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Q&A – Cinematographer Ed Lachman on Censoring the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Vitality of Robert Altman

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Visionary lensman Ed Lachman is being recognized for his incredible contributions to film at Brooklyn’s BAMcinématek this month. The cinematographer for Far From Heaven , Less Than Zero and A Prairie Home Companion talked to about past projects and future plans.

Q: How do you choose your projects?

I like to work with first time directors because they’re very open to ideas, or the feeling of
what we can do together in collaboration. And I like working with female
directors… this is maybe a strange thing to say, but I found working
with female directors, ego doesn’t become a part of the equation,
that it’s about the work.

Q: What are your memories of working with Robert Downey Jr on Less Than Zero ?

A: I haven’t seen that film in a long time. I always thought he was a wonderful actor and we were friendly. When he was doing the Chaplin film, I visited him on the set and he was just a great guy. I’m so glad he’s back in his form.

Q: It’s surprising how racy the film seems, even now.

A: Really? You know the studio took the film away from the director Marek [Kanievska]. It was a much edgier film. That was one of my real disappointments. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were in that film and the
studio became very conservative and they said, “Oh the band, they’re sweaty and they don’t have their shirts on.” They destroyed an incredible Steadicam shot, all because they had to cut around them
being bare-chested. I think nobody really read the script–they just knew it was a youth-oriented script with this British director. Then when they saw it was about their own neighborhoods and families living
in Hollywood, there was a real reaction to it.

Q: What was it like working with Robert Altman on his last film, A Prairie Home Companion ?

A: I had a great relationship with Bob. He would say, “Let’s rock and roll,” and would set up three or four cameras and just let it happen. What he didn’t know is that I, painstakingly, after every take, made sure that the cameras were getting certain coverage and that it
just wasn’t a free for all. But he always got a certain kind of vitality in the performance and in the camera movement that looks seamless in the editing. He had incredible trust in the process because
he knew what he was doing.

Q: It’s easier to detect stylistic touches in Far From Heaven , but what did you do to help tell the story in Erin Brockovich ?

A: How do you take a Hollywood star like Julia Roberts and tell this personal, somewhat political, story in terms that aren’t glossy… that you don’t over-stylize that world? Steven Soderbergh and I approached
it like we would if we had $5 million and shot it like a low budget film: Shooting with natural light, minimizing the crew… A lot of the locations we shot at were the actual locations where the story

Q: How did you approach The Virgin Suicides ?

A: The overall approach that Sofia [Coppola] and I discussed is that this is an adolescent world, and it’s the boy’s fantasy about this family with all these beautiful girls. It didn’t have to be graphic–sometimes things
can be much more effective and eerie by only showing part of something. It was very important to me that I created this childlike world, and even though things were happening that were kind of nightmarish, it was still seen from a childlike perspective.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m going to do Miranda July’s next film and I think
she’s a very talented artist. Her stories are so idiosyncratic, but personal. She understands how the details are the bigger whole.

The Cinematography of Ed Lachman runs at BAM May 9-20.

[Photo Credit:PHOTOFEST]

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