An Artier Hollywood: Christopher Nolan picks Hoyte van Hoytema as cinematographer for INTERSTELLAR

Hoyte Van Hoytema

Director Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister’s creative collaboration began with Nolan’s second and best film  MEMENTO (2000). Nolan had shot his debut feature FOLLOWING (1998) himself, so he had never worked with a cinematographer until he hired Wally based on a screening at Slamdance. Following a legendary and long partnership, they parted ways when Wally decided to quit as director of photography after THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012) and become a feature film director with TRANSCENDENCE starring Johnny Depp. This was done with Christopher Nolan’s blessing (he is after all producing Wally’s directorial debut), but it left the Hollywood auteur in a precarious situation: who will replace his old friend and beloved cinematographer?

Well, Nolan seems to have found his man in Dutch cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema whose credits include LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), THE FIGHTER (2010), TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011) and Spike Jonze’s upcoming HER (2013).

Let the Right One In

Secret member of the Fight Club in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008); directed by Tomas Alfredson, cinematography by Hotye van Hoytema

Hoyte van Hoytema belongs to a new breed of cinematographers whose reputation emerges from a small but very distinctive body of work. Hoyte’s style—precise framing, immaculate use of contrast and expressionist lighting—has finally found favor outside Europe. Born to Dutch parents in Switzerland and raised in Holland, he studied cinematography at the Polish National Film School in Lodz. 

The Fighter

Christian Bale enjoying more than just a smoke in THE FIGHTER (2010); directed by David O. Russell, cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema

Hoyte van Hoytema’s first foray in American filmmaking came with audacious David O. Russell’s THE FIGHTER in which Hoyte combined an unusual blend of 2-perf 35mm film and BetaCam SP (remember that?) to capture the gritty suburbia and fight sequences; zoom lenses on Steadicam shooting wide-open (bless those focus pullers!); and large, single lights sources motivated from windows or practicals. After the Oscar wins and box office success, THE FIGHTER single-handedly established Hoyte’s “Hollywood credentials”.

Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy

The best office meeting ever in TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2012); directed by Tomas Alfredson, cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema

Hoyte’s next film TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY reunited him with director Tomas Alfredson. Even if this brainy spy film did not set box office cash registers ringing, it left a very deep impression upon critics, cinephiles and one Christopher Nolan, who has mentioned TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY as one of his favorites. I suspect the look of the film had something to do with it as well…

Christopher Nolan on set

Christopher Nolan writing his new screenplay, searching for meaning and truth

Christopher Nolan, by nature, is a very calculating director. Let’s indulge in a little speculative reasoning, shall we? Nolan picked Hoyte van Hoytema as the cinematographer for INTERSTELLAR for many reasons:

  1. Hoyte is an technically astute director of photography whose impeccable craftsmanship is balanced by his intuitive approach to cinematography and his ‘experimental’ streak.
  2. There’s the little matter of taste as well—Hoyte has been very picky with his directors and screenplays; you can see a qualitative increase in his choices from Alfredson’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN to Spike Jonze’s HER.
  3. And, of course, like Wally Pfister before him, Hoyte strongly prefers film over digital, a photographic sensibility Nolan continues to champion.

Speaking of that last point, it is no secret that Christopher Nolan intends to shoot a majority of INTERSTELLAR on large format IMAX cameras to get the highest resolution currently possible and the organic texture that only film can provide. Hoyte clearly fits into Nolan’s grand schemes and, on paper at least, is the perfect match to his personal sensibilities (brainy, calculating, epic).

INTERSTELLAR hits cinemas worldwide on November 7, 2014. It stars Matthew McConaughey and will depict “a heroic interstellar voyage to the furthest reaches of our scientific understanding.” The story is said to be based on scientific theories developed by a Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist, a gravitational physicist and astrophysicist at Caltech.

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