The Australian cinematographer visited Stockholm Film Festival and chatted to us about working with Wong Kar-Wai, Gus Van Sant, Jim Jarmusch and... Florence & The Machine
At the recent Stockholm Film Festival edition, Australian cinematographer guru Christopher Doyle presented his latest work, 'Tormented', a 3-D Japanese horror movie, and 'Underwater Love' - a pink film musical with music from Berlin-based band Stereo Total. Doyle experiments and plays with light and lens movement. He is a free-thinking maverick with twenty years of experience, which comprises a vast cinematographic work with film directors including Wong Kar-wai, Gus Van Sant and Jim Jarmusch.
At 59, his creative mind and international awareness is steadily on the rise. We talked about perspectives in the creative process and some other projects, including commercial work for Gucci’s latest campaign with James Franco and Florence and The Machine latest music video
Dazed Digital: How important is for you to left room for improvisation?
Christopher Doyle: I think it’s basic. Many of my films been made with Kar-wai who doesn´t have a script. We find the film rather than making the film. I never studied film and I don´t really see many films actually (laughs). I don’t have a formal education, it happens very often you make so cool mistakes, what people call innovations. So I think that’s an important sort of attitude to have. To approach to work in that way is very liberating but it takes a lot or energy also. You have to be constantly re-working what the real meaning of what you’re doing is.
DD: 'Underwater Love' was shot in about five days, one take only. Did you want it to be like that?
Christopher Doyle: It’s a mixture of part of the genre, where pink films traditionally come from. They used to be popular genre upon to the 70’s. It’s soft porn so, they have a certain style, people is not gonna see them 10 times (laughs). Also there’s no much money involved. Many of the films I make now, cos I’m usually working in independent films, are 18 to 28 days, that’s quite common now. It would be 40 days a few years ago. And I think that’s good. That keeps the energy going.
DD: Regarding Gus Van Sant or Jim Jarmusch, what do you admire about the way how they work?
Christopher Doyle: They’re great artist, first of all. They work in similar but very different ways. With Gus, in `Paranoid Park´ it was only 28 pages of script. We where working with kids and they would give us something that we couldn't imagine ourselves cos they have a certain way of speaking; they are unexpected. Gus left this space in some of the works. Of course, with Psycho was the opposite. But for him It has to be a space for the poetry. And I think Jim is in the same way, the reason of his films are very delivered, he is anticipating, that the process will give us something hopefully deeper, more personal. So that´s something quite similar between both. The rhythm and the working system is a little bit different.
DD: Have you ever get involved into the script of the movie you shot?
Christopher Doyle: I've written a few of my own works and directed a few things. I come from literature. I love to read. Now I've written my own books about my work. The words are really important to me. My function at the script stage is if an expression that strikes me –perhaps something other people haven´t notice it– something the director said: “nobody noticed that before” and it is because I need to think about how I shot it. My job is to prepare ideas, how these words can be made into images. The more I get involved in that, it helps the working process. If I see a location early enough I can suggest things like maybe this scene can be on the balcony or maybe they never leave the room and stuff like that.
DD: You have worked with both music videos and commercials. Which are the main differences for you when to approach each assignment?
Christopher Doyle: To me there’s not much differences. Most of the people who I worked in the commercials are friends, there’s a great communication. There are more people involved, not creative people, they concern about the product. You know, there is a book about what color the Coca-Cola can be. So that’s always very frustrating but for them, we gonna be realistic, that’s why the commercial exists. Many people asked me to direct but I couldn't cos you have to deal with that. When I’m shooting, you just have to deal with ideas. To me it takes as much time to prepare a commercial, if you direct it, as it does to shot “Underwater Love,” so I rather do the film than a commercial (laughs).
DD: How is it with music videos then?
Christopher Doyle: Usually there’s people like Sigur Rós, or Florence (and the Machine) who are great people because they have already a certain creative control. It’s more intimate.
DD: So how is your relationship with Asia nowadays?
Christopher Doyle: Yeah, it’s evolving. I was in Qatar a few days ago and many Middle Eastern directors approached me. I felt very excited; interesting and also encouraging for me, so I think my world is expanding a little bit more. I did three films in Asia in the last six months so I still do a lot of work in Asia, you know, I’m more familiar with that. Of course I’m very proud of the films we’re done and where is taking us and what it means in our culture. So I still regard my self as an Asian filmmaker.
DD: You are writing books and experimenting with other disciplines such collage...
Christopher Doyle: To me those works are interesting because they´re just another expression of the creative process but with a different audience. I think is beautiful. We try to celebrate the way in which we live and the ideas do we have or the beauty of a space or how we respond to color. If you do it on a film, maybe certain number of people will see it but if you do it in other forms or online it has different access. To me it’s much harder to make a book or an exhibition than to make a movie.