Filmmakers on Film: Greig Fraser

In order for us as humans to advance, we need to look to the past. This is something that we as a people have had trouble with, and it is astonishing how few film students have any knowledge of what came before, despite having a limitless amount of films at their fingertips. Thus, I reached out to notable industry members and asked them to recommend one film to film students and young filmmakers and explain their choice.

Greig Fraser is an Oscar-nominated cinematographer, best known for his work on LION, FOXCATCHER, ZERO DARK THIRTY, ROGUE ONE, and VICE, among many others.

The following is an interview with Mr. Fraser about his recommendation:

Joshua Handler: What film would you recommend to young filmmakers or film students?

Greig Fraser: That's a very tough question because you're asking basically to distill one's entire film history into one movie, which means you kind of need to find the movie that references a lot of the masters and all of the greats and also has its own feel. I think the film for me that probably stands out is MAGNOLIA by PTA (Paul Thomas Anderson), that has such a fantastic long non-linear narrative and such an interesting culmination of characters. It's a beautiful character piece that visually also supports the film narratively, so to me, it's the perfect culmination of cinema, of true cinema. It's not a book inverted into a movie, it's cinema. It's everything PTA loves about the masters, and distilled into that film.  

JH: When did you first see MAGNOLIA?

GF: I first saw it at a cinema when it came out, so whatever year that was.

JH: How has that film influenced you as a cinematographer?

GF: That's a good question. I was just coming up as a cinematographer when I saw that. I trained as a photographer, so it taught me a lot about camera moves, you know Paul Thomas Anderson on BOOGIE NIGHTS was the king of long Steadicam shots, and while it didn't have the complicated moves that BOOGIE NIGHTS had, maybe it did, I should really study that a bit more before saying that, but it has a very interesting use of camera movement. The camera moves fast when it moves, it moves slowly, gently, it totally supports the narrative at that point in the film, so for me, it was a big lesson in camera movement because as a still photographer, your brain doesn't think in terms of movement. It doesn't think in terms of moving a camera for emotional effect, so that film, for me, showed me how it could be done.

JH: How do you feel that MAGNOLIA can influence future cinematographers?

GF: It's pure cinema. The film is pure cinema. As I was saying before, it means that the cinematographers come to a place not from the superficial world of Instagram and social media, they come from kind of a pure, deep place of cinema, which is every image, every movement, every light, every choice that the cinematographer makes in that movie. I mean Robert Elswit, every choice he made in that film was deliberate and all-encompasing to help the story forward.


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