Robert Eggers made a black & white movie — literally. Meaning, we’re not talking digital. He shot in 35MM Double-X black and white, a negative that hasn’t changed since the 1950s for his two-hander New England ghost story starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe.
In the color era, no matter what the year, it’s always a financier’s worst nightmare to hear that a filmmaker wants to shoot in black and white. Even going back to Peter Bagdanovich’s 1973 feature Paper Moon, Paramount had agita over commercial concerns for that pic (the pic reportedly made $31M back in the day.”
“I pictured this black and white, crusty, dusty, musty, rusty atmosphere, a boxy aspect ratio, very much much the atmosphere of this movie,” said Eggers who worked with his brother Max on the story after the latter hatched it; their inspiration being a 1801 story about a small lighthouse in Wales about two lighthouse keepers. They are marooned during storm; one dies and the other goes nuts. Even creepier like the pic’s protags, they’re both named Thomas. Jarin Blaschke, who shot Eggers’ Sundance premiere The Witch, also lensed The Lighthouse.
Whenever the question arose from Lighthouse backers (the pic was financed by RT Features, New Regency and A24) whether Eggers could bend and shoot in black and white. The answer was always “No” as he tells us in today’s Crew Call podcast. The filmmaker totally understood their ask, even the possibility of a color cut for foreign territories, however, art is art.
Recent black and white movies are typically shot in color, then converted to black in white. This is what DP Robert Elswit did with George Clooney’s 2005 Edward R. Murrow vs. Joseph McCarthy movie Good Night, and Good Luck ($31.6M). That process gave the film a precise amount of detail and clarity. But Eggers wanted The Lighthouse to be messy where blacks drop, blue skies are white, bleak and austere and Dafoe and Pattinson’s rosy cheeks are darker. Eggers and Blaschke literally took their camera into the ocean to get in-your-face shots of the roaring waves. And as far as the sound goes, another character in the film a la Sergio Leone pic, Eggers says “we needed a larger soundscape as big as any Marvel movie” when it came to blaring lighthouse fog horn, ocean mist, piercing wind and seagull cries during their 38 day shoot.
While Eggers is in pre-production on the Viking revenge saga The Northman with Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgård, The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Skarsgård, and Dafoe in talks, the filmmaker says that “until I’m on set saying action, I don’t know what’s next for me” given his nonstop development of projects.
As far as third film in his New England horror saga, the Lee, New Hampshire native says, “Oh, yeah, there needs to be one more…one more New England horror adjacent folk story should be made.”
Robert Eggers, the director behind the critically acclaimed horror film, The Witch, has potentially assembled a starry cast for his latest project, The Northman, set up at New Regency. Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgård, The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Skarsgård, and Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe are in talks to star this film, which is being produced by Lars Knudsen (Hereditary, Midsommar).
To date, The Lighthouse has won the Fipresci prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Jury prize at Deauville, with Dafoe being nominated for Best Actor at the Gotham awards. The A24 release is on its way to $11M at the domestic box office, one of the fall’s bright spots on the specialty circuit.