#1: From interview [by DP/30, 2011]

#2: Photo by William Kallay

#3: With Michael Caine - "The Prestige" [2006]

 

   


WALLY PFISTER   ASC/BSC

 

Born: 8 July 1961, Chicago, Illinois, USA, as Walter Pfister.

Education: American Film Institute [AFI], Los Angeles [graduated in 1988].

Career: 'I come from a family of journalists. My dad was a producer, then an executive for ABC News. Initially, he worked in Chicago and then out of New York, where I grew up. I don't think I ever considered journalism as a profession. I actually got the filmmaking bug when I was around 10 or 11. A Burt Reynolds movie called 'Shamus' was being filmed in my neighborhood. I watched them setting up lights and cameras. I was just completely in awe. I started taking home movies and began making short films when I was 12 or 13. I got into still photography a little bit after that, but I was actually more involved in music. I played the guitar in bands and I still play to this day. [We had a rock and roll band together on Insomnia. We played in a bar in British Columbia. It was me, two of the grips, one of our electricians, and even Robin Williams sitting in on vocals on one occasion.] I got a chance to work as a production assistant at a television station in Salisbury, Maryland. My first job was driving about 30 miles to this transmitter in the middle of nowhere in Maryland in time to turn it on for the 7 a.m. broadcast. The production assistant part of the job only lasted a couple of months. They gave me a job operating a studio video camera on the 6 and 11 p.m. news. I also shot 16mm promos and commercials. Eventually, the station got into financial trouble and half of us were let go. Finally, a friend in Washington, D.C., offered me a job as a soundman with sort of a stringer news service. We would shoot news stories in Washington, and they would sell them to local stations and international clients. I worked as a soundman for about six months, and then they promoted me to cameraman. I covered Congress, the White House and breaking news from 1982 to 1985. We shot with video cameras on 1/4-inch tape. I started doing freelance documentary work for 'Frontline' [doc series for PBS-tv] and other documentaries. I was still working in Washington when Robert Altman came to town to direct a mini-series for HBO called 'Tanner '88'. I was shooting a lot of video, and he was looking for a real cameraman to play that role in his show. They hired me and he asked me to shoot some footage with a Betacam while they were filming an episode. I shot a bunch of footage, and after that he brought me on the show as the B-camera operator and second unit cameraman for the rest of the program. I had applied to the American Film Institute before I worked on 'Tanner '88'. I got a letter saying I was accepted in the cinematography program right after we finished shooting. I was at AFI for two years. Harry Wolfe and Howard Schwartz were the cinematography teachers. Janusz Kaminski was at AFI a year before I got there. I met him through a mutual friend. He gave me a chance to work with him on some of his films. The first feature film that I ever worked on was a kind of a horror Western. Janusz was the cinematographer, Mario Fiore was the key grip and I took his place for the last week of shooting. After that, Janusz worked for Phedon Papamichael on 'After Midnight'. He was his gaffer and I came on as one of the electricians. I worked as a gaffer-grip-B-camera operator and 2nd unit DP on a number of low budget pictures with Janusz and Phedon during those years. They needed to do some pickups on a film Phedon shot. Neither he nor Janusz [who had shot second unit] were available. I did a couple little inserts. Those pickups were the first footage I ever shot on 35mm film. After that I shot second unit for Phedon on a movie called 'Body Chemistry' and a couple more second units for Roger Corman. I shot my first feature for Corman in 1990. It was a wild little horror movie called 'The Unborn'. Concorde had one picture in production, one picture in pre-production, and one picture in postproduction all the time. It was a factory, but it was a great experience. It was almost like our version of the studio system, because you'd be shooting second unit on one film and then they'd have you shoot a pickup shot for another film, all the while waiting for your break. I was paid $100 a day. After my first film for Roger Corman, I went on to shoot one horror movie or low budget thriller after another, many for a company called Axis. We were shooting entire features in 15 days. I was getting a little burned out on that kind of film. Around that time, Phedon Papamichael approached me about operating for him on a studio picture called 'Unstrung Heroes'. Diane Keaton was the director and Phedon did a beautiful job lighting it. It was a really nice collaboration. I operated for him on a couple other movies. That gave me some experience on better quality studio pictures with bigger budgets. It made me realize that I didn't want to take on any more pictures as a cinematographer unless it was a good script. 'The Hi-Line' was really the picture where I was able to re-invent my career as a cinematographer.' [From interviews on the ICG and KODAK websites.]

Ph commercials dir by Jim Barton ['Alien Chuck' for Sprint], Neil Abramson, a.o.

Directed commercials.

Member of the ASC since September 2002. Member of the BSC since 2011.

Appeared in the ep 'Memento' of the 10-part doc tv-series 'Anatomy of a Scene' [2001] and the doc 'Cinematographer Style' [2005, Jon Fauer; ph: J. Fauer, Jeff Laszlo, Brian Heller & David Morgan].

Awards: CableACE Award nom [1992] for 'Sketch Artist'; Santa Monica FF 'Moxie!' Award [2000] for 'The Hi-Line'; Independent Spirit Award nom [2002] for 'Memento'; 'Oscar' AA nom [2005], ASC Film Award nom [2005] & BSC Best Cinematography Award nom [2006] for 'Batman Begins'; 'Oscar' AA nom [2006] for 'The Prestige'; ASC Film Award nom [2008], BAFTA Film Award nom [2008] & 'Oscar' AA nom [2008] for 'The Dark Knight'; 'Oscar' AA [2010] & ASC Film Award [2010] for 'Inception'; ACS International Award for Cinematography [2011].


Wally Pfister: 'The battle that we have to fight as cinematographers is to not let anybody treat us like we are consumers by using marketing techniques to push technology that's not better than what we have. Good enough isn't good enough. 24P is nowhere near the resolution of 35mm film, and if you put it side by side with anamorphic it's off the charts. There's not even a comparison. I don't see why we should settle for that and I don't see why the public should settle for it. I don't understand why we would use an inferior product to capture our images, when we want to see all the nuances and into the darkest details. I want to push the envelope. I don't think we have the power to fight this battle alone. The technology vendors have enough power and money to influence our art form. We need to get the directors on our side, because they have the clout.' [From interview with Bob Fisher on the ICG website.]


Q: From being a news channel’s cameraman to becoming an Academy Award-winning cinematographer, and eventually turning a film director, you have tried your hand at various things. Was every step of your career planned?
A: Yes, sort of. Basically, I found that I had done everything I wanted to do as a cinematographer, and was looking to reach new goals. I had developed a passion for story-telling and wanted to try something new. So my decision to move to something new was planned over the past few years.
Q: Reportedly, you prefer being a director. What makes it more interesting?
A: After spending many years on the visual side, direction helped me portray the human side of things. I find watching and guiding actors through their words and actions, and creating something, interesting. It was a greater personal challenge and something fresh.

Q: Now that you’ve become a director, will you team up with Christopher Nolan as a cinematographer?
A: Probably not… we have chosen our separate ways. He has a fantastic cinematographer, who is working with him. I have stopped shooting films for directors, and I’m working on my own projects. I will probably not go back. [From Hindustan Times, 24 July 2015.]


 

 FILMS

1987

Attacking Anxiety [Rebecca Coffey & James MacDonald] c; doc/28m; cph: John Hazard

1989

Senzeni Na?/What Have I Done? [Bernard Joffa] c; short/30m; prod AFI

1989

Teatro! [Edward Burke, Ruth Shapiro & Pamela Yates] c; doc/58m; ?; ph: Reuben Aaronson & Tom Sigel

1989

Streets [Katt Shea Ruben] c; ph pick-ups (+ 2u gaffer); 2uc: Janusz Kaminski; ph: Phedon Papamichael

1989

Body Chemistry [Kristine Peterson] c; 2uc; ph: Phedon Papamichael

1990

Slumber Party Massacre III [Sally Mattison] c; 2uc; ph: Jürgen Baum

1990

Prayer of the Rollerboys [Rick King] c; addph; ph: Phedon Papamichael

1990

Leather Jackets [Lee Drysdale] c; 2uc; ph: James Chressanthis

1990

Naked Obsession [Dan Golden] c; addph; ph: Dick Buckley

1990

Lower Level [Kristine Peterson] c/V; 2uc: Richard Clabaugh

1990

The Unborn [Rodman Flender] c; 2uc: Janusz Kaminski; addph: Flavio Labiano

1991

In the Heat of Passion [Rodman Flender] c; 2uc: William Molina; addph 2u: Christopher Faloona

1991

Secret Games [Alexander Gregory Hippolyte (= Gregory H. Brown)] c/V; cph: Thomas F. Denove; addph: Keith Barefoot & Dale Larsen

1992

Inside Out [: Erotic Tales of the Unexpected] [various] c/V; 9 seg; other ph: Ronn Schmidt; for Playboy Video Enterprises

1992

Inside Out 2/Double Vision [various] b&w-c/V; 9 seg; other ph: Ronn Schmidt; for Playboy Video Enterprises

1992

Inside Out 3 - Body Damage [various] c/V; 9 seg; other ph: Ronn Schmidt; 2uc: John E. Smith; for Playboy Video Enterprises

1992

Inside Out 4 - A Scent of Midnight [various] c/V; 10 seg; other ph: Ronn Schmidt, Sam Raimi, a.o.; for Playboy Video Enterprises

1992

Animal Instincts [A. Gregory Hippolyte (= Gregory H. Brown)] c/V

1992

Stepmonster [Jeremy Stanford] c; 2uc: Jack Anderson & Chris Mosio

1992

Night Rhythms [A. Gregory Hippolyte (= Gregory H. Brown)] c/V

1992

Amityville: A New Generation/Amityville 1993: The Image of Evil [John Murlowski] c/V

1993

Mirror Images II [Gregory Hippolyte (= Gregory H. Brown)] c/V

1993

Stranger by Night/Justice Under Fire [Gregory H. Brown] b&w-c; 2uc: Phedon Papamichael; addph: Paul Hughen

1993

Animal Instinct II [Gregory Hippolyte (= Gregory H. Brown)] c/V

1994

Object of Obsession [Gregory H. Brown] c

1994

Secret Games 3 [Gregory Hippolyte (= Gregory H. Brown)] c

1994

The Last Laugh [Robert Harders] c; short/13m

1995

The Granny [: A Blood Relative]/The Matriarch [Luca Bercovici] c/V; addph: Moshe Levin

1996

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery [Jay Roach] s35/c; addph; ph: Peter Deming

1997

Mouse Hunt [Gore Verbinski] c; uncred add 2uc (+ cred co-c.op); ph: Phedon Papamichael

1997

A Kid in Aladdin's Palace [Robert Levy] c/V

1997

Dennis the Menace Strikes Again [Charles Kanganis] c/V; 2uc; ph: Christopher Faloona

1998

The Hi-Line [Ron Judkins] c

1998

Stuart Little [Rob Minkoff] c; ph New York unit; ph: Guillermo Navarro

1999

The Million Dollar Hotel [Wim Wenders] p/c; addph; ph: Phedon Papamichael

1999

Rustin [Rick Johnson] c; addph: Christopher Duskin

1999

Memento [Christopher Nolan] p/b&w-c; 2uc: Joaquin Sedillo

2000

Scotland, Pa. [Billy Morrissette] c

2001

Insomnia [Christopher Nolan] p/c; uwph: Pete Romano; remake of film (1996, Erik Skjoldbjærg; ph: Erling Thurmann-Andersen)

2001

Laurel Canyon [Lisa Cholodenko] c; 2uc: Lee Ford Parker

2002

The Italian Job [F. Gary Gray] s35/c; 2uc: Josh Bleibtreu; aph: Kurt E. Soderling; remake of film (1969, Peter Collinson; ph: Douglas Slocombe)

2003

Slow Burn [Wayne Beach] c; 2uc: Larry Lynn; title seq ph: Lev Kolobov

2004

Batman Begins [Christopher Nolan] p/c; 2uc: Haris Zambarloukos; addph: Josh Bleibtreu; vfx ph: Peter Talbot

2006

The Prestige [Christopher Nolan] p/c; aph (Colorado): Hans Bjerno

 

[With IMAX camera] with dir Christopher Nolan [right]

"The Dark Knight"

 

2007

The Dark Knight [Christopher Nolan] p+IMAX 65mm-to-p (+ IMAX-70bu & D-Cinema)/c; ph add unit Chicago: Josh Bleibtreu; aph: Hans Bjerno; vfx ph: Tim Angulo & Mark H. Weingartner

 

With Leonardo DiCaprio - "Inception"

Photo by Melissa Moseley

 

2009

Inception [Christopher Nolan] 35mm+65mm+HD (Phantom HD)-to-35mm scope (+ IMAX-70bu & D-Cinema)/c; aph: Hans Bjerno; uwph: Pete Romano; miniature ph: Tim Angulo; vfx ph: Mark H. Weingartner

2010

Marley [Kevin Macdonald] s35+s16+HD (Canon EOS 5D)-to-35mm (+ D-Cinema)/c; mus doc/145m; cph: Alwin Küchler & Mike Eley; addph: Jess Hall, Jean-Luc Perréard & Masanobu Takayanagi; 2uc: Peter Emery; announced in 2008 with Martin Scorsese as dir and in 2009 with dir Jonathan Demme; released in 2012

2010

Moneyball [Bennett Miller (replaced Steven Soderbergh in 2009)] 35mm (+ D-Cinema)/c; aph: Hans Bjerno; replaced ph Adam Kimmel

2011

The Dark Knight Rises/Batman 3 [Christopher Nolan] p+vv+IMAX 65mm-to-35mm scope (+ IMAX-70bu & D-Cinema)/c; aph: Hans Bjerno & Steve Koster

2012

My Valentine [Paul McCartney] s35/b&w; music video/3 versions: 1. with Natalie Portman (3m); 2. with Johnny Depp (3m); 3. combined (3m)

 

 TELEVISION

1987

Tanner '88 [- The Dark Horse]/Tanner: A Political Fable [Robert Altman] 11-part series/dv, 1988; 2uc (+ c.op 'b' cam); ph: Jean Lépine; + small part

1991

A Time for Change [?] health special/60m

1991

Barbara Stanwyck: Fire and Desire [Richard Schickel] doc/60m

1991

Sketch Artist [Phedon Papamichael] tvm

1995

High Stakes in Cyberspace [Robert Marshall] doc/60m; cph: Jeb Bergh; addph: Foster Wiley; ep #1,403 of PBS-tv series 'Frontline'

1997

Rhapsody in Bloom [Craig Saavedra] tvm

1997

Crayola Kids Adventures: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea [Michael Kruzan] tvm/44m/16mm/V; addph: Christian Sebaldt

1998

Breakfast with Einstein [Craig Shapiro] tvm

2000

Sharing the Secret [Katt Shea] tvm

2000

[Nora Roberts'] Sanctuary [Katt Shea] tvm

 

 MISCELLANEOUS

1987

Tanner '88 [- The Dark Horse]/Tanner: A Political Fable [Robert Altman] c.op 'b' cam (+ 2uc); ph: Jean Lépine; see Television

1988

Grim Prairie Tales/Hellbent [Wayne Coe] co-grip (The Four Stories); ph: Janusz Kaminski

1989

After Midnight [Ken & Jim Wheat] electrician; ph: Phedon Papamichael

1989

Streets [Katt Shea Ruben] gaffer 2u (+ pick-ups ph); 2uc: Janusz Kaminski; ph: Phedon Papamichael; see Films

1990

The Perfect Bride [Terrence O'Hara; tvm] add c.op; ph: Christopher Taylor

1992

Wild Palms [various; tv-miniseries] c.op; ph: Phedon Papamichael

1994

Past Tense [Graeme Clifford; tvm] co-c.op; ph: Charles Minsky

1994

Unstrung Heroes [Diane Keaton] c.op; ph: Phedon Papamichael

1994

While You Were Sleeping [Jon Turteltaub] c.op; ph: Phedon Papamichael

1994

White Dwarf [Peter Markle; tvm] c.op; ph: Phedon Papamichael

1995

Phenomenon [Jon Turteltaub] c.op; ph: Phedon Papamichael

1996

The Cherokee Kid [Paris Barclay; tvm] c.op; ph: Jack Conroy

1997

Mouse Hunt [Gore Verbinski] c.op (+ add 2uc); ph: Phedon Papamichael; see Films

1998

Instinct [Jon Turteltaub] add c.op; ph: Philippe Rousselot

1998

Glory, Glory [Robert Butler; tvm] c.op; ph: Mark Vargo

1998

V.I.P. [6 ep dir by various] 88-part tv-series, 1998-2002; 1st season, 1998-99 (22 ep); co-c.op; ph: Jack Conroy

1998

Willie Nelson at the Teatro/Willie Nelson's Teatro [Wim Wenders; mus perf] c.op 'b' cam; ph: Phedon Papamichael

1999

Mexico City [Richard Shepard] co-c.op 2u; 2uc: Lars Herrmann & Massimo Zeri; ph: Sarah Cawley

2012

Turbo [David Soren] digital-to-35mm scope (+ D-Cinema [also 3-D version])/c; anim/96m; visual cons

 

 FILMS & INTERNET AS DIRECTOR

2013

Transcendence [feature] ph: Jess Hall

2015

Flaked [ep #1-2 & 7-8] ph: Bryce Fortner; for Netflix (2016)

2016

The Tick [pilot] ph: Bryce Fortner; for Amazon Studios