Cinematographer Edward Lachman Faces A New Digital Dilemma While Shooting “Carol”

By J. Sperling Reich | May 17, 2015 12:35 pm PDT
Edward Lachman Shooting "Carol"

There is little debate whether digital technologies have caused a certain amount of chaos in the cinema exhibition business over the past 15 years. As the world’s movie theatres converted to digital projection, both exhibitors and distributors underwent a significant learning curve to become acquainted with the new equipment and practices of the trade, to such a point that there are few veteran personnel left who have a working memory of handling and projecting 35mm.

Naturally, the production side of the industry has also been going through its own transitional pains with digital tools and workflows, as Cinematographer Edward Lachman pointed out at the Cannes Film Festival earlier today.

If you’ve been to either NAB or IBC over the last five years, you surely noticed that there are few, if any, companies manufacturing analog production equipment of any kind, especially cameras. Yet, you can still rent film cameras and buy motion picture film stock in various gauges, as Lachman himself was able to do when shooting Todd Haynes‘ latest film “Carol“, screening in-competition at this year’s festival.

The film, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, is set in New York City during 1952 and focuses on the evolving relationship between Therese, a young department store clerk played by actress Rooney Mara, and the older, presently married Carol Aird, played by Cate Blanchett. In an age when there was a stigma against homosexual relationships, the two women must repress their intimate feelings for one another.

Haynes explored these same themes in his 2002 film “Far From Heaven“, which was also set in the 1950s and shot by Lachman. The movie, praised for its lush production design, costumes and especially its cinematography, was an homage to director Douglas Sirk.

Cate Blanchett in Carol
Cate Blanchett plays the title character in “Carol”

On “Carol” Haynes and Lachman once again purposely decided to shoot using a medium indicative of the time period their story takes place. “The choice that we still work in film and we chose to shoot Super 16, it wasn’t just on a budgetary level, but we reference the grain structure and the way film looks and feels,” explained Lachman. “It has an emotional quality to it that you can’t get digitally.”

The award winning cinematographer also discovered another obstacle associated to the industry’s switchover to digital technology; while he can still rent a film camera, purchase film stock and even find a lab to process footage, the number of crew members capable of working with the analog format have dwindled. “It was hard to find a loader,” Lachman said. “That’s a position on a film crew for people coming up and learning their craft. It’s very hard to find someone that can load film magazines because now they’re in the digital world.”

Rooney Mara in "Carol"
Rooney Mara plays Therese in “Carol”

This observation mirrors those from cinema operators who report not being able to find a projectionist capable of building a film platter or threading a projector. Surely Lachman’s struggle should not come as a revaluation to anyone working in the film industry, whether in production, distribution or exhibition. Still it is another reminder how the adoption of new technologies force entire skillets to become extinct, no matter the trade. No doubt, when word processors and computers became the norm for most office workers, more than a few electric typewriters were relegated to the junk heap after those who knew how to change their ribbons had retired.

J. Sperling Reich