Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael talks about filming The Descendants for Alexander Payne

Recently, for The Reader, Leo Adam Biga interviewed Phedon Papamichael, producer Jim Burke and actress Shailene Woddley about working with Omaha director Alexander Payne on The Descendants, which opened in Omaha yesterday exclusively at Filmstreams.
“It was important for the photography not to be flashy, but to feel real,” Papamichael says. “Alexander has this saying: ‘Keep the banality of things.’ So we don’t touch anything on locations.”
     The joint where one of King’s cousins, played by Beau Bridges, holds court is a genuine bar and the extras glimpsed there its actual denizens.
     “Even when we shoot somebody driving somewhere we shoot on the road the character would have to take. It’s not like, ‘Oh, let’s do some drive-bys on the north shore because it’s really pretty.’ It extends to casting. Alexander instinctively finds people that feel real...

     He says the two of them work intuitively, starting in pre-production.
     “We don’t really shot list or storyboard. What we do is we watch movies we feel are more or less relevant to what we’re doing. We’re drinking wine and eating pasta and showing each other films.”
     For Descendants, he says, “I showed him Walkabout because it deals with nature and how society and humanity are in conflict with that. We always end up watching some Hal Ashby or Italian movie (at Payne’s insistence).”
     “He’s open, he listens to people. Sometimes he’s looking more for help, sometimes less. He has a very particular, very unique way of seeing things in the way he directs, the way he cuts. He takes a long time to cut his movies. He really fine tunes and finds the little moments with (editor) Kevin Tent. It’s very precise in a way.”
     That precision extends to Payne’s scripts.
     “I remember Thomas Haden Church once asked if he could change one word in a sentence (on Sideways) and Alexander thought about it for a really long time and he was like, ‘No, I think we’ll just do it the way it’s scripted.’ He surely thought about that line a really long time when writing and that’s why it’s in the script that way.”
You can read the complete piece at Biga's blog here as well as other interviews with Payne about his previous films.

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