Interviews from "Expanded Cinematography":
Cinematography of "Carol"
with 2016 Oscar Nominee Ed Lachman, ASC
Q) Tell us what brought you to the project?
Ed Lachman, ASC: I have a working relationship with Todd (Haynes – Director) since we collaborated on “Far From Heaven,” “I’m Not There,” and “Mildred Pierce.” Each project we've tried to set a different set of rules and visual language. Far From Heaven was a Sirkian world, referencing Douglas Sirk’s world of heightened artifice in light, color, and camera movement. “I’m Not There,” an essay poem on the myth and history surrounding the career and music of Bob Dylan, creating six different characters portraying different aspects of Dylan’s creative life, each with their own visual style, by referencing the 60s and 70s period of filmmaking—as a metaphor for Dylan’s ability to reinvent himself in his music--from Europe’s French New Wave to Italy’s early Antonioni and Fellini to the experimentation of 70s filmmaking in Hollywood, i.e. Petulia by Richard Lester, photographed by Nicholas Roeg, and the counterculture anti-hero westerns such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid directed by George Roy Hill, photographed by Conrad Hall or Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid by Sam Peckinpah photographed by John Coquillon. “Mildred Pierce”—a foray into television with Todd for HBO, an adaptation miniseries that eschewed the 1945 Michael Curtiz film noir classic, which used theatrical expressionism in its storytelling and studio lighting, instead approaching the story as a psychological character study between a mother and a daughter that echoes the neo-noir films of the 70s which expressed their themes through an observation of naturalism, in camera movement and in light, i.e. Day of the Locust (1975), Conrad Hall, or Chinatown (1974), John Alonso.
Patricia Highsmith was known as a suspense writer with her first book Strangers On A Train. She wrote her second book, Carol, under a pseudonym, Clare Morgan, because of its lesbian storyline. As Todd Haynes has remarked, “the best love stories reside in the mind of the lover, steeped in their overproductive and overactive minds.” Carol is still a crime novel; the crime was their love for each other. We approached the point of view of the protagonist, Therese, a young shopgirl who is enamored with Carol, an older established upper-middle-class wife and mother. Carol is a form of Melodrama, a film style that observes people from the outside, where you’re watching social forces affect people’s lives. The social mores confront the characters, in which they are rarely able to overcome or change their situation for their personal needs and wants. We created that through subjective shifts; we begin with Therese and end up with Carol. Another aspect to the visualization of the film is that Therese is an aspiring photographer. We begin to see her world opening up through her images. So we looked at midcentury American women photographers, like Ruth Orkin, Esther Bubley, Helen Levitt, to Vivian Maier, who created artistic aesthetics through street photography. Our approach to the look was to incorporate a subjective viewpoint of the amorous mind—the mind of someone falling in love, when you read every sign and symbol of the other person. We rejected the high gloss 1950s Douglas Sirkian world of melodrama in favor of a soiled and muted color palate of color still photography of the 1940s, rather than the cinema of the period, for the emotional content of the story. We also revisited Saul Leiter, which we first used as a reference in Mildred Pierce—to creating layered compositions; subjects that are obscured by abstractions and seen in reflections and partially-visible space. By using Leiter’s images we were not only creating for me a representational view of the world, but a psychological one, in which we used that subjectivity to help represent the amorous mind. The mind of someone falling in love. Where you’re reading every sign, symbol, and symptom of the other person.
Q) Why did you choose to shoot Carol on Super 16mm?
Ed Lachman, ASC: We decided to shoot Carol on Super-16mm film as we did for Mildred Pierce because we wanted to reference film stocks of a previous time period, in grain structure and color separation, that I find different than in digital photography of today which is pixel-fixated on one film plane. The grain structure in film and its movement is affected by exposure: finer grain in high lights and larger grain in low light, which can’t be represented digitally—even if you can add digital grain later. The color separation in film affected by gels or color temperature is also lost and different for my eye, digitally. The RGB layers, even though microscopic, create a color depth of the image, which I find lacking in digital photography. As an analogy, when you look at a painting and experience its tactility, you’re affected by the brush strokes’ sense of depth and how the colors mix, but in a digital photograph, you lose that sense of depth.
It’s becoming harder and harder to shoot film as the infrastructure is not being supported. It was even difficult to find film loaders—which is an entry-level position on a camera crew, but I know the union is trying to address this problem. If Kodak is still going to produce film, we’re going to need labs. In New York, eight months ago, the last professional lab closed, Film Lab New York. Carol was the last film to make prints there, after I did a test to show Todd what our film could look like even though it went through a DI--would there be a different feeling in the image because we originated in Super-16mm?—and there was. In the process of timing the negative in the lab, I inquired what would happen to all the equipment after the lab closed, and I was horrified to learn that the recently-overhauled processors and cleaning machines would be dismantled and thrown in a dumpster. I got in touch with the president of the lab and he was willing to make an arrangement with me to acquire all of the equipment. I now have it in storage with the hope that the film community will come to its senses and see the need for a motion picture lab on the East coast.
In my research 15-25% of Hollywood films are still being originated on film. Though it’s becoming more difficult to find support for film, camera equipment is there to shoot with and can even be more economical than using digital equipment. Another aspect is that labs have to be able to support the way cameramen analyze their negative, even if it’s going to be transferred digitally for dailies and later completion. Labs are doing away with daily timers, in which you evaluate your negative in exposure with printer lights. So if I’m able to create a boutique lab in New York, that will be of primary concern that a timer will be there to evaluate your negative and have direct communication with the cinematographer.
Q) What was in your camera package? What about the lighting in Carol?
Ed Lachman, ASC: I used an Arri 416; the lenses included Cooke Speed Pancros, a Zeiss Master Zoom, 16.5 to 110mm, T2.6, Cooke 20-60mm T3.1, Cooke Super-16, 10-30mm, T.1.6 lens. Film stocks: Kodak negative 7219 ASA500 Tungsten, Kodak Negative 7207 ASA250 daylight, 7213 ASA200 Tungsten, 7203 ASA50 Daylight.
The Lighting Kit: The lighting was created on actual locations in Cincinnati, for New York City in the late 40’s/early 50’s. Much of the architecture in Cincinnati still references that time period, which was a great support visually for us. So I worked with smaller units we could rig and created--with my gaffer of many years, John Deblau—we created many custom lighting rigs, with incandescent bulbs in strips with chicken wire and muslin, light-weight 30inch paper china balls with a 2000watt tube mogul base fixtures that had been used for industrial use, theatrical lighting 750 Lekos with 19-inch and 36-inch shutters that we could bounce and cut the light in the small locations and rooms we found ourselves in. The rest of the lighting was standard, Tungsten 9-lights, 5Ks, 2Ks, on the daylight side, 18Ks to 1200 pars. The only unusual lights were 5K and 12K T-Pars which have a horizontal mounted bulb, focused by a parabolic lens which creates shafts of incredible light output.
Q) What was your approach to camera movement?
Ed Lachman, ASC: With Todd, the camera is never static. It always creates a life with the performance. The opening shot was the most complicated shot in the film, which took a night to orchestrate but we actually had the shot by the third take. It begins on the street in New York at night looking straight down at a sidewalk grate as steam is coming out. The camera begins to rise and tilt up to follow past commuters’ feet coming out of the subway station exit in which the camera pans with our actor across the street against traffic to the other side of the street, following him around a corner into a high-end restaurant as the camera booms up 30 feet. We couldn’t use track because of the traffic coming across the street, so we devised a way on a camera car mounted with a rig of a 30-foot Louma crane that we orchestrated in movement with the actor as he crossed the street, while we extended and retracted the arm through traffic and finally in its boomed-up position as he enters the restaurant.