Monday, April 23, 2018
  • Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017
Ed Lachman, ASC, Reflects On "Wonderstruck," Collaborating With Todd Haynes
Ed Lachman, ASC on the set of "Wonderstruck"
Cinematographer and director continue to break new storytelling ground
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Ed Lachman, ASC, has seen his ongoing collaborative relationship with director Todd Haynes yield myriad artistic dividends, including critical acclaim and industry honors for such features as Far From Heaven and Carol, as well as the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce.

Far From Heaven and Carol earned Best Cinematography Oscar nominations for Lachman in 2002 and 2016, respectively, while Mildred Pierce garnered an Emmy nod for Outstanding Cinematography in 2011. Furthermore, Lachman is a three-time ASC Award nominee on the strength of Far From Heaven, Carol and Mildred Pierce

The ASC also honored Lachman earlier this year with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Yet while lifetime honors often signal the twilight of a recipient’s career, Lachman clearly has more accomplishments up his sleeve, the latest being Wonderstruck (Amazon Studios), another collaboration with Haynes. 

Nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and firmly in this season’s Oscar conversation, Wonderstruck introduces us to Rose (portrayed by Millicent Simmonds), a deaf girl who in 1927 runs away from home in New Jersey and makes her way to Manhattan to find someone who was an important part of her past. Fast forward to 1977 and we meet Ben (played by Oakes Fegley), a deaf lad beset by personal tragedy, who finds a clue about his family that leads him to run away from rural Minnesota to New York. Based on the children’s book “Wonderstruck” written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, Haynes’ film connects not only two stories, two eras and two runaway 12-year-olds but also provides viewers with a path into the deaf culture.

It’s a path paved in large part by Lachman’s cinematography, the medium of choice being 35mm film, shot in black and white for the 1920s era and in color for the ‘70s’ counterpart story. There were two prime logistical hurdles to clear--properly facilitating black-and-white lensing and film processing; and the limited hours in a day prescribed by law for lensing children. 

On the former score, the black-and-white film stock had to be a special order from Kodak, and then there was the problem of finding a lab that would develop black-and-white negative. Lachman reached out to FotoKem in Burbank, Calif., which came through with thorough support. Lachman noted that at the time there was no viable film lab in New York for Wonderstruck to tap into; thus the footage shot by Lachman on the East Coast had to be sent to California for processing. (Lachman noted that Kodak has since opened a film lab in New York.)

As for the time constraints on working hours for child actors, this necessitated at times Lachman having to shoot some of the 1920s and 1970s work on the same day. “I had to go back and forth between both worlds to maximize the time we had in a given day,” related Lachman. 

Those worlds couldn’t have been more different. “We had the golden 1920s era before the Great Depression--back when it was all about growth and prosperity,” related Lachman. “We had to bring a lushness to the black-and-white images depicting this world. By contrast, for the 1970s, New York City was going through physical deterioration and economic stagnation, which we had to convey in our color photography.”

Film medium
Lachman worked with 35mm Kodak motion picture negative--black-and-white Double-X negative for the scenes in the 1920s, and two Vision3 color stocks for the 1970s. The DP deployed Arricam Studio cameras, shooting primarily in 3-perf. Some digital lensing was done for one key location.

Lachman loves the film medium which has been his primary province in tandem with Haynes. For example, the lauded, aforementioned Carol was shot on 16mm. “I’m not going to be reactionary. The digital world is here to stay,” said Lachman. “But digital should not be our only palette. Film is another worthwhile palette and I’m seeing more and more young filmmakers wanting to explore film. I personally find a difference in color depth between film and digital. Frame by frame there’s more life and depth to the film image--more than you can get in a digital sensor. I’m anthropomorphic about film, grain structure, color depth. Film has a look. Digital has a look. You should not try to replace one with the other.”

Haynes and Lachman presented the story of each era with a look evoking the cinema of the period. Black-and-white silent movies--including King Vidor’s The Crowd, F. W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh and Victor Sjostrom’s The Wind--inspired the look and feel of 1927 for Wonderstruck. And the urban gritty street realism of 1970s cinema--as reflected in the likes of John Schlessinger’s Midnight Cowboy and William Friedkin’s The French Connection--sparked the approach to depicting 1977. 

Lachman said that for a number of films, director Haynes has conveyed “the language of the stories through the cinematic language of the time in which they occur. He illustrates many of his ideas, does extensive research into the politics, art, fashion, and cinematic language of the era. He creates the emotional structure of the film, which we work on together.”

Lachman treasures his shared filmmaking experience with Haynes, and the freedom he affords to colleagues. “Todd comes to the set with a shot list he’s worked on or that we’ve worked on together,” said Lachman. “But he’s open to adapting based on what’s going on before our eyes. He has a game plan with the flexibility to change.”

The DP added that he and Haynes are simpatico, in part due to their art backgrounds and affinity for extensive research.

In SHOOT’s recent profile of Haynes, the director too touched upon having similar sensibilities to those of Lachman. “He’s a perfectionist,” Haynes said of the DP. “He zeroes in on every detail. It’s humbling to look at Ed’s commitment to his craft and the indelible mark he’s made. I found in him a kindred spirit who loves to do all kinds of research and preparation. He loves to prepare the way I do. We’re film nerds.”

This is the first of a multi-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on, with select installments also in print issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards gala ceremony. Nominations for the 90th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 23, 2018. The 90th Oscars will be held on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network. The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

Credits for ScreenWork: 

Trailer consisting of excerpts from the feature film "Wonderstruck" (Amazon Studios) directed by Todd Haynes and shot by DP Ed Lachman, ASC