By Suyash Kamat
Weeks before IFFI 2016 began, excitement began to build for Academy award nominee Robert Yeoman’s masterclass on cinematography. How often do you get to get to be in the same room as your inspiration? Yeoman is among the most respected contemporary Hollywood cinematographers. Most famously known for his collaborations with director Wes Anderson, he has delivered one of the most unique cinematic styles of our times.
“It’s my duty as a cinematographer to help the director realise his vision on screen” Yeoman began, describing his collaborations with directors who “loved and respected the history of the medium”. Yeoman believes it’s important for cinematography to be ‘honest’ instead of just being ‘beautiful’. He explained this via a clip from ‘Love and Mercy’ (2014), where the documentary style aesthetic, and the raw feel of 16mm film did better service to the script instead of shooting it on digital (which was recommended by everyone else).
The session quickly shifted from talk to interaction as the eager audience couldn’t contain their excitement. ‘No question is ever stupid’ is Yeoman’s philosophy, so he was generous enough to answer each query thoughtfully. While many were about his relationship with Wes Anderson, the session slowly unfolded into a conversation about Yeoman’s belief and outlook towards cinematography.
“Lighting and camera work should always reflect the emotion of the story” he said. “Every lens has its own particular characteristics. It’s important to spend time with a director beforehand and familiarise him with the lenses so as to correctly capture the emotion of the scene.”
With Wes Anderson though, they would do short sketch videos called ‘animatic’, to understand how the scene would unfold. “With Wes, everything has to be precise”. The symmetrical compositions they are most famous for are born out of personal synergy. Though it was Anderson’s idea at the beginning, Yeoman confessed to being absorbed into it, then developing it into a unique aesthetic of their own. “At times, I would reach the set before Wes, and use a tape to measure the distance between the corners of the room to place the camera at the precise centre”.
Yeoman said, “in older times, the French, Italians, Indians would just pick up the camera and shoot, and their images looked so honest as opposed to what came out of Hollywood, which looked manufactured”. Yeoman recollects visiting India for the first time in 2007 when they were here for the recce of The Darjeeling Limited (2008). He was fascinated by the exuberant vibrancy all around and decided to translate that vibrant vibe into the film by accentuating “the colours and sound. There is a certain energy here that you can’t find anywhere else in the world”