“With something like ‘Chicago,’ it’s all carefully choreographed dance sequences,” says cinematographer Dion Beebe in a new podcast with Gold Derby (listen below). “The difference with ‘Into the Wood’ is this is not a dance piece. The lyrics and the music are sort of the dialogue of the movie, and it’s important, integral dialogue. The message of the movie is in the songs.”
Beebe received his first Oscar nomination for director Rob Marshall’s “Chicago” (2002) and his first win for their follow-up “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005). He is a strong possibility for a third nomination with “Into the Woods,” a big-screen adaptation of one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals by Stephen Sondheim. Yet despite having shot three films together, two of them musicals (the other being “Nine”), the team was presented with a unique challenge of making the songs cinematic.
So how do they keep something like that from being static and stagey on screen? Beebe was helped by the same kind of lengthy rehearsal period Marshall has employed on their previous films. He adds, “He has this wonderful process, which is to bring his cast together, bring together all his key players and go through this sort of extensive rehearsal period… (where) he starts to break the whole thing down into gestures and into movements.” The all-star cast includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, and Chris Pine.
He explains that “this process of working together with the cast, breaking it down into all these movements, and understanding the physicality of what the actors are doing allows me to… be able to dissect, to then sort of work on movement of camera, choreography, and then design a lightening and an atmosphere that’s going to support… the message of the movie.”
Right now, Beebe is just outside of our expert’s predicted top 10 for Best Cinematography, yet that may soon change with a key ASC nomination. With three previous mentions from the guild for “Collateral,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” and “Nine” (and a win for “Geisha”), that is certainly a possibility.
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