Łukasz Żal, PSC won the marquee honor at the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards, earning best feature cinematography distinction on the strength of Cold War (Amazon Studios).
Żal’s ASC Award for Cold War topped a field of nominees that additionally consisted of: Alfonso Cuaron for Roma; Matthew Libatique, ASC for A Star is Born, Robbie Ryan, BSC, ISC for The Favourite, and Linus Sandgren, ASC, FSF, for First Man. The win boosts Żal’s prospects on the Best Cinematography Oscar front where Cuaron, Libatique and Ryan are also nominated along with Caleb Deschanel, ASC for Never Look Away.
Żal was in pre-pro on a feature and thus couldn’t attend the 33rd ASC Awards gala held Saturday (2/9) night in the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland. Accepting on Zal’s behalf was his camera operator on Cold War, Ernest Wilczynski, who read some prepared remarks by the DP, thanking director Pawlikowski along with friends, family and crew, including Wilczynski. Żal’s statement expressed “deep respect and admiration” for his fellow ASC nominees, noting that it was an honor to be in their company in this ASC Awards category.
During a recent SHOOT interview, Żal shared insights into Cold War, a love story between Wiktor (portrayed by Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig) who meet in the ruins of post-World War II Poland. With vastly different background and temperaments, they are fatefully mismatched yet still seemingly condemned to each other. Set against the backdrop of 1950s’ Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, this tale centers on a couple who even when together are separated by politics, character flaws and cruel twists of fate.
Żal said that he and Pawlikowski benefited from six months of pre-pro on Cold War, which afforded them the opportunity to fully map out what needed to be done. Żal researched the art and politics of the era. He even spent time test shooting the famed Mazowsze folk group’s dance rehearsals so he could properly depict Zula’s early path to stardom which was with a Polish folk group. This influenced how the DP approached movement and dance in Cold War.
Also during pre-pro, the decision was made to shoot Cold War in black and white. Initially the director and DP were inclined to shoot in color but the time period, the colors of the day--or lack thereof--the plotline and its energy brought them again to the haunting black and white they had created so successfully in Ida. But Cold War was dramatically different as the camera moves far more extensively than in Ida. The camera is not so static and mournful as in Ida. The characters are dynamic--physically and emotionally--in Cold War, and so is the camera.
Żal noted that ultimately they resisted using wide shots to set a sense of place. Instead the emphasis was on capturing that sense of place by focusing on the characters’ behavior. Locations weren’t depicted as part of a travel film but rather for how people felt within those environs. This character-centric approach conveyed the stark reality of each place.
Originally Żal and Pawlikowski envisioned shooting Cold War on 35mm film. But budget considerations had them going the digital route, deploying the ARRI Alexa. “We could have shot 35 but in order to do so we would have had to come up short in budget elsewhere--maybe shooting fewer days or less money for other aspects. Pawel likes to do a lot of takes and we needed the flexibility to keep shooting.”
Żal added that digital lensing could be seen immediately on a big monitor with highly defined images. He and Pawlikowski could see what they had captured, and get to “painting” on that monitor “canvas.” Zal affirmed that when taking that painterly approach, he didn’t try to mimic--but rather was inspired by--the look of 35mm film. Contrast came heavily into play, noted Zal. “Contrast is in every layer from the construction of each shot, the way the scenes connect, all the way to the emotional temperature between the characters and the dynamics between them.”
This is Żal’s second career ASC win. In 2015 he earned an ASC Spotlight Award--recognizing cinematography in smaller features that may not receive wider theatrical release or attention--for his co-cinematography duties with Ryszard Lenczewsk on Ida. Both Ida and Cold War were directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.
Spotlight Award, TV
The Spotlight Award recognizing work on a lower profile feature went to Giorgi Shvelidze for Namme. In the TV categories, winners were Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC, BSC for The Crown (Netflix); Jon Joffin, ASC for Beyond (Freeform network); and James Friend, BSC for Patrick Melrose (Showtime).
This marks the second consecutive year that Goldman won for an episode of The Crown. Shvelidze, Joffin and Friend are first-time ASC Award winners.
Honorary awards also handed out at the ASC event included:
- The ASC Board of Governors Award was presented to Jeff Bridges by actor-stuntman Loyd Catlett. This honor is reserved for filmmakers who have been champions for directors of photography and the visual art form.
- The ASC Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Robert Richardson, ASC and presented by frequent collaborator, writer-director Quentin Tarantino.
- The ASC Career Achievement in Television Award was presented to Jeffrey Jur, ASC by director John Dahl.
- The ASC Bud Stone Award of Distinction was given to Franz Kraus, managing director, ARRI Group. This award is presented to an ASC associate member who has demonstrated extraordinary service to the society and/or has made a significant contribution to the motion-picture industry.
In presenting the Lifetime Achievement Award, Tarantino said of Richardson, “Along with my late editor, Sally Menke, he is the greatest artistic collaborator of my life.”
Here’s a full rundown of feature and TV winners at this year’s ASC Awards, which come as the Society celebrates its 100th anniversary:
Theatrical Release Category (presented by John Bailey, ASC)
Łukasz Żal, PSC for Cold War
Spotlight Award Category (presented by George Tillman Jr. and Ellen Kuras, ASC)
Giorgi Shvelidze for Namme
Episode of a Series for Non-Commercial Television (presented by Lea Thompson)
Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC, BSC for The Crown ("Beryl")
Episode of a Series for Commercial Television (presented by Merrin Dungey)
Jon Joffin, ASC for Beyond ("Two Zero One")
Motion Picture, Miniseries, or Pilot Made for Television (presented by Thomas Lennon)
James Friend, BSC for Patrick Melrose ("Bad News")