The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents February 2014 Return to Table of Contents
The Monuments Men
Dean Cundey, ASC
Edurado Serra, ASC, AFC
Page 2
Richard Rawlings Jr., ASC
Presidents Desk
Filmmakers Forum
ASC Close-Up

Serra worked in England on Funny Bones (1995), directed by Peter Chelsom, and then again on Michael Winterbottom’s Jude (1996), which won him a Camerimage Silver Frog and teamed him once more with McGarvey, who was tasked with additional photography this time around. McGarvey recalls, “My gaffer, Lee Walters, and I used to laugh because I had a little light meter that I would secretly bring out to look at what Eduardo was doing with exposure, and I often couldn’t even get a reading! When Lee and I started shooting our own feature films, if the light was fading at the end of the day to the point where we had to stop, Lee would always joke with me and say, ‘You’re going to need Eduardo’s meter!’”

Jude was an anamorphic film, and Serra brought to it his compositional experiences on Leconte’s films, almost all of which were framed in the 2.40:1 format. “Widescreen is not just for dramatic landscapes,” Serra observes. “It can also capture human relations very efficiently, conveying psychological subtleties and unspoken feelings.” McGarvey recalls conversations with Serra on the subject, and notes, “Eduardo would talk about the ability to frame two close-ups within the same frame. It’s a great way of describing intimacy without a cut — you can see the relationships between people without the lie of the edit. And, of course, Eduardo is also so good with choreography and movement within a frame. I’m constantly returning to the things he told me. Those little jewels of information seem to apply to almost everything I shoot.”

Serra’s work on Iain Softley’s The Wings of the Dove (AC June ’98) brought him his first Academy Award nomination, as well as other accolades. It also brought him to the attention of many filmmakers in the United States, among them Robert Primes, ASC, who later proposed Serra for membership in the ASC. Primes explains, “There are films where I can retain my objectivity and intellectually appreciate the craft or innovation of the cinematography, but The Wings of the Dove was so beautiful that it took me out of that analytical mindset and simply moved me emotionally, which is, of course, the goal of the art form.”

Khondji, who also proposed Serra for ASC membership, had a similar reaction. “When I saw The Wings of the Dove, I realized how great a cameraman Eduardo really was,” he says. “He has been able to go beyond and reach another level, which is why I think he truly deserves all of the praise heaped upon him.”

Serra became an ASC member in 2002, and by that time, he had already been an active member of the AFC, serving as president from 1995-1997. He is also an honorary member of the Portuguese Cinematographers Association, the AIP. Maintaining a deliberately international flavor to his career, he continued to combine British and U.S. productions with European films. “I always loved moving from one to the other,” he says. “I tended to have more means at my disposal with American movies, which is very gratifying and allows you to push the limits of the art, but I also enjoyed, once back in Europe, having to work more simply.”

In the mid-1990s, Serra began an important collaboration with Claude Chabrol, working alongside him on seven films before the director’s death in 2010. “Like Patrice Leconte, Chabrol was very elegant in his human relationships,” says Serra. “In cinema you have different families; I always chose to work with people who saw the relationships that way. Apart from his great kindness, Chabrol was an enormously skillful filmmaker and was able to direct a crew very quietly, and because he was also very interesting and witty, each movie with him was like a feast. He wanted to concentrate on his directing and not be distracted by shooting problems, so he almost always worked with the same crew, in which he had complete trust. I miss him a lot.”

Serra reteamed with Vincent Ward for What Dreams May Come (AC Nov. ’98), working with several different film stocks to help craft a painterly look and to distinguish different settings and moods. Combining multiple stocks, as well as pushing them fairly hard, is something he has done on many of his projects. “I always used to say that Fuji was better for photographing a woman, and Kodak was better for photographing a gun,” says Serra. “By that I meant that Fuji stock was more flattering, whereas Kodak was suited to big Hollywood films with action or effects. But I’ve always enjoyed mixing stocks and having a choice.”

On Unbreakable (AC Dec. ’00), Serra worked with director M. Night Shyamalan to develop color arcs for different characters, exploring the subtle ways in which color can affect an audience. He also continued his characteristically soft, minimal lighting, making use of Aurasoft fixtures as single-source lights that could be used with HMI globes for exteriors and tungsten halogen for interiors. 

The film for which Serra is perhaps best known is Girl with a Pearl Earring (AC Jan. ’04), which garnered him his second Academy Award nomination and a Camerimage Bronze Frog, among other honors. His exquisite naturalistic lighting of sets through windows on the film, which explores the life and work of the great Dutch painter Vermeer, further cemented Serra’s reputation as a cinematographer of rare sensitivity.

Other notable credits include Beyond the Sea (AC Dec. ’04), Blood Diamond (2006) and Defiance (AC Jan. ’09). Not long after wrapping the latter picture, Serra was asked to shoot the final two installments of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2 (AC Aug. ’11), which were filmed back-to-back and required the cinematographer to move to London for the two-year shoot. Calling on a career’s worth of experience, Serra pushed film stocks, utilized flame sources and embraced darkness as a compositional element to create an appropriately mature and tenebrous look for the franchise finale. He even got to light a scene entirely with fluorescents.

Most recently, Serra shot Leconte’s A Promise (2013), capturing images digitally for the first time in his career while working with an Arri Alexa. He reports, “Shooting digitally didn’t influence the way I light, but I was very satisfied with the result.”

Of his ASC International Award, he comments, “It is an honor, of course. The ASC is a community of talents, allowing exchanges about our work and our experiments. It has widened my horizons.”


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