ;)

 

anyway... thanks for replying David

Always a pleasure... and Im not saying that to suck up

 

Cheerios

Ben

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I have to admit that I preferred Seresin's lighting the HP3 over Seale's and Pratt's in the first two, but that probably has more to do with my taste, my belief, for playing children's tales on the moodier, darker side more than a preference for Seresin's realism. And I simply may be responding to the better direction of the third film.

 

Personally, I'd like to see someone like Alex Thomson (imitating his work in "Legend" if possible) or Emmanuel Lubetski tackle a Harry Potter film (although a Cuaron/Lubetski collaboration may have looked similar to a Cuaron/Seresin collaboration...) Or get Derek VanLint back into features to give it a go... Or get Andrew Dunn. Or Remi Adefarisin. You need someone willing to find the poetry amid all the running about.

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I wouldn't consider Roger Pratt's work formalism. Have you seen 12 Monkeys?

 

I generally like his work, when he's working with great directors.

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