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Contender-Robert Richardson-DP-Good Shepherd

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In The Good Shepherd, two-time Oscar-winning director of photography Robert Richardson, works on a broad canvas with cinematography that alternates between a color-saturated 1930s past to a drabber, shadowy world in the early 1960s. The film, directed by Robert de Niro (who also plays a small role) is an ambitious multi-decade saga about the founding and early evolution of the Central Intelligence Agency. It’s been likened by critics to The Godfather.The Good Shepherd unfolds in a series of flashbacks. It begins with the debacle of the CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba, known as the Bay of Pigs, in the early part of John F. Kennedy’s presidency. It circles back to the evolution of this country’s top spy agency from its World War II origins, when the foe was Nazi Germany, into the Cold War era, when it was tasked with stalking the Soviet Union. The historical arc is dramatized by making it the story of one individual, Edward Wilson, played by Matt Damon, who is one the agency’s early operatives and over time becomes one of its top insiders.This was only the second film de Niro has directed (the first was the modestly budgeted A Bronx Tale in 1993). That didn’t stop de Niro from being “deeply involved in virtually every decision made,” notes the cinematographer. “His attention to detail is unparalleled in my experience.” In prep, de Niro, Richardson and production designer Jeannine Oppewall developed a color scheme that reflected the story’s arc. The look of the film shifts from a world of cool tones to one that’s more colorful and opulent. Other effects include the use of limited lighting to create chiaroscuro effects, and a multiplicity of mirrored images are employed to define the shadowy and uncertain clandestine spy world.”The decision was made early-on in preproduction to limit the color palette in the present,” says Richardson, a member of the American Society of Cinematographers. “The result was that the CIA offices have a neutral gray feel, but as the film moves backwards in years there is a slide towards a renewed vigor of color, a full and lavish spectrum.” There are other differentiations. In the present the camera movement is more minimal. There are numerous tight close-ups on Damon, peering through his dweeb spectacles.”Within this film we were drawn to the close-ups due to the intensity apparent on the surface,” says the DP. “Furthermore, the face, particularly the eyes, proved the clearest path to understanding the subtlety of Bob’s direction and as a record of Edward’s emotional mental state.” One memorable scene comes early in the film: Wilson’s ritualistic initiation while at Yale, where he’s an undergraduate, into the university’s super-secret Skull and Bones society, an important recruiting ground for the spy organization in its earliest years. “We decided to shoot it with propane gas as the principal lighting element,” Richardson observes. “The result was a very warm and thick atmosphere. And when that is taken with the lavish set and the thick robes of the members of Skull and Bones, the contrast in texture is profound.” For a change of pace, Richardson is presently at work on a documentary about The Rolling Stones with director Martin Scorsese.2005: Won, Academy Award for best cinematography, The Aviator; Nominated, American Society of Cinematographers Award, The Aviator; Nominated, BAFTA award for best cinematography, The Aviator. 2000: Nominated, Academy Award for best cinematography, Snow Falling on Cedars; Nominated, ASC Award, Snow Falling on Cedars. 1999: Nominated, ASC Award, The Horse Whisperer. 1998: Nominated, British Society of Cinematographers Award, The Horse Whisperer. 1994: Nominated, ASC Award, Heaven & Earth. 1992: Won, Academy Award for best cinematography, JFK; Nominated, ASC Award, JFK. 1990: Nominated, Academy Award for best cinematography, Born on the Fourth of July. 1989: Nominated, Independent Spirit Award for best cinematography, Talk Radio. 1987: Nominated, Academy Award for best cinematography, Platoon; Won, Independent Spirit Award for best cinematography, Platoon; Nominated for Independent Spirit Award for best cinematography, Salvador.

Written by Jack Egan

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