#1: From the doc "Cinematographer Style"

 

   


PETER LEVY   ACS/ASC

 

Born: ?, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Career: 'I had an uncle who was a part-time actor and part-time props man. He did whatever work was around. That was my only connection to the industry. I had no idea what to do when I finished school. I started taking still pictures, but it very quickly became too expensive to be a hobby. Eventually, I got brave enough to open a little studio in Sydney and say I was a photographer. I took portraits, including headshots of actors, advertising shots, editorial pictures for magazines, and then I got a job shooting stills for an independent movie. My sister was one of the producers and I was actually working for free. That was the first time I saw a cinematographer at work. I became an assistant cameraman for the Commonwealth Film Unit. We produced educational films for the government and documentaries for television. I did that for about eight years. Don McAlpine was the chief cameraman. A whole generation of Australian filmmakers went through the Commonwealth Film Unit, including Russell Boyd, Peter James, Dean Semler and others. I used to assist Dean during the early 1970s. […] When I was shooting documentaries, I remember thinking if I only had one more light, or if I could get the camera up 10 feet higher, or if I only had a 600mm lens instead of the long end of the zoom, then how much better the shot could be. I also remember thinking that I wanted to see how I could use photography to interpret what I was seeing happening in front of the lens. […] I had always fantasized that I would be a Hollywood cameraman. My first film was 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child' in 1988. That was a pretty terrifying experience, besides being a scary film - the week that I arrived I heard that Conrad Hall had been sacked off a film. I thought what chance do I have in a town where Connie Hall gets sacked!' [From interview by Bob Fisher on the KODAK OnFilm website.]

Ph commercials dir by Rocky Morton & Annabel Jankel, a.o. Ph music videos.

Member of the ACS since March 1983. Member of the ASC since 2000.

Appeared in the doc 'Cinematographer Style' [2005, Jon Fauer; ph: J. Fauer, Jeff Laszlo, Brian Heller & David Morgan].

Awards: ACS 'Milli' Award 'Australian Cinematographer of the Year' [1991] for 'Predator 2'; ASC TV Award nom [2002] for '24' [ep #1]; ASC TV Award nom [2004] & 'Emmy' Award [2004-05] for 'The Life and Death of Peter Sellers'; 'Emmy' Award [2008] for 'Californication' [pilot]; ASC TV Award nom [2012] for 'House of Lies' [pilot].


'Californication' [2007]: 'The 'Californication' pilot was filmed in nine days at practical locations in Los Angeles. "Stephen Hopkins and I agreed that the story called for an organic film look coupled with a sense of immediacy and authenticity," Levy says. "We also decided during our first conversation that we would use two handheld cameras because it's better to have two angles on a good take than to try and recreate it for a close-up; better for both performance and our very tight schedule."

They covered the action in 3-perf 35mm film format with Panavision Millennium XL and Panaflex Platinum cameras and a set of Primo zoom and prime lenses. The images were composed in 16:9 aspect ratio in anticipation that the movie would air in HD format.

Levy estimates that some 90 percent of the coverage was handheld, with the main exceptions being longer dialog scenes that called for closer-in coverage. In those situations, he used longer lenses with the camera on a dolly for steadiness.

Levy's palette consisted of KODAK VISION2 500T 5229 and KODAK VISION2 250D 5205 films. "The 5229 film has a longer toe that falls off in the shadows more gradually with slightly lower contrast," he says. "We preferred that look because it allowed us to record more subtle details on the negative, and I knew that, if necessary, I could build the black tones up during digital postproduction without losing details."

The two cameras were generally at different angles with one covering a master shot and the other one on a close-up. Levy notes that some locations were especially challenging. He cites the narrow hallways and small bedrooms with low ceilings in the loft where the character portrayed by David Duchovny lives. Levy augmented natural light at that location and others with China Balls that were sometimes mounted on boom poles.

"It's important to leave room for serendipity when you're shooting on locations with a tight schedule, because surprises are bound to happen," he says. "We were prepared to turn on a dime when the sun suddenly broke out of the clouds and its beam came through a window and reflected off a mirror. We made a quick decision to change the angles of camera coverage. That only took a few moments."

Hopkins also gave the actors freedom to follow their instincts, and he trusted Levy and his crew to find the right angles. Levy points out that he and Hopkins collaborated on shooting music videos and commercials in Australia early in their careers. He believes that the experience he had in shooting documentaries as a younger man influences how he approaches narrative films.

Levy observes, "There is an elegance and simplicity to finding shots in the lens, and a sense of immediacy that comes from that process of discovery. The superior optical viewfinders on film cameras allowed the operators to see what was off the edges of their framing. That gave them the freedom to freely pan left or right when unexpected things happened. I would rather be a half-a-second late panning to a shot than a half a second early, as though we are trying to keep up with rather than anticipating the action."

He concludes that in addition to the look and other aesthetic reasons for shooting on film, there was a significant practical advantage. Levy estimates that it would have taken at least an additional day or two to produce this project in digital HD format, in part because of the multiple moves they made to practical locations, where they were frequently shooting in challenging environments. "The film camera is quick, reliable and predictable," Levy says. [From the KODAK InCamera website, July 2007.]


Peter Levy: 'Technology has always influenced cinematography. The electric motor made sound in movies possible, and the blimp required for the camera to make it silent also made it like an anchor and a very static shooting style evolved. The release of the lightweight Panaflex and the original ARRI BL in 1972 made road movies possible. High-speed film stocks and lenses make lighting more realistic.

On a larger scale, I fear for our craft. The new technologies have made it easier for a larger number of people to create very impressive imagery, though often by group decisions and inputs. The notion of the cinematographer as the author of the image is being seriously eroded. We have seen the role and the status of colorists rise as the need for precise cinematography declines. I am concerned that we are creating a generation of cinematographers that have no knowledge of the fundamentals of our craft - such as the photo-chemical process and lab techniques; sensitometry of light sensitive materials; opticals and in-camera effects; optics and lenses; post-production work flows; specialized techniques; even interpreting film dailies. I believe that part of the definition of a cinematographer is that he/she is a master craftsman in photography, capable of high-quality work in any technique, genre or circumstance. For many years I did not call myself a cinematographer, out of respect for those who were master photographers. It took a long time before I could look another cinematographer in the eye and say "I am one, too." The reality is that all cameras are just boxes that record images. It's what you do with them that make a difference.' [From interview by Bob Fisher on the KODAK OnFilm website.]


 

 FILMS

1974

Community Health... The Australian Concept [John Sexton] c; doc/26m; cph: Don McAlpine

1976

Living Way Out [Habitat] [Philip Robertson] c; doc/25m; cph: John Hosking

1977

The Team [Bruce Allen] c; doc/18m; cph: John Hosking & Andre Fleuren

1978

Ghan to Alice [Curtis Levy] 16mm/c; doc/27m

1979

Leong [, Angela - A Cultural Transition] [Tony Wheeler] c; doc/10m

1980

Bojo [Bill Bennett] ?; ?/60m

1980

It's Okay I'm with the Band [Brian Morris] ?; mus doc/60m

1981

Saturday Night Again [Jan Sharp] 16mm/c; doc/7m

1981

Picture and Words [Anton Bowler] c; doc/30m; prod Australian Film and Television School

1983

Drought [Tristram Miall] c; doc/50m; cph: Jim Frazier, Glen Carruthers, a.o.

1985

Robbery [Michael Thornhill] c

1985

Short Changed [George Ogilvie] c

1987

Edge of Power/The Red Crescent [Henri Safran] c

1987

Dangerous Game [Stephen Hopkins & David Lewis] c

1988

A Nightmare on Elm Street [5]: The Dream Child [Stephen Hopkins] c; 2uc: Russell Carpenter; 3uc: Chris Nibley

1989

Hellgate/Ghost Town [William A. Levey] c; cph: Peter Palmér

1990

Predator 2 [Stephen Hopkins] c; optical ph: Richard Champa, Patrick McDonough, Joseph Iannuzzi & Richard Lorenzo

1991

Ricochet [Russell Mulcahy] p/c; superv plate ph: Glenn Campbell

1992

Super Mario Bros. [Rocky Morton & Annabel Jankel] was fired several weeks into filming and replaced by Dean Semler

1992

Judgment Night [Stephen Hopkins] s35/c; filmed 1992-93

1993

The Getaway [Roger Donaldson] p/c; co-2uc; ph: Peter Menzies Jr.

1993

Blown Away [Stephen Hopkins] s35/c; macro unit ph: Greg Ramsey

1994

The War at Home [Emilio Estevez] p/c

1994

Little Women [Gillian Armstrong] c; 2uc; ph: Geoffrey Simpson

1994

Cutthroat Island [Renny Harlin] p & tvi/c; vfx ph: Jonathan Taylor; aph: Adam Dale; replaced doph Oliver Wood

1995

Broken Arrow [John Woo] s35/c; addph: Lloyd Ahern II (started filming; left prod and was replaced by P. Levy); 2uc: Michael Benson; aph: Jon Kranhouse; miniature ph: Tim Angulo, Mike Lawler & Michael O. Sajbel; vfx ph (+ co-vfx superv): Don Baker

1997

Lost in Space [Stephen Hopkins] p/c; 2uc: Mike Brewster & Ken Coles

1999

Under Suspicion/Suspicion [Stephen Hopkins] c; aph: Larry Blanford

2001

Puka Pete [Fred Wolf] pre-production May 2001; status unknown

2002

Torque [Joseph Kahn] s35/c; addph: Christopher Probst; 2uc: Brad Rushing

2004

Therese Raquin [Charlie Stratton] scheduled for November start; doph Andrew Dunn was also mentioned; status unknown

 

With dir Todd Robinson [left] - "Lonely Hearts"

 

2005

Lonely Hearts [Todd Robinson] s35/c; addph: James Hawkinson & Mark Kohl

2005

The Reaping [Stephen Hopkins] s35/c; 2uc: Stephen Campbell; aph: Phil Pastuhov

2014

Race [Stephen Hopkins] HD (ARRI ALEXA XT Plus/Hawk Scope)-to-D-Cinema (scope)/c; addph (finished film after P. Levy was unavailable due to a schedule conflict): Peter Moss

 

 TELEVISION

1982

With Prejudice [Esben Storm] docudrama/16mm; also released theatrically

1982

Ponape: Island of Mystery [Nick Frazer] doc/48m & 60m/16mm

1983

Cattle King [Bill Bennett] docudrama/58m

1984

Shipwrecked [Bill Bennett] docudrama/58m

1985

A Fortunate Life [Henri Safran & Marcus Cole] 4-part miniseries

1988

Joe Wilson [Geoffrey Nottage] 6-part miniseries/16mm

2000

Dead Last [pilot dir by Randall Miller] 13-part series, 2001; other ph: Michael Grady

2001

24 [ep #1 '12:00 A.M.-1:00 A.M.' dir by Stephen Hopkins, #14 '1:00 P.M.-2:00 P.M.' dir by Jon Cassar (JC) & #15 '2:00 P.M.-3:00 P.M.' dir by JC] 192-part series, 2001-10; 1st season, 2001-02; other ph: Rodney Charters

2002

Without a Trace [pilot (originally titled 'Vanished') dir by David Nutter] 160-part series, 2002-09; 1st season, 2002-03; other ph: John Peters

2003

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers [Stephen Hopkins] tvm

2004

Clubhouse [pilot dir by Gavin O'Connor] 12-part (7 unaired) series, 2004; other ph: Krishna Rao

2007

Californication [pilot (s35-to-HD) dir by Stephen Hopkins] 84-part series, 2007-14; 1st season/HD (Sony F900), 2007 (12 ep); other ph: Michael Weaver; see above

2007

The Oaks [Michael Cuesta] pilot; 2uc: Giovani Lampassi; for FOX-tv

2008

The Unusuals [pilot (3-perf 35mm) dir by Stephen Hopkins] 10-part series/HD (Sony F23 & PMW-EX3), 2009; other ph: Roy H. Wagner

2009

Maggie Hill [Stephen Hopkins] pilot; for FOX-tv

2009

Justified [ep #2 'Riverbrook' dir by Michael Dinner & #5 'The Lord of War and Thunder' dir by Jon Avnet] 78-part series, 2010-15; 1st season/HD (Sony F35), 2010 (13 ep); other ph: Edward J. Pei  & Francis Kenny

2010

The Rockford Files [Michael Watkins] 1st pilot/HD; aph: Kurt Soderling; for NBC-tv

2011

House of Lies [pilot 'The Gods of Dangerous Financial Instruments' dir by Stephen Hopkins + 11 ep dir by various] 58-part series/HD (ARRI ALEXA), 2012-16; 1st season (12 ep), 2012

2012

Beautiful People [Stephen Hopkins] pilot; for NBC-tv

2012

House of Lies [12 ep dir by various] 2nd season, 2013 (12 ep); see 2011

2013

Reckless [pilot dir by Catherine Hardwicke] 13-part series/HD, 2014; other ph: John Newby & John B. Aronson

2013

House of Lies [12 ep dir by various] 3rd season, 2014 (12 ep); see 2011

2014

House of Lies [various] 4th season, 2015 (12 ep); see 2011

2016

24: Legacy [pilot dir by Stephen Hopkins] 12-part series, 2017

 

 MISCELLANEOUS

1975

Not to Lose You My Language - Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory [Greg Reading; doc/26m] co-asst; ph: John Hosking; prod Film Australia