ROBERT ELSWIT   ASC

Born: 22 April 1950, Calif., USA, as Robert Christopher Elswit.

Education: University of California, Los Angeles; University of Southern California; American Film Institute, Los Angeles [graduated in 1977].

Career: Worked as vfx asst & ph at Apogee and then at Industrial Light and Magic [ILM].

Ph commercials. Ph music videos dir by Paul Thomas Anderson.

Married to visual efx producer Helen Ostenberg.

Appeared in the doc 'That Moment: Magnolia Diary' [2000, Mark Rance; prod 1998-2000].

Awards: Daytime 'Emmy' Award [1986] for 'The War Between the Classes'; Independent Spirit Award nom [1998] for 'Hard Eight/Sydney'; BSFC Award [2005], LAFCA Award [2005], 'Oscar' AA nom [2005], ASC Award nom [2005], Camerimage 'Golden Frog' nom [2005] & Independent Spirit Award [2006] for 'Good Night, and Good Luck'; 'Oscar' AA [2007], ASC Film Award [2007] & BAFTA Film Award nom [2007] for 'There Will Be Blood'.


'Good Night, and Good Luck': A month after production wrapped on 'Syriana', Elswit tackled 'Good Night, and Good Luck', which George Clooney directed and acted in. Elswit got the job after Newton Thomas Sigel, who had been testing ideas for shooting the black-and-white film, had to head to Australia to shoot 'Superman Returns' with Bryan Singer. "When I read the script, it struck me that it really didn't have a conventional three-act story structure. I thought, 'Where's the movie?'" he says. "I wasn't quite sure, honestly, that it really was a movie. But I loved George and the way he talked about it."

When Elswit and Clooney got down to business, they decided not to shoot actual black-and-white stocks, which are a relic of old-school technology. The fastest one has an exposure index of 200, and Elswit thought it would cause problems in the DI process. The filmmakers really liked the look of Kodak PLUS-X 5231, but it has an exposure index of just 64 - too slow to be practical on a 30-day schedule. "We were going to do a DI anyway, and if I shot color it would be very easy to turn the saturation knob all the way to zero," Elswit decided. To accommodate the decision to shoot in color, Elswit says, production designer Jim Bissell ended up painting the set in monochrome, essentially using a gray-scale palette with five or six different values between black and white. "It's a different approach to lighting and design, but it just seemed the best way to go. I could use zoom lenses, and 5218 is fast enough that I wouldn't struggle with low light levels, which I knew I was going to run into. There was a little more shadow detail, maybe, in the 5231, but it held the highlights, and during the DI process I could see it was going to work really well."

Some sequences were improvised, with Clooney stage-managing the actors from within the frame. It was a methodology that encouraged forward momentum, even at the expense of technical perfection - one shot, set in the room where the CBS journalists screen newsreel footage, is noticeably out of focus. "Clooney looked at it, and he just didn't want to do it again," Elswit recalls. "We filmed it out and printed it and looked at it, and he went, 'Eh, that's fine.' He felt it helped the feeling of randomness, that the arbitrary framing and haphazard look would make it more authentic. So we're sitting there going, 'Yes, but it's out of focus! Waaah!' But that whole style of shooting was trying to make it feel like we went in there and sort of captured the moments."

"From a lighting and design standpoint, the film I looked at the most was John Cassavetes' 'Faces'. Al Ruban, who shot that movie, was really a bartender. It's all Double-X 16mm, and some Plus-X. It's marvelous because he uses people's bodies and faces, and the shapes of people's faces. The whole movie is designed around completely non-traditional, non-cinematic gourmet ideas about what photography is. And it just feels so honest and real - it's almost impossible to achieve that if you think about it too much." [From article by Bryant Frazer on the studiodaily.com website (2006).]



 FILMS

1981

The End of August/The Awakening [of Eve] [Bob Graham] c; addph: Paul Elliott & Ron Raschke

1981

Waltz Across Texas [Ernest Day] c

1983

Summerspell [Lina Shanklin] c; addph: Stephen Ramsey

1984

The Sure Thing [Rob Reiner] c

1984

Desert Hearts [Donna Deitch] c

1984

Moving Violations [Neal Israel] c; 2uc: James L. Carter

1986

Trick or Treat [Charles Martin Smith] c; addph: Peter Lyons Collister; 2uc: Paul Elliott

1986

Amazing Grace and Chuck/Silent Voice [Mike Newell] c

1987

Return of the Living Dead, Part II [Ken Wiederhorn] c

1988

Heart of Dixie [Martin Davidson] c; 2uc: Kim Marks; addph: Tom Sigel

1989

How I Got Into College [Savage Steve Holland] c; 2uc: John Connor

1989

Bad Influence [Curtis Hanson] c

1991

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle [Curtis Hanson] c

1991

Waterland [Stephen Gyllenhaal] tvi/c; uwph: Mike Valentine

1992

A Dangerous Woman [Stephen Gyllenhaal] c

1993

The River Wild [Curtis Hanson] p/c; addph: Kim Marks; uwph: Al Giddings

1994

Boys [Stacy Cochran] c

1995

Hard Eight/Sydney [Paul Thomas Anderson] s35/c

1995

The Pallbearer [Matt Reeves] c

1996

Boogie Nights [Paul Thomas Anderson] p/c

1997

Richard Lester! [Stacy Cochran] c; doc/31m

1997

Tomorrow Never Dies [Roger Spottiswoode] p/c; 2uc: Jonathan Taylor; miniature ph: Paul Wilson; uwph: Pete Romano; addph: Eddie Collins; aph: Adam Dale

1998

8MM [Joel Schumacher] s35/c; 2uc New York: Tony Jannelli

1999

Magnolia [Paul Thomas Anderson] p/c

1999

Bounce [Don Roos] c; 2uc: Kim Marks; aph: John Trapman

1999

Impostor [Gary Fleder] c; 2uc: Rick Bota (+ 2ud)

2000

Heist [David Mamet] c; 2uc: Kim Marks

2001

Punch-Drunk Love [Paul Thomas Anderson] p/c

2001

Gigli [Martin Brest] s35/c

2002

Runaway Jury [Gary Fleder] s35/c; 2uc (+ 2ud): Mark Vargo

2003

Mattress Man Commercial [Paul Thomas Anderson] c; short/1m

2004

Syriana [Stephen Gaghan] s35/c; 2uc: Martin Kenzie; Texas ph: Heather Page; addph: Kelly Clear; aph: Adam Dale

[Left] - "Good Night, and Good Luck"

2005

Good Night, and Good Luck [George Clooney] s35/b&w; replaced scheduled ph Newton Thomas Sigel; originally developed as a live play for CBS-tv

2005

American Dreamz [Paul Weitz] c

2006

Michael Clayton [Tony Gilroy] p/c; 2uc: Joe Collins; addph 2u: Steven Finestone; addph: Anthony Wolberg

2006

There Will Be Blood [Paul Thomas Anderson] p/c

2006

Shine a Light [Martin Scorsese] HD (Genesis)+s8+s16+s35-to-35mm (+ IMAX-70bu)/b&w-c; mus doc/122m; co-c.op; ph: Robert Richardson

2007

Redbelt [David Mamet] s35/c

2007

The Burning Plain [Guillermo Arriaga] s35/c; R. Elswit left prod at the middle of the shoot due to a scheduling conflict; addph (finished film): John Toll; 2uc: Heather Page; 2u aph: Dylan Goss

2008

Duplicity [Tony Gilroy] p (+ D-Cinema)/c; UK unit ph: Simon Richards

2008

The Men Who Stare at Goats [Grant Heslov] p (+ D-Cinema)/c

2009

Salt [Phillip Noyce] s35 (+ D-Cinema)/c; 2uc: Igor Meglic; uncred add 2uc (+ add 2ud & co-vfx superv): Robert Grasmere; aph: Steve Koster; uwph: David Knox

2009

The Town [Ben Affleck] s35 (+ D-Cinema)/c; 2uc (+ 2ud): Alexander Witt; uncred addph (reshoots, 2010): Oliver Wood; aph 2u: Brian Heller

2010

Lost Masterpieces of Pornography [David Mamet] s16/b&w-c; short/6m; made for internet (www.funnyordie.com)

2010

The Master [Paul Thomas Anderson] scheduled to start filming in August, but prod was postponed; started filming in June 2011 with ph Mihai Malaimare Jr.; Elswit was unavailable due to a schedule conflict ('The Bourne Legacy')

[Center] with Tom Cruise - "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"

2010

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol [Brad Bird] p+s35+65mm (IMAX & Iwerks)-to-35mm scope (+ IMAX-70bu & D-Cinema)/c; 2uc: Mitchell Amundsen; ph Russian Unit: Steven Finestone; ph India unit: Larry Blanford; addph: Bruce McCleery; aph: Phil Pastuhov, John Marzano (add) & Adam Dale (Dubai); uwph: Pete Romano; filmed 2010-11

2011

The Bourne Legacy [Tony Gilroy] s35+HD (Canon EOS 5D)-to-35mm scope (+ D-Cinema)/c; 2uc: Mitchell Amundsen (uncred) & Paul Hughen (Manila); addph New York (+ 1st c.asst 'a' cam/c.op 'e' cam 2u Manila): Barry Idoine; ph Alberta wolf/2u: Roger Vernon; uncred aph: Hans Bjerno & Phil Pastuhov; filmed 2011-12

2013

Inherent Vice [Paul Thomas Anderson] c

2013

Nightcrawler [Dan Gilroy] p/c

2014

Mission: Impossible 5 [Christopher McQuarrie] p (+ D-Cinema)/c


 TELEVISION

1980

The Incredible Book Escape [Seth Pinsker (live action) & Sam Weiss (anim)] tvm/47m/anim & live-action; a 'CBS Library' special

1981

A Single Light [Karl Epstein] tvm

1982

All Summer in a Day [Ed Kaplan] tvm/25m; ep PBS-tv series 'WonderWorks'

1983

Tiger Town [Alan Shapiro] tvm/60m; an ABC-tv 'Disney Sunday Movie'

1985

The War Between the Classes [Michael Toshiyuki Uno] tvm/60m; a CBS-tv 'Schoolbreak Special'

1985

The Children of Times Square/Street Wise [Curtis Hanson] tvm

1986

A Different Affair [Noel Nosseck] tvm

1987

Long Gone/Stogies [Martin Davidson] tvm

1987

Into the Homeland [Lesli Linka Glatter] tvm

1988

Dream Street [various] 6-part series, 1989; other ph: Thomas Alger Olgeirson

1988

[Double Exposure: The Story of] Margaret Bourke-White [Lawrence Schiller] tvm; aph: Mark Morre

1990

Evidence of Love/A Killing in a Small Town [Stephen Gyllenhaal] tvm

1990

Steel Magnolias [Thomas Schlamme] pilot/30m; for CBS-tv

1990

Prison Stories: Women on the Inside [seg 'Esperanza' dir by Donna Deitch & 'Parole Board' dir by Joan Micklin Silver] tvm; seg #3 dir by Penelope Spheeris& ph by Jamie Thompson; 2uc: Chris Tufty

1990

Opposites Attract/Running Mates [Noel Nosseck] tvm

1990

Paris Trout [Stephen Gyllenhaal] tvm

1990

The Summer My Father Grew Up [Michael Tuchner] tvm

1991

Human Target [pilot dir by Max Tash] 7-part series, 1992; other ph: Greg Gardiner

1991

Vidiots [Howard Storm] pilot/30m; for CBS-tv

1992

[A Murderous Affair:] [The Lovers of Deceit:] The Carolyn Warmus Story [Martin Davidson] tvm

1996

Prince Street [pilot dir by Roger Spottiswoode] 6-part (4 unaired) series, 1997; other ph: Jonathan Freeman

2002

Behind the Red Door [Matia Karrell] tvm; 2uc: Nigel Markham

2012

Criminal Justice [Steven Zaillian] unaired pilot; with actor James Gandolfini; for HBO-tv

2014

Blanco [Juan Carlos Fresnadillo] pilot/HD; pre-production; for Cinemax-tv


 MISCELLANEOUS

1977

Fraternity Row [Thomas J. Tobin] c.op; ph: Peter Gibbons

1978

Genesis [: Four Billion Years in the Making] [George Casey; doc/IMAX] c.asst; ph: James Connor, J. Barry Herron & Averill Townsend

1978

Star Trek The Motion Picture [Robert Wise] co-efx ph; ph: Richard Kline

1979

[Star Wars: Episode V:] The Empire Strikes Back [Irvin Kershner] co-asst matte ph; matte ph: Neil Krepela; ph: Peter Suschitzky; sfx (ILM) 1979-80

1980

Raiders of the Lost Ark [Steven Spielberg] ?; ph: Douglas Slocombe; sfx (ILM) 1980-81

1981

Poltergeist [Tobe Hooper] uncred ?; ph: Matthew Leonetti

1981

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial [Steven Spielberg] co-c.op efx ph; efx ph: Mike McAlister; ph: Allen Daviau

1982

[Star Wars: Episode VI -] Return of the Jedi [Richard Marquand] co-miniature & optical efx ph; ph: Alan Hume & (uncred) Alec Mills; sfx (ILM) 1981-83