Hot on the heels of the controversy surrounding Wally Pfister’s smackdown of THE AVENGERS (“an appalling film”) comes the news that Tim Burton’s biggest fan and ladies man-child Johnny Depp is to star in the eagerly anticipated Wally Pfister directorial debut, now titled TRANSCENDENCE. Good PR timing, right?
The film’s affected title—if you consider the fact its being produced by the skillfully bombastic Christopher Nolan—is hardly surprising. No further details are available other than Wally’s admittance that “it’s a present-day science fiction film, a fairly big concept. It’s bigger budget—not as big as ‘Batman’, but not independent”.
The script was penned by a Jack Paglen whose other credits amount to two “Special Thanks” on IMDb. TRANSCENDENCE will be produced by Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas with financing by Alcon Entertainment. Warner Bros. will be distributing.
Now, the big question: will the cinematographer of INCEPTION and THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy serve as both the director *and* cinematographer on TRANSCENDENCE?
Let’s consider this question more carefully:
1) The altruism among great filmmakers is the separation between a director and cinematographer. Examples of great collaborations between directors and cinematographers include Bernard Bertolucci and Vittorio Storaro, and Francis Ford Coppola and Gordon Willis. But there have been precedents wherein the director has also served as his own cinematographer: Steven Sodebergh still shoots under the pseudoymn Peter Andrews; Stanley Kubrick was known to light and operate camera on most of his films, hiring cinematographers to essentially savor the catering; and, love or hate him, Peter Hyams still directs and photographs all his films with relative success.
2) Famous cinematographers-turned-directors include Barry Sonnenfeld (MEN IN BLACK) who began his career lensing the Coen Brothers early films (BLOOD SIMPLE, MILLER’S CROSSING). This was before his brief stint as the cinematographer of porn films! Then there’s the British auteur Nicolas Roeg (WALKABOUT) who successfully transitioned into a director and an icon of 60s and 70s cinema. But for every success story, there are twice as many disasters of cinematographers becoming directors: Gordon Willis (GODFATHER) publicly regretted directing WINDOWS, his first and only directorial effort, and he actually glad that said film is not available to viewers. There’s also Janusz Kaminiski (SCHINDLER’S LIST) whose foray into directing with the horror film LOST SOULS starring Wionna Ryder is best forgotten. (Kaminski hasn’t given up though: in between lensing films for friend Steven Spielberg, he occasionally directs smaller films.) For LOST SOULS, Janusz Kaminski hired fellow AFI graduate Mauro Fiore who went to win an Oscar for AVATAR.
What will Wally Pfister do? Pull a Soderbergh/Peter Andrews or hire a cinematographer? And if the latter, who?