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Cinegear News/ Fauer

CINEMATOGRAPHER STYLE –
A CELEBRATION OF A UNIQUE ARTFORM

Sunday will be a busy day for Jon Fauer, ASC, who is conducting an afternoon master class
on the evolving art and craft of Super 16 filmmaking. His 90-minute documentary,
Cinematographer Style, will premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Sunday evening.
The film is a collage of commentaries by 110 cinematographers who are literally thinking
aloud about the universal art of visual story-telling.
The cinematographers who Fauer corralled have roots in 15 countries and experience in diverse
sectors of the industry, including narrative films for both television and the cinema, documentaries,
music videos and commercials. Several interviews are with visual effects artists and one is with
an editor who offers interesting perspectives.
Fauer asked everyone the same questions: Why did they choose to become a cinematographer?
How did they get started? Who influenced them? How do they decide on the right looks? How
has the evolution of technology affected cinematography?
Those are the primary threads weaved into the fabric of the film, but the dialogues also meander
into other areas and common themes emerge. For instance, many of the cinematographers
interviewed by Fauer initially set out to be painters, architects and graphic designers.
There are also a number of writers and a few former actors.
Fauer says that some cinematographers were shy about being on the other side of the lens.
He also observes, “They were all incredibly articulate. They drew pictures with words that are
so vivid I could see the images. The lesson that this film teaches is that there are no textbooks
or rules. Cinematography is like writing literature or composing music. No two people do it in
exactly the same way, but it’s a global language that everyone understands.”
Fauer is a kind of renaissance man, though he would never describe himself that way.
He studied art and filmmaking at Dartmouth University and has subsequently compiled
a diverse list of documentary, independent feature and commercial credits as both
a cinematographer and director.
Fauer is also a prolific writer. He has authored 10 books about ARRI cameras and other
technical topics involving cinematography .
The idea for Cinematographer Style traces back to a discussion Fauer had with ARRI Inc.
President Volker Bahnemann in March, 2003. Fauer was updating the ARRICAM Book
that he had authored. Bahnemann suggested that he augment the updated edition with
a DVD consisting of interviews with cinematographers discussing how the evolution of
technology and techniques have influenced them and their work.
By May, the idea took root. Fauer believed it was important to produce the documentary
on 35mm film. ARRI pledged both funding and equipment, John W. Johnston guaranteed
that Kodak would provide a sufficient supply of Kodak Vision 2 color negative film where
and when it was needed, and Charlie Herzfeld offered assurances that Technicolor would
donate front-end lab, telecine and release print services.
“Cinematographers talking about art ought to be recorded on film that audiences can experience
projected on big cinema screens,” Fauer says. “I also felt that it was important to conduct these
interviews on a proven, archival form of media that will be accessible to future filmmakers
and historians decades and hundreds of years from now.”
Fauer filmed and interviewed cinematographers and edited that footage into a 10-minute DVD,
titled The Digital Age of Film, which premiered in the book store that was part of the American
Society of Cinematographers exhibit at CineGear in June 2004.
By then, what had begun as a relatively modest project had shifted into high gear. The way Fauer
tells it, various people were urging him to film interviews with additional cinematographers. ARRI,
Kodak, Technicolor , people at other companies and individuals offered to provide both practical
and moral support. The reality is that he couldn’t have done it without their support, but Fauer
was on a mission. He organized and incorporated T-Stop Productions, Inc. in New York as
the official producer of Cinematographer Style. Fauer explains that the title of the film was
derived from a casual observation he made during a visit to a bookstore while researching
background information for shooting a high fashion commercial. A section of the bookstore
was dedicated to prevailing styles in different places. Fauer subsequently filmed interviews with cinematographers at the CineGear 2005 Conference on soundstages at Paramount, Culver City
and Universal Studios in Los Angeles and at Leavesden UK Studios in London, and while he
was shooting commercials in various cities. He shot some 200,000' feet of 35mm film.
“Our goal from the beginning, and a key to the structure of the film, was to string together
comments made by the various cinematographers offering opinions about the same topics,”
Fauer says. “Vittorio Storaro (ASC, AIC) talks about lighting faces. Then, we cut to
commentaries by Haskell Wexler (ASC) and Gordon Willis (ASC) discussing the same subject.
You hear Gordon tell the gaffer who is lighting his face to turn a key light off. Then he turns
back towards the camera with his face in partial shadows and asks, ‘do you see what I mean?’
Gordon made an eloquent statement by using images to punctuate his words. He wasn’t acting
for the camera. It was second nature.”
That type of spontaneous visual grammar is weaved throughout the fabric of the film. There are
no talking head shots. Fauer’s subjects augment their words with body language, facial expressions
and their eyes. His cinematography is also interpretative. Fauer intuitively used light and shadows,
camera angles, composition and focus the way he thought his subjects would film interviews
with themselves.
“I asked everyone how they wanted to be lit,” Fauer relates, “and they all said they trusted me.
I’ll be honest. That was a pretty nerve-wracking experience.”
The moment of truth came when some 33 hours of filmed interviews had to be culled down to
90 minutes. That comes out to an average of almost 50 seconds of commentary by each
cinematographer. Fauer assigns ample credit to editor Matt Blute, who was his collaborator
on this aspect of the project. The conformed negative was scanned and converted to a digital
file with an ARRISCAN.
Fauer put final painterly touches on the look in addition to timing the film for continuity at
Goldcrest Post, in Manhattan, in collaboration with senior colorist John Dowdell, who was involved
in various other aspects of the project from the beginning.
The final cut was rendered onto film with an ARRILASER recorder. Technicolor produced the release
print on Kodak Vision Premiere film.
Fauer concludes that Cinematographer Style is a celebration of a unique form of artistic expression
that tends to be a mystery to film critics and fans. The film will also be released as a DVD and a book.
Fauer says that a substantial part of the profits will be donated to the American Society of
Cinematographers education and museum funds.
“My only regret is that despite our best efforts, scheduling conflicts and the random nature of
this business prevented us from interviewing many cinematographers who should have been
a part of this film,” he says. “I hope to rectify those omissions in the future when we begin
working on Cinematographer Style, Part 2.”
In addition to ARRI, Kodak and Technicolor, Fauer says various companies and individuals
made important contributions, including Clairmont Camera, Illumination Dynamics, Avid Technology,
Facilis Technology, Taylor and Taylor Insurance, Fisher Dollies, Quixote Expendables and others.
All of them are listed in the end credits.