Cinematographer Ed Lachman, ASC, On Shooting “Carol”

Shooting Super 16mm film stock is nothing new for cinematographer Ed Lachman, ASC.  He used the format on director Todd Haynes’ films “Far From Heaven” and “I’m Not There.”  The moment he signed on to shoot Haynes’ latest feature, “Carol”, he knew he’d be returning to 16mm once again, despite a growing trend towards digital.  What completely threw him off guard was the discovery that “Carol” would be the last film developed by Technicolor in their New York facility.

“I learned they would be throwing all their equipment in the trash,” said Lachman, who managed to find a friend willing to lend storage space for the developing equipment.  “I brought it (from Technicolor) for a dollar.  I don’t want to open a developing lab, but I do hope someone will so there will be a facility on the East Coast.”

Early in the process of shooting “Carol” Lachman also discovered the younger members of his camera crew weren’t receiving an education on how to load film stock. “It’s an entry level position, but one that’s not being taught anymore,” said the DP.  Despite irregular dailies and a few nerve-wracking days, Lachman had minor flashes and minimal issues once the rolls were developed.

Prior to setting foot on location, Lachman and Haynes discussed the director’s take on the material. “Carol” was adapted from the book “The Price of Salt” written by Patricia Highsmith, a story she based loosely on her own love affair with a woman. Adapted  from the book by screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, “Carol” follows meek shop girl Therese (Rooney Mara) as she acts upon her attraction to wealthy Carol (Cate Blanchett), a closeted lesbian who’s fighting with soon to be ex-husband over the custody of her daughter.  Unlink Hayne’s 2002 feature “Far From Heaven”-a film whose visual style was directly inspired by the 1950s, vividly-colored melodramas of Douglas Sirk, “Carol” had a more subdued color palette reflecting the photographic style of the period.  During his research period, Lachman closely studied pictures taken by female photographers of the period, such as Ruth Orkin, Esther Bubley, Helen Levitee and Vivian Maier.  He was particularly inspired by the color photography that displayed cooler palettes yet warmer tones.  To match this balance he shot on Ektachrome film – a format that had a limited color spectrum.  Lachman also felt the choice to use inspiration from the photographic references of the period tied in nicely to Therese’s point of view: the character is budding photographer whose singuarl emotional connection to her world is through the lens of a camera

“In the book she’s a set decorator, so I’m glad it was changed to photographer,” said Lachman.  “I tried to see the world through her eyes and her lens.”

Creative framing was a critical device used throughout “Carol.”  There are many instances where characters are looking through windows, seeing the reflection of the world around them.  Haynes wanted the imagery to represent their hidden lives; the characters are boxed in from the world, never revealing their true selves. While most every key character has their moment framed in a window, including Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson, a great deal of the window work happens within cars.  A particularly well timed scene reveals a busy sidewalk dotted with people and children playing while Therese’s face is nearly hidden behind these abstract glimpses.  Lachman used a camera car, capturing actual reflections on the glass.  For a tunnel scene between Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese, Lachman did project some fluorescent lights on the window to capture the abstraction of the lights as the car whizzed along.

Maintaining a naturalistic quality throughout the film was a primary goal for Lachman.  While the DP states he used “traditional lighting” throughout the shoot, the love scene between Therese and Carol, a rare studio shoot on a film shot mostly on location for the comfort of the actors, was light primarily by paper Chinese lanterns to achieve a soft, yellow glow.

“My gaffer found some black plastic from table cloths that we put around them,” said Lachman.  “It worked out just fine.”

Despite inexperienced crew and a dwindling number of developing labs, Lachman hopes “Carol” will inspire some directors to choose film for their next project.  At a screening of the movie presented to members of the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers), Lachman commented on the wise choices that this seasons batch of films have presented regarding choice in film formats aiding the subject matter, including DP Robert Richardson’s 65mm (transferred to Ultra Panavision 70) treatment of “The Hateful Eight” and Emmanuel Lubezki’s skillful digital work with the Arri Alexa on “The Revenant.”

“These films show there is a place for every format,” said Lachman.

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