When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
When I was 4 or 5 years old, I saw a black-and-white Disney short that terrorized me. Later, I saw La belle et la bête [Beauty and the Beast] by Jean Cocteau, which enchanted me at the time and still does today.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Past: Edward Tissé; Eugène Shuftan; Gregg Toland, ASC; Henri Alekan, AFC; Katsuo Miyagawa, and Gianni di Venanzo. Present: Néstor Alméndros, ASC (I cannot put his name in the “past”); Bob Richardson, ASC; Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC; Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC; Cesar Charlone, ABC; Bruno Nuytten; Jean François Robin; Huai-en Chen, and all the others, because I’m always amazed by other cinematographers’ work and don’t understand how they do it.
What sparked your interest in photography?
La belle et la bête, photographed by Henri Alekan.
Where did you train and/or study?
The Vaugirard film school in Paris.
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Néstor Alméndros, for whom I worked as a loader and a 1st AC. Even during the most apparently banal conversation with Néstor, you’d learn more about cinematography than you could through years in a film school.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
The paintings of Pierro della Francesca; the photographic works of Sarah Moon; German Expressionism; the paintings of the French 18th-century school (actually, everything in the Louvre, which I visited every Sunday for years, religiously); Marivaux’s La Dispute on stage, directed by Patrice Chereau; and films by Sergeï Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, Kenji Mizoguchi, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman and so many others ….
How did you get your first break in the business?
A young director called Guy Gilles. I helped Guy shoot a short directed by a friend of his, and Guy subsequently asked me to shoot his following features.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
A very simple shot of an actor wearing a brown shirt against a wall that was the same color. In that moment, I realized I could get away with not using any backlight.
Have you made any memorable blunders?
Many. The thing about blunders is that they are all very memorable. The biggest, though, was signing on to shoot X-Men 3.
What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
One piece of advice I gave myself was not to follow any rules. Another, from Jean-Jacques Annaud, is, ‘Always wear the appropriate shoes on set.’
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
The book Europe Central, by William T. Vollmann. (If it did not influence my work, it did influence my musical taste). Also, the film version of The Constant Gardener, directed by Fernando Meirelles.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres that you would like to try?
I always wanted to shoot a film noir, and I’m doing one right now. So maybe a Western?
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
If I had any talent, I might have been a piano player in a bar, a painter, an engraver, a cabinetmaker, a gardener, or a grip — almost anything except a career in the meat industry or the military.
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
John Bailey, Willy Kurant, Steven Poster and Vilmos Zsigmond.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
Meeting colleagues through the ASC is the same as breathing life into an inert body; it rekindles the passion one has for one’s work. And that’s on top of the fantastic amount of information the ASC shares with the film community.