Anthony Dod Mantle, the director of photography on Slumdog Millionaire, faced novel challenges photographing the coming-of-age story of a street urchin who grows up in the squalid slums of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and winds up winning a fortune on a popular quiz show in India. These challenges involved shooting on-the-run through the teeming neighborhoods of one of India’s most populous cities using a light, custom-made digital camera and photographing a cast of young children. “I’ve done some odd things, but this was the oddest,” says Mantle. “It was unknown territory and unknown technology which was exciting.”
Mantle has already won kudos for his fast-moving and color-infused shooting. During a recent interview with Below the Line, he received a call from Poland’s Camerimage Festival informing him he had won the Golden Frog, the most prestigious international award for cinematography, for his work on Slumdog. He has also been named the year’s best cinematographer by the National Board of Review and by the New York Society of Film Critics.
The film marks Mantle’s third collaboration with director Danny Boyle, preceded by Millions and 28 Days Later. “In Danny I had a director who was always behind me, always trusted me,” he says. “He embraced the idea of getting down and shooting at the level of the kids who lived in a desperately poor and dangerous world, but was also magical and playful.
“This was not a conventional piece of cinematography, not one where I was able to start a shot and complete it and orchestrate it,” he adds. “I had to work my pants off shooting in the slums, with the unforeseeable rampant running. So I had to shoot digitally, because of the need to move lightning fast, while swinging and swerving.”
Mantle had a specialized camera built for him in Germany, based on an SI-2K digital camera. “It had the chip I wanted, and you could make it very small, with a gyro spinning beneath the camera to give me a kind of balance I needed—it’s a camera that never existed before anywhere in the world,” he says. The camera was cabled off to a notebook computer with a monitor that he carried on his back. When the rig was on the verge of overheating, dry ice would be applied.
Portions of Slumdog were also shot on film. “Initially I guessed 25 percent on digital and 75 percent on film,” he says. “But we ended up with 60 percent on digital and 40 percent on film.” Mantle pushed the film stock to integrate it with the digital footage.
“This film needed color, it needed vibrancy,” he explains. “It’s about the anthropology of humanity, and it’s also a political film.” (The recent release of the film coincides with the recent terrorist acts in Mumbai that left over 180 people dead; but nothing in Slumdog is about that tragedy, having been filmed over a year ago.) “It will be interesting to see how it is received when it opens in Britain and in India,” he says.
Previous Noms and Wins
2008: Won, Camerimage, Golden Frog, Slumdog Millionaire; 2008: Nomination, British Independent Film Award, Technical Achievement, Slumdog Millionaire; 2007: Nomination, Independent Spirit Awards, Best Cinematography, Brothers of the Head; 2006: Won, British Independent Film Award, Technical Achievement, The Last King of Scotland; 2000: Nomination, Independent Spirit Awards, Best Cinematography, Julien Donkey-Boy.