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HomeAwardsAwards Portfolio: Fred Elmes, cinematographer

Awards Portfolio: Fred Elmes, cinematographer


When cinematographer Frederick Elmes read that Bill Condon was planning to do a film on the life and work of controversial sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, he couldn’t imagine how the story could be told. Elmes knew Condon’s work and had served on a film jury with him, so he decided to call him up.Elmes says he’s never been shy about taking the direct approach when it comes to work, and his credits with such directors as David Lynch, Ang Lee and Jim Jarmusch reflect a penchant for unusual subjects and iconoclastic talents.“For me the work begins with the script,” says Elmes. “I figure if the material involves me, the way to imagine it will flow naturally. But I need to understand it before the process can begin.”He had questions that arose from reading the script of Kinsey but Condon had no problem providing the answers. While Elmes says that he visualizes as he reads—or forms impressions of individual scenes—he tries not to get locked into a look before talking to a director.“There are considerations that can’t be built in at the script stage,” he notes. “Part of the demand was to make it look bigger than the small budget and limited number of working days we had.”As the film spans three decades, the idea was to give the earlier sections a warmer quality and film them with a limited lighting kit. As the story progressed, more complicated lighting would be required and the film would take on a cooler tone.“One thing that Bill discussed was using stock footage to indicate the passage of time,” recalls Elmes. “He suspected that much of it might be in black and white and that started me thinking about shooting part of the film to compliment that footage. I went back to the script and suggested to him that the interviews be shot in black and white and when we actually saw what was being discussed, it would be in color.”He also imagined the interview footage in the style of time-appropriate 1950s news shows.“The fun of what we do is to effect small changes,” says Elmes. “It tends to be a subtle process and as you work it, you ask questions and discover the surprises.” – Len Klady

Written by Len Klady

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