The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents January 2016 Return to Table of Contents
ASC Theatrical Nominees
Roger Deakins
Janusz Kaminski
Ed Lachman
Emmanuel Lubezki
John Seale
ASC Close-Up

Bridge of Spies

Cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski

Directed by Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies chronicles the Cold War prisoner exchange of U.S. Air Force pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), who was shot down over the Soviet Union and accused of spying, and Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a convicted Russian spy in U.S. custody. The film follows insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), who is charged with the task of negotiating the exchange in Berlin.

Bridge of Spies marks cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s sixth ASC Award nomination, following Schindler’s List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Lincoln. It is also his 14th feature collaboration with Spielberg. “Steven and I didn’t have a lot of conversations in prep about how the film would look, and actually, that’s typical of our work together,” Kaminski tells AC. “For this one, I said, ‘We should shoot it anamorphic,’ and Steven said, ‘That's a good idea.’ There was no heavy discussion, and I think that’s the way I work best, because early on I don't have the answers to how a movie should look. Once I get closer to principal photography, I start to get a clearer picture, but I let it develop organically.

“Visually, Bridge of Spies is a very simple film. You can’t go any simpler, really. It was about a slightly warmer look for the scenes in America, cooler in West Germany, and even cooler in East Germany.” In addition, he worked to create more mystery and drama through the use of harder light on the “bad guys.” He explains, “The lighting style is very much film noir. In the beginning, I was going for shadows, wanting the lighting to reflect the shadowy world of the Cold War, and I was definitely using a lot more hard light than I’d normally use. Once we get into the story, though, it becomes about the relationship between Donovan and Abel, so at that point I went softer with the lighting. Mostly I was concentrating on lighting the actors, making sure that they stood out in the world of the film. It’s more of a stylized look.”

Kaminski has worked with a tight-knit crew on most of his films with Spielberg, including camera operator Mitch Dubin and key grip Jim Kwiatkowski, but on Bridge of Spies he worked with two different gaffers: Steve Ramsey in New York and Albrecht Silberberger in Germany. “Other than some keys, we had two totally different crews for our U.S. shoot and our Germany shoot — and two totally different experiences,” says the cinematographer. “I was a little scared about not bringing a gaffer with me from the U.S., but I liked the idea of two different gaffers. It added unpredictability to the image. I’m not a cinematographer who calls and places every single light. I like the aspect of the crew participating in the movie, and having two different gaffers gave me two different perspectives, one for America and one for Germany/Russia. Working with two gaffers also kept me on my toes. At the end of the day, I’m the one who decides what’s right for the movie, but I'm always open to suggestions before I make my decision.”

Kaminski shot Bridge of Spies on 35mm film, using Kodak Vision3 500T 5219 and 250D 5207. For lenses, he chose Hawk Vantage V and C series anamorphics because he “wanted a bit of distortion around the edges of the frame. Hawks are great for this; there’s a bit more unpredictability in terms of the distortion. I liked that they were not as crisp as newer lens systems. I also like their flares, although sometimes I wanted to have a bit more flare! They’re very good lenses, and they have a different look from all the other anamorphics.”

Summing up his work on the picture, Kaminski notes, “Steven is always a surprising filmmaker. He’s such a youthful man in terms of how he looks at the story. We don’t just shoot the script. He's always expanding the visual language to suit the story. He invents blocking and scenes and scenarios that create deeper layers of storytelling than what’s on paper, and he challenges everyone around him to be the best they can be. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Reported and written by Jay Holben.




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