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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Cinematographer Robert Richardson Breaks Down His Career, from 'Kill Bill' to 'The Hateful Eight'

Credit: Vanity Fair
Duration: 24:45s 0 shares 3 views

Cinematographer Robert Richardson Breaks Down His Career, from 'Kill Bill' to 'The Hateful Eight'
Cinematographer Robert Richardson Breaks Down His Career, from 'Kill Bill' to 'The Hateful Eight'

Cinematographer Robert Richardson takes us through his illustrious cinematography career, including films 'Salvador,' 'Platoon,' 'JFK,' 'Casino,' 'Kill Bill Volume 1,' 'The Aviator,' 'The Hateful Eight,' 'Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood.'

- It's the same way you choosethis path of making movies.If you're going to committo doing something,and if you have that fire,that large in your belly,then you're going to, you'regoing to destroy everythingin its path to achieve thehighest level all the time.And I wasn't going to leta broken back stop me.Hi, I'm Robert Richardsonand this is the timeline of my career.It's a long career, so beware.[music][gunshots]- I'd gone to El Salvador ona documentary for Frontlineand when I returned,the sound man that hadbeen working with mebecame the assistant directorto Oliver Stone on Salvador.Ramon made a recommendation to meet me.I went in, met Oliver.It was sweltering hot,they didn't have any air conditioning.And Oliver was wearing a leather jacket.And he's pouring sweat.To meet Oliver the first time,my, you know, I was like...I was shaking.To be asked to shoot a featurewhen you're 28 years old,And I remember the womanI was with at the time,who became my future wife.Uh, the two of us were like,I can't believe this is already happening.I felt comfortable becausehe wanted to attack itform the perceptive of documentary.I felt very comfortablewith a camera on my shoulderand instinctively reactingto whatever's taking placein front of me.And I always have,I think that's somethingthat's hidden within my work.[explosions][shouting][dramatic orchestral music][helicopter flying past]- It was remarkable becauseat the end of Salvador,Oliver said to me, youknow it'd been tough.It's a tough shoot.And learning to work with the director,you know, a very demanding man.As you can well expect.So for me, dealing withhim was dealing withsomething that I'd never had before.Somebody so forceful,who is also an extraordinarilybrilliant writer,and is an extremely precise director.Then to say, at the end he goes,I have a project I'm tryingto get off the groundand I'd like you to shoot it.And it was Platoon.And I read Platoon,and I was shocked by Platoon.It was a film that was very dearto him because it's historic.And then to considerhow to shoot that movieso it wouldn't feel like wewere replicating Salvador.There's a documentary elementbut there was a lot moreon dollies and longlenses, and counter moves.Also we needed a level of improvisationsto have the shoulder in combination,because there aresequences within the moviewhere Oliver wasn't feeling like"I'm getting the reactionI need out of the actors".He would plant gasolinebombs around the action.And in the middle of the performance,he'd blow them up, without them knowing.And of course you'd get this reaction,cause no one's expecting it.For the actors it suddenlybecame: this is real.It's up in front of me.And sometimes you get to heara lot of shots being fired.Not live ammo but blanks, things like thatto throw them off.[explosions]- If you look back in retrospect,you've got Johnny Depp, youprobably don't even knowJohnny Depp was in the movie.Forest Whitaker, you haveso many actors that areinside that that went onto find strong careers.I mean, when you look back in retrospect.But when I'm in the middle ofit I'm not thinking about it.I'm more in the zone of shooting a movieand I'm thinking less aboutwhere it sits in the timeline.When I got the nomination, I was...You got to be kidding me.And it was my first event.And I had my first real suit, tie,I was all dressed up.I had also a tremendous levelof fear about the event.I have a huge phobiaof being in this place,but I had greater phobia of like,having to walk up on astage and deliver a speech.I'm sitting next topeople that I've admiredmy entire life in termsof what they've created.These people were a partof what brought me intothe world understanding how to shoot.And I'm sitting next to them,and I'm meeting peoplethat I've held up as godsfor most of my life.And so for me it was totallyfresh, but when I got there,I started to panic.I started to yawn, I'm yawning,and I'm yawning.I can't stop yawning, cause like,I'm not getting enoughoxygen into my system,so my body's trying to pull more.And I feel like I'm goingto pass out any second.And the second, the second,they said the winner was,and it wasn't me.[clapping]- OutI just had to leave, Icould not stay any longer.And I swore never go backto another Academy Awardbecause my fear was so great.Which is why I ended upmissing, which will slip by,but why I missed up,did not arrive at JFK.Because I was so frightenedof the first experiencethat I didn't want to repeat.[orchestral music]- You really have me consortingwith a sorted cast of characters.- Please answer the question.- [Clay Shaw] Of course not.Such a pity, that assassination.In fact, I admired President Kennedy.A man of true panache,wife of impeccable taste.- Oliver and I formed a bond and,he was shooting a film a year.The only time I'd go awaywas when I could schedulesomething that would fit.And I'd always ask Oliver,like you know, and he'd tell me,like I'm going to be doing this.And so, I would fit in films like you knowwhether it'd be RobReiner's "A Few Good Men"or was working with ErrolMorris on, you know,"Fast, Cheap & Out of Control".I knew Oliver was whatand who I wanted and,I was working with Oliver.So he had become a brother to me andkeenly responsible for alot of my personality now.I'm in love with Oliver, he's like,we don't see a lot ofeach other anymore but,he was a brother.He made me very aware of the level ofconcentration required,that you have to come with100% every single day.He made me very aware ofthe quality of a word-man,versus a bird-man.Eye vs words, what are more important.For me, when I watch a movie,I don't evaluate itfrom the perspective ofwhat's it look like.Aww, that was a great shot.Unless the movie's bad,or unless I'm coming backto watch and study it for why it's good,then I think what was centralto that particular filmwas the recreation.The 8 mm that was used toshoot, there's a perimeter film.So we centered everything out on this 8 mmwhich we shot in Super 8.But we tried to moveout from that circle toall the way out to 35.But if you wondered aboutselling visually likeOswald in the cell, whenhe's burning out so heavy.It's like, chwooo...It's like 13 stops over-exposedor whatever it was.And I remember I was doing AFew Good Men and Rob Reinerhad just seen the movie.[chuckling]- And he goes- [Bob impersonating Reiner] "Bob, uh,I saw JFK it's a great movie.But I have a question, whywas Oswald so over-exposed?"And I was like, oh the f*cking thing,I mean love that aspect!But, you know, it bothered himand it took him out of the movie.[chattering and clattering cutlery]- When's Daddy coming Momma?- Soon, he's coming soon["Whip it" by Devo]- See that?Dumb Jew motherfucker, grew up togetherand he's acting likehe don't even know me.- The AD on JFK was that,a man named Joseph Reidy.And Joe had done a number offilms with Oliver and myself.And he also didsimultaneously work with Martyon a number of his films.At one point Marty asked,said that he wanted tohave a meeting with me for Cape Fear.So I went to New York andmet him for Cape Fear.Now I'd always wanted to work with Marty.I mean, you know,why would you not wantto work with Scorsese?It's like, he's a pinnacle.He's, you know,the same way that welook at many people now.It's like, he's a god of cinema.I wanted to meet him and I went in.And I had prepared certainthoughts for the movie.And he very politely sat in the chair,and I pulled out photographsfrom Edward and Rebre--I mean like, all thesef*cking strange things.You know, and,he looked at me.At the end he said,it was a tremendous pleasure meeting you,but I've actually alreadymade my decision of whomI'm going to hire.And I was like, uh, okay...I'll head back to California now.And it was like, that, itwas like okay, I met him.But then, when MichaelBahas was not availableto shoot Casino,he'd already met me andhe felt comfortable.And he brought me in to start that film.I started, we scouted, I wasthere for about three weeks,and Marty was in, um, California,Los Angeles, doing the final rewrite.I'd seen all the locations, Ididn't know what else to do.So I asked Joe Reidyand Barbara De Fina if,who's the producer, if I couldjust write some notes downabout ideas.And they said yeah sure.So I put together these ideas of shotsand things for the film.And I'd done that mywhole career with Oliver.With Marty, he got these notesand I was suddenly calledinto the production office.And Barbara De Fina, and Barbara was, uh,head down and behinda table, she looks up.And she goes:"Uh, Marty wants to talk to you".And I met my head went down, like oh f*ck.Okay, I said about what.About the notes...Marty got on the phone.Very polite, cause he isa tremendous gentleman.He goes:"Bob, I got your notes, Ihave not looked at them.Nor will I ever look at them.When I finish writing the scriptand I'm happy with my script,I will give you notes forevery shot in the film.That was it.And I left, like, oh...All right.I guess I'll be operatingand lighting on this show.Some people want more help,and I like to work in all capacity.So I like to be a chameleon.Anyway that was the result of, uh,my mistake, almost,I thought was going to get me fired.But, fortunately it did not.It's not collaborative with Marty.It's collaborative in terms of lighting.Marty will talk about and do,it's very important, he'll do screenings.Like, for Casino, it was anumber of John Alton's filmsthat he'd--and that his photography,John Alton's cinematographer.And it was a style of lighting.And it was a noir,and so for me,I was learning, like okay,this is where he wants to go.And he would show films,and each of the filmsthat we had ever made,he would put us into a screening room.Marty would sometimesbe there, sometimes not.If he was there, he wouldbe making comments aboutcertain shots during the piece to saywhat I like here is the level of shadowand I like this and I like that.And what he's doing isgiving you the ideas ofwhere he wants you to extendyourself in your lighting.And to step up into this place.That's a collaboration.And uh, also about operating.He's extremely specificabout his operating.So I had to hone my tools as an operatorto work with him.And uh, I did, I becamea much better operator.We had to work in the Riviera.This is old Vegas, new Vegaswas only slowly coming.They were just beginning to take downa number of the major casinos in Vegas.But we were on an allnight schedule becausewe're utilizing the Riviera.And they would only giveit to us in the evening,from, like I think 5 o'clock.So then we had to blackout all the windows.We could only work in certain sections.If there was a high-rolleryou couldn't work there.So we would be workinglike 5 to 5 or 6 to 6,whatever it ended up being.So you'd go all the way to dawn.And that was for many, many months,so it was a very difficultworld to work within.- I know we're supposedto avoid each other,but you knows there's ways to do things,there's ways not to.[clashing swords][flamingo music]- I wanted to do Pulp Fictioncause I knew the key gripand he was going to talk to Quentin.But it never took placeand I never had a meeting.So then I went and I got,I saw the Kill Bill script.I got through back channel, read it.I don't know if he knows I read it.And asked to have a meeting.And Quentin said sure, I'll meet with Bob.And we met at a restauranton I think Hollywood Blvd.And the way he tells thestory is, I had 14 espressos.Um, now I can believe that might be true.Fourteen...That makes sense, it'sabout my number a day.And, he said I didn't even eat.But it was so great to just talk with him.It just felt like easychemistry, flooding together.It was like--[making explosion sound]- Solid, solid as a rock.I learned later that he'dalready hired two DPs.One to shoot China, oneto shoot in America.But he offered me the job.They originally said, you know,would you do just America?And I said I'd like to do the whole movie.He agreed, I guess so helet both the other DPs go.And that was the beginningof our relationship.That kind of fight choreography,I'd never done before.It was learning experience, obviously.Now I'd watched a lot ofthese films that were shot,and I'd watched what themaster had done himselfwith his work with choreography.So I was well aware ofwhat they might do butonce you start to see allthe wire work happening,it was awe-inspiring but also,it just pushed you higher.Like I got to reach their level.I got to do better.I got to create at a higher level.And, and working withQuentin is like that as well.Working with any great director is aboutcreating at a very high level.The higher your level, the better it is.I think I've been extraordinarilyfortunate in my lifeto have such magnificent directors.I feel very, very fortunate.[flamingo music]- [Announcer] Tonight, hediscovered her for this pictureand we think her platinum blond locksand hot-jazz baby-doll styleare going to make her a big star.[cameras flashing]- I got a call to go to Beverley Hills,and meet with Marty.And I was with Joe Reidy,who I've talked about before,as assistant director.And I had this plan.I pulled my hair out, put it down,put, I took one of his white bath robes.Put it around me.I took kleenex and I putit between every toe,as Howard Hughes did in his later life.I hide in the darkness of the room.And so, when Joe brought in Marty,I was hiding in the spot.And Marty says well where's Bob?And I go, Marty, I'm over here!And he turned towards me and I go,if you need someone toplay an old Howard Hughes,I'm here.Anyways, we worked and it was,the script required so much preparation.But you're working with some of the mosttalented people in the business.Dante is a brilliant production designer.Yet, you're sitting inthat situation where,it's daunting but you're ina very high league of talent.You're playing at the very highest leveland you need to providethe highest A-game you can.And it was a huge reach for me.Because of the sequences,the music, the colors.The first time I actually,when I finally when I started to say,okay, Bob you need to go, you need to go.And I was sitting next to Oprah.I'd gotten two shots tequila.And that was on top ofmany others that I'd had.And I ran into Santana who was out there.And I was like, oh f*cking Santana.It's like I was so like,I don't need to go back to the Oscars.This is really where I wantto go, this is rock and roll.And I got back in andOprah leaned over and saidwhere'd you go?I said, I went out and got two drinks.And she looked at me andshe was like furious.That's an insult to the Academy.And I'm thinking, have youlooked at the bar by the way?That bar is full.And it's full all the time,but you're absolutely right.But then, I knew what I wanted to say.So the the whole issue was,my mother was in thehospital at that time.And, they thought she was going to die.And the nurses and thedoctors said I'll take inextreme care of her.I had, I just knew whatI was going to say,which is I wanted dedicate withOscar to the health-givers.To the healthcare givers,and to the doctors.Not only that are taking care of my motherbut to all.And, so I wasn't afraidof having to say a speech.I did the speech relativelyeasily in that one.[cameras flashing][chattering]- This is just one of the letters--[spitting][punching]- What the--Ah!- Yah!

O.B![knocking on coach roof]- Stop!- [O.B] Whoa!

Easy!

Whoa[whinnying horses]- We were going toshoot the film initiallyin 35 mm anamorphic.I was there looking at anamorphic lensesand we brought her up toDan Sasaki and Panavision.And Dan was going through the lens,we wanted to shift it a little bit.I wanted an older flavor to it.And while he was playing with the lens,there was a curtain on both sides.Cause he projected it onto a screen.And I walked back into this room,and there are these strange shaped lenses.And we'd pick it up and I'dgrab one, he'd grabs one.We go out to Daniel.Daniel, what are these?And he goes "Whoa..."[laughing]And that's how we got toshooting in the formatwe ended up with.They hadn't been used in 50 years,and one by one,Panavision stuck with us.We didn't tell Quentin.If he knew that we could getanywhere near a centerama framehe would have just exploded.So I get tasked with himin regular 35 anamorphic.And then we open the screen,while he was there.And we put up the next ones.And you go--and he's like"Oh my god what is this?"Said, we have these lenses Quentin.We can't guarantee they'llall be ready in time but...And it was remarkable,he was so, so happy.And those lenses are nowextremely, extremely hard to find.Everyone's using them.They're-- I can't get them.I should be able to getthem anytime I want.Because you don't have tojust shoot wide screen, 279.You can shoot a small format and just usethe middle section of a lens.That's very highlytechnical, who wants that?That was a very difficult movie for me.We were in Telluride on Superbowl Sunday.Two friends asked me to going skiingand I went with them.And I went skiing before the game started.And on about my third or fourth run,I flipped, I hit amogul and broke my back.There were no doctors on duty that day,cause they're all what--you couldn't find a doctor.So I went to work the next day,not knowing what had happened.Whether I'd maybe broken a rib.I ended up going at lunch timeand they did X-rays and an MRIand they said you have a broken back,you have to stop working.The phone rang almost instantly.Quentin needs you back on the set now!And I already knew I was going back.Quentin didn't have to call me back.I'm going to work with a broken back.Just give me a brace, give me something.Give me a small painkiller,give me something.And I'll just go back and do it.And I shot the movie in Tellurideand all through the sections we did.Cause it rebuild it ona stage at Red Studio.And then I shot in therewith the same broken back.That was complicated, cause I'doften by myself on the flooror in a position that wasextremely hard to accomplish.The pain was so extraordinary,I'd just would have tears coming out.I wouldn't, if I was on acrane I had to do somethingand it was bent,I would sit there for as longas it took get the next take.I was not going to let my body off.I didn't move, I just,once I found that position,even though it hurt, I'd just stay in it.And I'd just look down at the Earth.And then wait until the next take.And then to the next take.In Telluride, it was cold, in Telluride.But it was bearable.In the studio, it was the worst.Because they had these gianttrucks outside pumping in,so it was always below freezing.And then on top of that,they pumped in water.So that you'd get,they found the perfecttemperature and mixturethat would form breath out of the actors.We would constantly attemptto sabotage the water.God it killed us, God it killed us!It's too cold, you know but.We were always caught.They would all go out to lunch.And it'd be 90 degrees or100 degrees in California.And I would just go to abackroom and lie on a cold floorso that my back would feel better.It was hell.- Aww, that stupid--rip my goddamn arm off!- Hey!You're Rick fucking Dalton.Don't you forget it.[car engine revving]- I get called up to go see Quentin,and this usually happens.Another film, Bob I want youto come up and read the script.I said great, I went to his house.We haven't seen each other in a while,so usually we'll sitdown, have a cocktail.Usually it's a margarita.And then he handed me the script.And he handed me thescript, in his living room.On a small dining room table.And he didn't leave the room.I'm reading the script,and talk about daunting,while he was daunting.Daunting is standing in front of a writerwhile I'm reading his script.Now I'm making multiple notes.Because I don't knowthis, I don't know that.Who is this?Cause a lot of it'sabout television music.And I'm not-- he's so specific.I'm just taking my time and you know,it's a good four hour read.And Quentin is in there doing a thing,watching movies, doing whatever.And I would catch himglancing at me just to seewhether I had a smile on my faceor didn't have a smile on my face.And it was such a, sucha brilliant script.And I get to the end and I go,oh, Quentin, where's the final act?How's this movie end?"I can't give that out.You'll get that, later."Later?Why, I need to know what the ending is--"No, you'll get that later".And it wasn't until westarted firmly production,you got assigned to a room,someone went to a safe,pulled the ending out,brought it to you, you read it,you had to go back, give it to the personand they would put it in.Total security.I don't even know if theyallowed me to have my bagand my phone in there.Quentin will often be right beside me.If the camera's on a dolly,he wants to ride dolly.When we're on a crane, thecranes aren't that capableof carrying the two of us.So it's usually me and he just has tosort of trust that aspect.But that's about the onlytime he looks at video,is when he can't ridesomething or be there.When Quentin's there,they just turn the monitor towards him.When people ask me whatis the movie about,I said it's about when yourcareer gets to a certain level,it begins to ebb down.You know like, if you're Leo,and then you find that theprojects that are coming inare not nearly as valuableas the previous projects,then you see this sort of demiseand you begin to take,feel less about yourself.I always felt that thisis what this movies isand that's how it relates to me.Is like, are you at this point.Are you at the pointwhere you're not going toget any good scripts anymore.And you know, you never know, it could be.When I look at my work,I never thought about the future.Because I was onlythinking about the present.You got to be moving forward,you're on the express.And you're fortunate, youwant to keep thing going.That's what's important, isthat we keep moving forward.When you're on it, you're on a wave.It's like surfing, when you get it,you're just going hopethat wave stays up therefor a substantial period of time.Which is remarkable andI feel graced by that.

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