‘The Revenant’ cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki on finding the perfect light (Podcast)

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is poised to make Oscar history, with a record third consecutive win. He is heavily favored to prevail yet again for his lensing of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s epic adventure “The Revenant.” Chivo, as he is know to many, won Best Cinematography last year for his work on Inarritu’s Best Picture champ “Birdman” and in 2013 for “Gravity.” Those twin victories came after five losses — “A Little Princess” (1995), “Sleepy Hollow” (1999), “The New World” (2005), “Children of Men” (2006) and “The Tree of Life” (2011).

In our recent conversation (listen below), he speaks passionately about reuniting with Inarritu, his friend since film school, and the arduous conditions under which they filmed. 

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“The funny thing is that we started ‘Revenant’ before ‘Birdman,’” he reveals. “We wanted to start in the fall and then shoot into the winter. What happened was that it was already too late to prepare the movie and shoot that year, so the movie fell apart.”

He recalls that Inarritu then sent him the “Birdman” script, which was totally different in style and tone. “I was so excited to do a movie in the wild, to do a movie in the outdoors. It’s like an adventure movie, something I’ve never done before. So when I received, ‘Birdman,’ I was shocked.” However, he says the director was able to convince him to collaborate on that film. Once it was finished, “he called back and said, ‘There’s a chance that ‘Revenant’ could come back. Can we do it?’ So we started almost immediately.”

The Revenant” was shot using only natural lighting, often during a small window during the day referred to as the magic hour. However, Lubezki clarifies that this was not the only time that filming took place. “What happens is that it sometimes does look like magic hour, because it’s so late, it’s so dark.”

As he explains, “When you’re shooting in the winter, in the Northern latitude, the sun is traveling very low, and in the locations where we were shooting, many hours a day the sun is behind mountains because we’re surrounded by the Rockies. There’s no chance that the sun can shine in those places, so it does look like magic hour, but it’s not.”

Listen to our full interview below to learn how he achieved those infinitely complicated long takes and of the importance of dramatic lighting in storytelling.

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“The Revenant” photo credit: Fox

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