When Focus Features announced the official start of production on Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie this past February, there was a conspicuous absence: an official director of photography. The then-untitled film, currently being referred to as Phantom Thread, takes place in the 1950s fashion world in London and stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a dressmaker, but in terms of plot that’s pretty much all we got. Anderson is certainly one of the most distinct filmmakers working today, and his films have always been notable for striking cinematography. Robert Elswit is his go-to DP having shot Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood, winning the Oscar for the latter film, but at present Elswit is otherwise engaged shooting Nightcrawler filmmaker Dan Gilroy’s second film Roman Israel, Esq.
Speculation ran rampant that perhaps Anderson was serving as his own cinematographer on his new movie, and indeed Indiewire now reports that that is indeed the case. The Inherent Vice filmmaker has apparently been wanting to shoot one of his own movies for a while now, and has experience working as his own DP on various music videos that he directed. Indiewire notes that in addition to serving as DP, Anderson also operated the camera himself for some shots as he has done on past films. The report also states that when the film hits theaters later this year, it will not be doing so under the title of Phantom Thread—that appears to be a placeholder of sorts for now.
Anderson is far from the first director to pull double duty as a cinematographer. Steven Soderbergh has been shooting his own films for years, and folks like Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch have dabbled here and there. But Anderson is unique in that he doesn’t make many movies, so this is a special case indeed.
This is incredibly exciting news. Elswit is a terrific cinematographer, but one need only compare his work on PTA films like Inherent Vice and There Will Be Blood to other films Elswit shot, like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol or The Town, to realize that PTA has a very strong handle on the visual look of his own films.
Basically this is yet another reason to be excited for new PTA, and I can’t wait to see this film when it hits theaters on December 25th.