Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Daring Romance

Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Daring Romance

Article excerpt

I Love You Phillip Morris marks the directing debut of writing team Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, and cinematographer Xavier Pérez Grabet, ASC, AMC recalls that when he asked them why they wanted to direct, they said, "We've repeatedly watched other directors destroy our vision. Now it's our turn to destroy our vision."

Sharp humor is an important element of / love You Phillip Morris, a comedy based on the true story of Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), a closeted homosexual whose life is changed by a car accident. After coming out of the closet and leaving his wife (Leslie Mann), he becomes a con man and lands in prison, where he falls in love with a fellow inmate, Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). Once Morris is released, Russell escapes from prison four times in order to be with him.

"This is essentially a love story about two people who will do almost anything to be together," says Grabet. The visual style, which he describes as "free, open and unrestrained," often dictated a handheld camera. (Grabet usually operated the A camera, while Brian Nordheim was on the B camera.) A handheld camera was also well suited to Carrey's improvisational style, which kept the camera crew on their toes. Grabet recalls, "Jim usually did two or three takes along the lines of what he'd discussed with the directors, but then he would do as many as 10 takes going off in completely different directions, and we had to be prepared to capture all that."

The filmmakers' spontaneous approach was a key factor in their decision to shoot on film. "Glenn was initially interested in shooting digital, and we tested some high-end digital cameras, but with the style we had in mind, I knew I would want the camera to become an extension of my body," explains Grabet. "We had a tight schedule, and I was afraid of spending a lot of time with cables and in tents - all the stuff that comes with digital. This film had a lot of scenes that required mobility and freedom.

"I also felt that the texture of film was better suited to the emotion in the story, and would allow for a more organic approach to lighting," he adds. "So I pushed to shoot on film, and I'm glad I did. " Grabet shot most of the picture on Kodak Vision2 500T 5218; he used another Vision2 negative, Expression 500T 5229, for some flashback scenes to achieve a lower-contrast look.

An Angenieux Optimo 1 5-40mm or 28-76mm zoom was usually on the camera, a Panaflex Millennium XL. "Those lenses were the right choice for this project," observes Grabet. "Compared to a prime lens, they have a bit of distortion, and they're not as precise at the frame, so they helped make the movie feel a little more loose. I could subtly use the zoom capability within scenes, and that was very helpful at times." To give the flashbacks a different feel, he shot those scenes with an Optica Elite 25-80mm zoom lens and Kowa 25mm, 32mm and 50mm prime ienses. "With Panavisions help, I chose those lenses because they created great flares," he notes. "We wanted a slightly different look that wouldn't feel sharp and new, but wouldn't look too old, either."

Working with two directors did not complicate the filmmaking process, according to Grabet. "It always felt like working with one person," he says. "There was a slight division of labor that made their relationship very complementary - John was focused on taking care of the actors, whereas Glenn is a bit more technically inclined, so he paid more attention to those details. But they were both involved in everything."

Most of the movie was shot on location in and around New Orleans, with additional work in South Beach, FIa. …

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