Filed in: Awards, Camera, Contender Portfolios, Featured, Film
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Contender – Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

December 16, 2011 | By

Hoyte Van Hoytema

Hoyte van Hoytema continues his collaboration with Swedish director Tomas Alfredson on the decidedly British film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Previously he had worked with the director on Let the Right One In, for which he received the Kodak Nordic Vision Award for best cinematography and the Guldbagge Award (Sweden’s Oscars equivalent), among other honors. In 2009, he was cited by Variety as one of its “10 Cinematographers to Watch.”

The core concept behind the cinematography was to find a truthful 1970s London atmosphere. “When we were talking about a look, it was very much about finding a language that would underline the way Tomas wanted to portray MI 6 as a very bureaucratic, claustrophobic and not always so glamorous and shiny secret service,” explains Hoytema. “A company of very lonely men in a very dark period in our recent history of the cold war. It was important that the film not be too fresh or clean.”

The team wanted the audience to really feel the period. They used a lot of texture and a scruffy, grainy, analog feel to further capture the timeframe of the story. That would have been much harder to attain on clean digital media, so the movie was shot on film. “We really wanted the picture to be smelly,” joked Hoytema. “If you can achieve that with images, it would be a beautiful thing.”

Gary Oldman stars as “George Smiley” in Focus Features release of Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. (Photo by: Jack English).

The film was principally shot with a one-camera philosophy, with everything planned to serve that one camera. Because of the large amount of dialog, a second camera was used in certain scenes to capture the multiple performances. An initial challenge of the film for Hoytema was that wealth of great performances. “There were so many fantastic actors in the same room, that beforehand you were a bit afraid,” shared Hoytema. “Of course it turned out not to be a challenge at all. It turned out to be one of the best things ever.” Hoytema felt he participated in something very special and loved the magic that happened with “that kind of talent in front of the camera.” He continued, “These actors also have this effect on each other, so sometimes you feel that things suddenly start lifting. Wow. I’m in this room and I get to expose film. It’s a very wonderful experience.”

The other continuing challenge for the team was working on such a completely British story, one that many Brits relate to very strongly. “Both Tomas and I are foreigners and did not grow up in that culture. We had to translate our little vision and our little background and project it onto that reality,” said Hoytema. Nevertheless their cultural difference brought a fresh perspective to the film. “I’ve worked a lot in Sweden, but I’m Dutch. The fact that I’m a foreigner in Sweden presents the Swedes with a different perspective on their own reality. They see their own reality, which they have become very blasé about; they see it through fresh eyes. That actually helps a lot. What we saw as a really big challenge on this film in the beginning, worked to our advantage.”

There were also challenges common to filmmaking. Schedules are always tight and the weather is not always co-operative. On this particular film, the technical issues of filming in a number of different countries added to the difficult logistics. “Somehow we managed. It is nothing new. It is something that always happens,” commented Hoytema. “Every film brings new problems and new solutions. Every film requires a very different approach both artistically and technically, but also with your mentality – the way you think about different subjects. That is something very enriching. I love that.”

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