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HomeAwardsAwards Portfolio: John Mathieson/Phantom of the Opera

Awards Portfolio: John Mathieson/Phantom of the Opera

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British cinematographer John Mathieson has repeatedly worked with director Ridley Scott, most notably on Gladiator. He received an avalanche of accolades for the job he did on that highly successful epic, including an Oscar nomination.
Now he’s up for another Academy Award, but for a movie that couldn’t be more different, The Phantom of the Opera, the sumptuously mounted and filmed version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s worldwide smash musical, directed by Joel Schumacher.
“Musicals aren’t my thing at all,” says Mathieson. “But I always liked Joel’s work and he convinced me. I’m glad he did, because it really ended up being a unique experience.
Mathieson did Phantom the old-fashioned way, without resorting to any new-fangled tricks and without putting the film through a
digital intermediate.
“People are jumping on the DI as the latest thing, but there’s something that’s possibly being lost in the process,” he says. “We used all these gorgeous fabrics, velvets from India, and they wouldn’t have had the same textures. If you use a DI, it can look too squeaky clean.”
Only the initial sequence at the auction that is in black and white had some digital manipulation. Otherwise, everything was done through time-honored DP techniques.
Schumacher wanted the atmosphere of the 19th century opera house, so lots of gas lighting was used, as well as candles. And there was smoke. “We used a lot of gels, and old Panavision lenses,” says Mathieson.
As much as he laments the disappearance of some of the old ways of doing things with color timers—“these people have so many years of experience, and never have got the respect they should have”—he’s using a DI on his new film with Ridley Scott, Kingdom of Heaven, which is about the Crusades, because of its complexity and use of CGI. Kingdom is in
postproduction.
Presently, Mathi-eson is shooting a smaller-budget film with a quirkier subject: The Wild and Wycked Life of Brian Jones, the story of the Rolling Stones band member who died young in a swimming pool accident. “It’s easy to get pigeonholed,” says the cinematographer. He obviously tries not to be.

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