While most know Wally Pfister as Christopher Nolan’s longtime cinematographer; that’s about to change, as Pfister will soon make his directorial debut on an original sci-fi project called Transcendence. The film stars Johnny Depp as a scientist whose brain gets uploaded into a supercomputer with the aim of creating the world’s first machine that can think for itself.
Earlier tonight, I was on the red carpet at the VES Awards (Visual Effects) and managed to get a few minutes with Pfister. We talked about his love of IMAX, whether or not digital cameras will ever get to the point where they can capture an IMAX quality image, will shoot Transcendence on film, digital, IMAX, or another format, where it’s shooting and when, how he landed Depp, whether or not he will be shooting the film himself or if he’s hiring a director of photography, and a lot more. Hit the jump for the video and transcript.
“I prefer to shoot on film but I’ve been discussing that with the various candidates. I’m open to suggestions. I wouldn’t want to dictate to a cinematographer what tools he should use.”
When I asked him about using IMAX cameras, he said:
“I don’t know, it depends on, when we get up and running, whether we can still get the film stock and whether laboratories are able to stay around for us, but I would definitely consider shooting some of it on IMAX if it’s possible.”
While I realize film is dying with the advances in digital cameras, I didn’t realize how close we are to losing it completely. Pfister went on to explain many labs no longer process film stock:
“It is a concern because Technicolor stopped processing film and Deluxe seems to be on the edge of not processing anymore. It’s of great concern to those of us who want to be able to shoot film, it’s a concern that we’re going to be able to do so.”
Regarding when he might be shooting, he says he hopes in April and while they don’t have an official green light yet, they’re in “active pre-production.” When I asked where they might be shooting, he said:
“We’re going to shoot part of it in California and we’re also looking for other locations outside of California.”
Here’s the video interview followed by the transcript. If you’re a film nerd I think you’re going to dig what he had to say.
Wally Pfister: I am. I’m presenting something tonight, yeah. I’m presenting the award for Virtual Cinematography.
I’m a huge fan of your work behind the camera and I really love the fact that you’ve been championing IMAX which is something that I absolutely love.
Pfister: Yeah, I am a big IMAX fan. Chris Nolan and I started shooting IMAX on The Dark Knight about five or six years ago and then did quite a bit of work on The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX. We’re huge fans of the format and we really hope that we can keep it alive.
I love the IMAX presentation, but I am curious of your thoughts on…digital cameras now seem to be getting better, like the Sony 65…they’re really pushing the boundaries. Do you think digital will ever get to the point where it can capture an IMAX image?
Pfister: I think that when digital gets to 15k or 16k then we’re talking something that you can put on a screen that big and that’s something I really hope to push these guys towards is really getting the impossible camera out there. Hopefully with larger sensors and faster refresh rates, they’ll get there.
Pfister: I don’t know, it depends on, when we get up and running, whether we can still get the film stock and whether laboratories are able to stay around for us, but I would definitely consider shooting some of it on IMAX if it’s possible.
See now I hear that, from filmmakers, “if the labs are still there.” Is it really that much of a concern?
Pfister: It is a concern because Technicolor stopped processing film and Deluxe seems to be on the edge of not processing anymore. It’s of great concern to those of us who want to be able to shoot film, it’s a concern that we’re going to be able to do so.
I’m definitely curious also…Mr. Nolan is known for being secretive about things. Have you inherited that secrecy? Are you going to be more J.J. Abrams or are you going to allow people to see stuff?
Pfister: Well, I think it’s important to keep things secretive because what’s happened so much is the press competes with each other to put as much information out there as they can and sometimes it can be very damaging to the films to have the stories leaked or certain plot details. I think it’s important to have something remain secretive for the audience and something special for the audience so there aren’t spoilers all over the internet.
With your film, it was under wraps, a little bit has gotten out there. How much of it was you saying, “We’ll release this”?
Pfister: Yeah, I think it’s unfortunate but I think that a lot of information just kind of leaked its way out; it wasn’t intentionally released. Then, as I said, people are rabid for information and I think it’s wonderful that people have an appetite but I think they should really wait for the film.
I actually like not knowing.
Pfister: Yeah, I think it’s better not to have the spoilers, you know? I think it’s better for the audience that way.
Pfister: We’re in pre-production right now. We won’t have a green light until all the pieces are in place, but we’re in active pre-production.
Assuming it all moves forward, is there a certain time you’re aiming to film?
Pfister: We’re hoping to film in the spring right now. March is getting close, but we’re hoping to film by April now.
Do you already have locations?
Pfister: We’re going to shoot part of it in California and we’re also looking for other locations outside of California.
My other question for you, of course is, Super 65, 70, if you can’t do IMAX, is that a possibility?
Pfister: It is a possibility, you know, 5-perf 65mm is a possibility, once again, if the filmstock is available and the labs are still processing it and that’s what we’re hoping for.
I wanted to ask you about casting: you landed a pretty big name. How tough was he to get?
Pfister: Johnny’s [Depp] an incredible talent and he just responded to the material. He really loved the script and he really brought a new life to it. I think he’ll be amazing in that part, too. I’m really excited.
I do want to ask you, are you going to be shooting your own film?
Pfister: No, no, I’m going to be hiring a Director of Photography, for sure.
Pfister: Oh absolutely, yeah.
Have you already started talking to people?
Pfister: Yeah, I haven’t really gone down that route just yet.
Pfister: I’ll show some respect to that. I prefer to shoot on film but I’ve been discussing that with the various candidates. I’m open to suggestions. I wouldn’t want to dictate to a cinematographer what tools he should use.
Have you talked to Roger?
Pfister: I haven’t. Roger’s actually on another film with the same company right now so he’s not available.
For more VES Red Carpet Interviews:
- Ang Lee Talks LIFE OF PI, the Believability of a Computer-Generated Tiger, and More at the VES Awards
- PROMETHEUS VFX Supervisor Richard Stammers Talks Collaborating with Ridley Scott, THE COUNSELOR, and Bryan Singer’s X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
- Visual Effects Supervisor Bill Westenhofer and Animation Director Erik De Boer Talk LIFE OF PI at the VES Awards
- Director Mark Andrews and Producer Katherine Sarafian Talk BRAVE, What They Learned Through the Production Process, and More at the VES Awards