Since they first collaborated on 2002’s Far From Heaven, Ed Lachman has been an integral part of Todd Haynes’ core team, serving as cinematographer on films as complex as the director’s experimental 2007 Bob Dylan biography I’m Not There or as straightforward as 2015’s Patricia Highsmith adaptation Carol. “He always puts me in places I don’t want to be,” Lachman told me during Deadline’s The Contenders event this month in front of an SRO crowd of Academy and guild voters at the DGA Theater. “He challenges me, and the best directors will challenge. I always feel like a cinematographer is another actor – I’m giving a performance, and he sets up situations that I have to work my way around.”
For Haynes’ latest, an adaptation of Brian Selznick’s children’s book Wonderstruck, the pair had to find a way to translate to visual style of the author, who used illustrations to tell one half of the story, set in the 1920s, and prose for the second, set 50 years later. “And so what better way than to show the silent-movie period in black-and-white [35mm] negative,” he said, “and for the ’70s we looked to the urban reality grit of New York films like Mean Streets, The French Connection and Midnight Cowboy – a much rawer look.”
As with Carol, Haynes again shot on film, but Lachman insists it was a creative decision and nothing to do with nostalgia. “For me there’s a different look to film than digital,” he said, “and not all films have to be shot on film. But I just think we shouldn’t lose that tool to create our stories, and certain stories lend themselves to it. I mean, with Todd, we’re always referencing different time periods. I’ve worked with him [on films set] in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and now the ’70s, and so we’re referencing those cinematic language of the time. That’s why it’s important for us to shoot in film – to reference those time periods.”
Check out our conversation above about the drama, which Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions bowed in October after stops in Venice, Telluride and the New York Film Festival.