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Posts Tagged ‘Janusz Kaminski’

“I can make three bad movies and still make movies.”
Janusz Kaminski on the career longevity of a cinematographer verses a director

How does one go from being born in Ziebice, Dolnoslaski, Poland to being the Oscar-winning right hand cinematographer of director Steven Spielberg?

The short answer is talent and hustle.

At least that’s what I gathered from reading and watching various interviews with Janusz Kaminski who shot Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, War Horse, Lincoln, Munich as well as other Spielberg and many other non-Spielberg projects.

Kaminski also used his weakness to his advantage. Because he was an immigrant to the United States he felt like English as a second language might create some communication barriers if he chose to be a director or writer while in film school so he focused on shooting.

And shooting a lot. While a student at Columbia College Chicago (82-87) he says he shot between 30-40 student films. That’s a lot of films. Especially since that was back in the day where I imagine we’re talking narrative and documentary films actually shot on film not You Tube-ready videos that are shot and edited in a day.

Being foreign he said also made him strong on non verbal storytelling. Another advantage Kaminski had growing up in Poland during a communistic regime is the only American films he was allowed to see where ones that showed a disillusioned America—meaning a heavy dose of 70s films like Taxi Driver and The Panic in Needle Park.

(An America he says he didn’t find when he first came to the United States and still hasn’t seen. When he arrived in the USA the country was in the middle of a fitness craze.)

He made a demo reel from his student films and landed an independent feature film in Hollywood. He also spent a year at AFI one year and started working for Roger Corman’s company New Horizons shooting what he says were exploitation films and silly movies with men running around in rubber suits and crime suspense.

And here’s one more little gem I can pass on that Kaminski did to set himself a part from everyone else. He said he once interned on a film shot by John A. Alonzo that starred Tom Hanks.

I think that film was Nothing in Common (1986) which makes sense because I believe that was shot in Chicago during the time Kaminski was going to college. But he didn’t take the formal route to get the internship. He simple saw a film being shot, jumped a fence introduced himself to Alonzo. As Christopher Lockhart has said— when you see a shot take it.

You can bet he learned a thing or two about lighting and running a crew from the man who was the Oscar-nominated director of photography on Chinatown.

It was the TV movie Wildflower (1991) Kaminski shot that caught Spielberg’s eye and led to their longtime beginning with Class of ’61 followed by Schindler’s List (1993).  Schindler’s List by the way takes place in Poland during World War II. Circle of life stuff.

Both Spielberg and Kaminski won Oscars for their work on that movie.

P.S. These days–as was true when I was in film school— it’s easy to see people getting caught up in technical jargon when discussing filmmaking. I love Kaminski’s answer to a question just a couple years ago at a film festival.

Question:- When you’re looking at an image do you go with the philosophy of adding light to get the image or subtracting to take away to get the image?
Janusz Kaminski“I have no idea…I don’t know how it happens.”

It’s all about capturing the magic. And you do that making film after film…and maybe jumping a fence or two.

Related Post:
Ida’ (My favorite film this year was shot in Poland.)
Cinematography Cheats #1 Kaminski’s work on Jerry Maguire

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—16 posts.

Scott W. Smith

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Cinematographers are a bunch a liars and cheaters. Screenwriters, too. In a good way, of course. It’s all part of the job.  Just doing their part in creating a world of make believe.

For instance, Jerry Maguire didn’t really exist. Sure there were composites of real people he was based on, but he was a fictional character out of the cranium of writer/director Cameron Crowe.

Look at the screenshot below of Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) and what do you see? Can you see how cinematographer Janusz Kaminski lied and cheated to help bring that character to life?

JerryMaguireLamps

“If there’s a lamp most of the time the light would come from that lamp. It doesn’t mean that I would actually use that lamp to illuminate that scene because it’s just not sufficient enough to give [enough] illumination, but I would motivate the light sources by [using] existing lighting sources on the set. And, of course, if the drama of the existing light was not sufficient for the story I will totally abandon the practice of being realistic and just be dramatic with the light. I would just go for  go with non-realistic light sources to make the movie more interesting in terms of the storytelling.”
Two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski
(Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List—and Jerry Maguire)
Interview 

So in that well-known Jerry Maguire mission statement scene Kaminski does various things to make the scene visually interesting. He turns all the lamp lights on (even turn one on its side on the ground) in one shot, but in another place he turns all the lights off and allows what supposed to be exterior light (streetlights?) to stream in with rain pouring off the windows creating patterns on the walls, and in another place he uses an open small refrigerator to help illumine the scene. All to make it visually interesting and to meet the writer/directors expectations of a character having an epiphany .

JerryMRainFrig

Here’s how the much of scene played out:

Related Post:
Jerry Maguire’s Mission Statement
10 Cinematography Tips (Roger Deakins)

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—17 posts.

Scott W. Smith

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“We hit it off on Schindler’s List and never stopped working together. I just think [Janusz] is the best cameraman I’ve ever worked with in my entire life.”
Director Steven Spielberg

“I want to make movies where I can express myself to visuals.”
Cinematographer Janusz Kamisnski (Saving Private Ryan)

“It looks kind of effortless when you’re seeing [movies] on the screen, but it’s a really complicated process. Especially in that opening scene [of Saving Private Ryan]. We had to lay down the mannequins, we had to lay down the explosives, we had the complicated scenes where people are catching on fire—the safety was essential because you don’t want anybody getting hurt. You can have all that technology—yet at the end you want to evoke emotions. It’s all about emotions, you know? ‘Cause you get really amazing films made by directors who have great technology and [yet] you just walk away and you are not moved emotionally.”
Two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski
Big Bear Lake International Film Festival Q&A

While Kamiski’s own long list of films shot is impressive (Schindler’s List, Lincoln, War Horse, Amistad, Le scaphandre et le papillon, Jerry Maguire, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly—to name a few) he was asked last year by Christy Lenire “What are five of the most beautifully photographed films you’ve ever seen?” his short list follows:

_ “The Conformist” (1970): Bernardo Bertolucci’s dramatically stylized commentary on 1930s fascism, starring Jean-Louis Trintignant of this year’s best-picture nominee “Amour.” Kaminski’s reason for choosing it: “Use of color and light.”

_ “In Cold Blood” (1967): Based on Truman Capote’s pioneering true-crime book about a vicious family murder that took place in a small Midwestern town. Kaminski praised its “visual metaphors.”

_ “Citizen Kane” (1941): Well it’s … it’s “Citizen Kane.” Kaminski chose it for its “angles and drama within the composition, also within the frame.”

_ “The French Connection” (1971): The classic crime thriller starring Gene Hackman as a detective on the trail of a major drug smuggling ring, it won five Oscars including best picture. Kaminski appreciated the film “for the action and realistic representation of New York.”

_ “Empire of the Sun” (1987): A Spielberg movie that Kaminski didn’t shoot, actually. Allen Daviau, a previous collaborator of his in the mid-’80s, received an Oscar nomination for the visually lavish film, featuring a young Christian Bale. Kaminski enjoyed its “use of color and light.”

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions “Emotion is your screenplay’s lifeblood.”—Karl Iglesias
Filmmaking Quote #27 (Frank Capra) “I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.”
Cinematography & Emotions
Cinematography & Emotions (Part 2)
Editing for Emotions
Pity, Fear, Catharsis (Tip #69)

P.S. Countdown to special 2000th post on January 22, 2015—18 posts.

Scott W. Smith

 

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