In the headline of their October 12, 2012 obituary for Harris Savides, the New York Times went beyond a technical description of the late cinematographer. They opted for "Visual Poet," a description that spans Savides' career of fashion photography, music videos, and feature films. Over a 30-year career, Savides shot for David Fincher, Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach, Gus Van Sant, James Grey, Ridley Scott, and Mark Romanek, who recruited the photographer for Michael Jackson's "Scream" and Madonna's "Rain" videos.
Savides' final work can currently be seen in "The Bling Ring," directed by Sofia Coppola (read our review here), with whom he previously collaborated on "Somewhere." During the making of the film, the cinematographer became sick, forcing him to take a leave of absence from the shoot. Knowing the visual identity had been concretely established, Savides put "Bling Ring" in the hands of his longtime camera operator Christopher Blauvelt (who has shot is own handful of films including "Meek's Cutoff," "Nobody Walks," and the upcoming cinematic diptych "Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby"). Thanks
Below, I spoke to Blauvelt about the inspirations for "The Bling Ring," working side-by-side with Savides for many years, and carrying his collaborator's torch in both Coppola's film and in his future work. You will also find a conversation with Coppola on what Savides brought to the film and the shots he designed.
Matt Patches: What were the visual cues you were presented with by Sofia? Were there graphic design, cinematic, or materialistic inspirations that Harris had considered?
Christopher Blauvelt: Sofia had a lot of visual references that we pulled from. Her and Harris had already thought about this project well before I came on board but I was able to bring in some of my own as well. We referenced a lot of contemporary photo books of kids of this age with their parties, outfits and behavior. We watched movies like "Foxes" (1980) for the camaraderie of the bunch as well as "Over the Edge" (1979) for the kids running around without care of consequence. It was also good to keep some of the older films that we appreciated in mind when we knew we were making a very contemporary story. And when it comes to understanding the fashion of today, there's no one better than Sofia.
Having worked with Harris many times, how easy was it for you to take on DP duties for "Bling Ring" after he passed away? What were the challenges of matching his cinematography?
CB: Harris was still alive while we were making this film, but he was having to deal with some medical issues so he asked me to come on board to protect Sofia and the film alike. Harris was aware of this situation early on even before prep. He and Sofia are great friends and had been talking about this film for quite a while. So when I came into the picture there was already a good idea of the aesthetic. Harris and our D.I.T. [Digital Imaging Technician] Jeff Flohr had been working on digital looks for the past few years and it was time to see if these would work on a film. We went right into testing these ideas to see what would be the look of the "Bling Ring." And through a lot of trial and error we found it.
Why do you think the two of you were on the same page creatively? Did you see shooting a movie — stylistically, philosophically — in the same way?
CB: I was always on the same page with Harris because the philosophy has always been that every project deserves its own look. So with ultimate respect for the script, the genre, and the ideas that Sofia had for it, we would research and test as much as possible to get the look of our film. We would always find a way to tailor make the look of every film so I have been a part of this process with Harris on many films.
How did "Bling Ring" vary from your own and Harris' previous work? Did he have a consistent mantra for solving cinematographical problems?
CB: We wanted to stay very limber and keep the camera handheld as much as possible to make it feel more in the moments and minimize the need for cutting. This was to keep things feeling more authentic and living in reality. We were always choreographing the scenes to make them happen in one take if we could, and we wanted to keep the lighting in the same vein.
Where do you see Harris' influence in your own work and on all of cinematography?
CB: Harris has influenced cinematography in a way that very few have, he was one of the best people ever to do what he did and a beautiful human being. I personally have him in my heart for everything I do and hear his voice when I’m not challenging myself.
He always said you got to be a little bit scared or you're just phoning it in. That was Harris and that's why he always got the most unique looks in films. I will miss him dearly.