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May 2014

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12 Post • May 2014 director's chair H OLLYWOOD — Since he became director Christopher Nolan's go-to cinematographer after shooting Memento a decade and a half ago, Wally Pfis- ter has established himself as one of the top DPs in the business. In addition to shooting Nolan's acclaimed Batman trilogy, which earned Pfister two Oscar nominations, he also shot Nolan's The Prestige (receiving another Oscar nomination) and Inception (which won him the Oscar), as well as such diverse films as Moneyball, Insomnia, The Italian Job and Lau- rel Canyon. Now Pfister has moved away from the camera to the director's chair, and makes his directorial debut with an ambitious sci-fi thriller titled Transcendence, which was recent- ly released by Warner Bros. Starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman, the fea- ture tells the story of a brilliant scientist (Depp) who's terminally ill with radioactive poisoning. But with the help of his fellow/ researcher wife (Hall), he's able to download his mind onto a computer. Predictably, the unholy blend of man and machine does not turn out well. Here, in an exclusive interview, Pfister talks about making the film, his love of post pro- duction, and why he thinks film is still superior to digital. POST: You picked a very ambitious project for your debut. What sort of film did you set out to make? WALLY PFISTER: "A very small one. A simple narrative I could make for $10 million — so I failed miserably (laughs). Instead, I ended up with this monster. I did want to start off directing with something easier, but when this opportunity arrived, I decided I couldn't be intimidated by the scale and com- plexity. It kept me awake at night, but no regrets." POST: You've worked with so many top directors, including Chris Nolan, who produced this. What's the most important thing you learned from them as a rookie director? PFISTER: "You learn a bit of everything from every director, whether it was as a cam- era operator for Robert Altman in 1988, to the seven films with Chris, which was really my master class in directing. And also all the commercial directors I've worked with. So you learn valuable lessons about what to do — and what not to do. Pretty much every- thing in the Nolan model is an incredible way to go — and he's also a great producer, so I learned a lot about the discipline of filmmak- ing from him." POST: Did you ask for advice before taking this on? PFISTER: "Yes and no. I went on my own course and decided to walk away from a very lucrative, busy career as a DP, and just leap off the cliff by myself. I just felt it was time. I got a lot of great advice and input, but one thing you do learn very quickly as a director is that, although you're surrounded by all these won- derful collaborators and great talents, at the end of the day, you're alone. You have to make the final decision." POST: Jess Hall, the British DP who shot Hot Fuzz, was your DP. How tough was it working with another DP? PFISTER: (Laughs) "I went in hoping to keep my hands off completely, but you can't spend 25 years as a DP and not have an opin- ion. But Jess was great when I chimed in, and I really trusted his eye. I hired him because of his great work and naturalistic lighting on films like Brideshead Revisited and Creation, which was akin to my own taste and the look I wanted here." POST: What were the main technical chal- lenges of pulling all this together and how tough was the shoot? PFISTER: "We had a good four months of prep, and then a 62-day shoot, which wasn't that tough, as we were very prepared. But all the builds and sets were a huge challenge for production designer Chris Seagers, and then shooting in the New Mexico desert in 110 degrees was hard. After doing all the big mov- ies with Chris Nolan, the physical shoot was pretty much what I anticipated. I was more concerned about getting great performances." POST: Did you shoot film or digital? PFISTER: "We shot old-school on 35mm anamorphic. To me, it's still the highest- quality capture." POST: All the visual effects were obviously crucial. How early on did you integrate post and VFX with the production? PFISTER: "Very early. The VFX were so important to me, and I hired a great VFX producer, Mike Chambers, very early on, even before my VFX supervisor. I'd worked with Mike on Batman and Inception, and he helped me decide on using Double Negative in Lon- don to do all the effects. Then I met Nathan McGuinness at D Neg, and I immediately knew he was my VFX supervisor. He'd been at Asylum before, and he's extremely experi- enced, creative and has a great energy level." POST: Did you do a lot of previs? PFISTER: "Strangely enough we did hardly any. I'd done a lot with Chris, but we just ran out of time, and focused on storyboards instead. D Neg did their own and a lot of tests, so they were constantly showing us ideas." POST: Do you like post? PFISTER: "I love it. We spent about six months, and it's so true what everyone told me, that you make the film three times, and that post is where you make the final version. And after the craziness of the shoot, it's this Wally Pfister: Transcendence This long-time DP directs his first feature. Director Wally Pfister (right) on-set. Transcendence was shot on 35mm film. By IaIn BlaIr

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