Magazine article American Cinematographer

And She Was

Magazine article American Cinematographer

And She Was

Article excerpt

Her, shot by Hoyte van Hoytema, FSF, NSC and directed by Spike Jonze, finds poetry in a virtual romance.

When Spike Jonze went looking for a cinematographer to help visualize his new movie, Her, and fill the spot previously occupied by longtime collaborator Lance Acord, ASC, who was unavailable, he hoped to find someone who would understand the romantic sensibility at the heart of the story, a technology-influenced character study set in the near future. Impressed by the work of Hoyte van Hoytema, FSF, NSC, Jonze called director David O. Russell, who had worked with the Swiss cinematographer on The Fighter (/tfCJan. 'll). "David had as many amazing things to say about Hoyte personally as he did about the work, and that was really important to me," says Jonze.

"I had always worked with Lance, who is very sensitive and intuitive, and I wanted someone with a similar sensibility," he continues. "I sent Hoyte the script, and we had a couple of long Skype sessions where we really hit it off. He is a great listener. Yes, he had his own ideas, but first and foremost, he asked me a lot of questions. He always wanted to know what I was thinking, and why. If I had an idea about how to shoot something, he wanted to understand it, and then take that idea and make it better. If he didn't understand it, he kept pushing and bending the logic until he could. I think he's an incredible artist."

Her takes place in a warm, inviting Los Angeles that poses a contrast to the lonely life of its main character, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix). Recovering from a divorce and wanting to find love again, Theodore discovers a new technology that appears to solve his problem: a sophisticated operating system named Samantha. As Samantha evolves, it becomes so interactive that the two fall in love.

Van Hoytema and Jonze recently discussed the project with AC in separate interviews. What follows are excerpts from those conversations.

American Cinematographer. Please describe how you saw die world of Her.

Spike Jonze: It had to be a utopia - warm and comfortable - and yet it also had to suggest how someone like Theodore could feel lonely there. His world feels very warm, but he is disconnected and lonely, and in a way, that makes him feel worse because it's a world you should not feel lonely in.

Hoyte van Hoytema, FSF, NSC: Spike's script was a very verbal one, but it had little pointers in it. We agreed there was a lot of poetry between the lines. Spike didn't want anything dystopian, and he wanted a future that felt a little more tactile than it does in most films. With that in mind, he and [production designer] K.K. Barrett showed me a lot of reference photography that they loved. The main reference was a book of photos called Illuminance by Rinko Kawauchi, a Japanese photographer. The photos are dreamy studies of what appears to be very trivial. They're square photos with a kind of muted palette, and they are extremely sharp and crisp, yet romantic and poetic. They radiate fascination with specific details.

Tonze: As soon as I saw that book, it became a kind of touchstone for this movie. The photos are colorful, but very clean. They aren't garishly colored - there are lots of whites with strong pinks or pale blues. I thought the use of color was very romantic, and that became very important to us palette-wise.

Why did you decide to shoot digitally, and what made you choose the Am Alexa?

Van Hoytema: Spike wanted the look to be pristine and clean. I had used digital on some commercials, but I had always shot features on film, and the idea that cleanliness and lack of texture could be something poetic was kind of an epiphany for me. The main reason we shot digital was to get exactly the kind of finish that you can't get from analog photography. I have always loved the texture of film, and I hope I never totally sail away from it. Texture is one way to tell stories, but this movie sort of imposed upon us a different kind of thinking about texture. …

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