Backstage Interview: Wally Pfister, Achievement in cinematography

by Daniel Haim

Wally Pfister, is an Academy Award-winning American cinematographer, who is best known for his work on Christopher Nolan’s films, including Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight and Inception. Pfister is also known for his work on director F. Gary Gray’s The Italian Job.

Pfister has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography four times, each time for a film directed by Nolan.

Here’s the backstage interview with Wally Pfister at the 2011 Oscars

Q. First of all, congratulations. You’ve been nominated three other times in the past, all for movies directed by Chris Nolan. Is he your good luck charm? And also, I hear that you’re looking to follow in his footsteps and direct yourself. Any truth?
A. Well, let’s start with the first one which is there’s a reason that I’ve been nominated for films with Christopher Nolan, because he’s a brilliant filmmaker and he’s got incredible vision and really, as I said up there, there’s no way I accomplish what I’ve accomplished without the brilliant vision of Chris Nolan. And along the other lines, we’ll see what happens. You know, I’m really thrilled in the moment right now with what I’m doing and we’ll see whether I keep the day job or try something else.

Q. Christopher Nolan has a reputation for preferring the practical and mechanical version shooting on digital film. How much longer, since there are no entries in the cinematography category, who could shoot on film?
A. Well, we prefer to shoot on film because right now sorry, I didn’t quite finishing answering. Are you okay, did you get enough of an answer?

Q. So you’re filming on towards the complexity of dreams. Did you ever have a personal dream that helped you, you know, visualize what exactly one of the particular scenes looked like?
A. Most of my dreams are too filthy to talk about in an open room of women, so… no, yeah, when Chris wrote the screenplay and read it, really realized it could relate to a lot of what he was talking about in the dream world and sort of, you know, envision it and figure it out. So, it was yeah, it was very inspiring. Did that answer your question?

Q. Yes.
A. All right.

Q. After winning the ASC Award and tonight winning the Oscar, how do you feel as a cinematographer and personally as an individual creative person?
A. I’d like to ask the question in the room, is there any reporter in here who hasn’t said the phrase, “How do you feel?” Anybody, raise your hand and if you’ve never said, “How do you feel.” I’m just fucking with you. How do I feel? I’m blown away. This is unfucking believable. You know, I walked out there and it’s the most surreal moment in my life. And you know, I’ve worked very hard, you know, to do what I did in the movies and just to get this, you kind of go, “What do I do now, what’s next?” Did that answer your question?

Q. ASC Awards too?
A. Oh, the ASC Awards, yeah, the ASC was an incredible honor. I wasn’t there to accept it, but if I had been no, it was an incredible honor because that’s my peers, you know. That’s the guys that, you know, that I’ve known for many, many years and who do the same thing that I do. So, it’s a great honor to be recognized by those guys.

Q. Some scenes from INCEPTION had gone through the 3D post conversion process, but it was axed before it was publicly released. What are your thoughts on 3D and would you ever go into making a 3D film?
A. I’m personally not a big 3D fan. It doesn’t really work for me. I don’t like the glasses, I don’t like the dark image, you know, through there. And it’s it feels a little gimmicky to me. That’s my own personal preference, I’m not a big fan of that. We like to, in terms of the immersion for the audience, we like to do things like film things in IMAX and put it on a much larger canvas and higher resolution rather than three dimensional. So in turns of what’s happening with INCEPTION, you know, Chris and I are like minded in that way. I don’t know whether they’re going release a DVD version in 3D or not, but that’s definitely, it’s just not something I’m that interested in as a filmmaker.

Q. I hear you put the emphasis on “my union crew.”
A. I did, I did. I think what’s going on in Wisconsin is kind of madness right now. I’ve been a union member for 30 years and what the union has given to me is security for my family; they’ve given me healthcare in a country that otherwise does not provide healthcare. And I think the unions are a very important part of the middle class of America. So I stand strong behind any of the union members in this country and any other country because all we’re trying to do is get a decent wage and have medical care. Thank you, guys.