Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak’s odd pairing for ‘127 Hours’
Usually, two names under a screen credit for cinematography means either the first person was fired or (gulp) died. But for “127 Hours,” about real-life mountain climber Aron Ralston’s grueling experience trapped in a Utah canyon, director Danny Boyle deliberately sought to use two cinematographers simultaneously: his Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” cameraman Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak, who shot Boyle’s “28 Weeks Later.” If one man was filming star James Franco, the other would be shooting a flashback scene or landscape shot, and vice versa.
In a recent chat, Chediak and Mantle (beaming in from Cape Town, South Africa, via Skype) reunited to discuss their parallel collaboration, but only after some good-natured ribbing. (“Shoot from below. That’s his best side,” Mantle called out to a photographer aiming the lens at his colleague, while Chediak, whose luggage was misplaced on his flight to L.A., kept imploring to Mantle’s webcam face, “What did you do with my bags?”)
How did Danny Boyle describe to you why he wanted two cinematographers?
Mantle: He had this idea about two sets of eyes, two cameras, because he was worried about the tension attached to an actor being stuck in a canyon for so long in a physically oppressive state and a psychologically oppressive space. And he was worried about a cameraman, for the same reason, being stuck, and falling into old habits or becoming uniform with ideas.
Chediak: When Danny mentioned Anthony to me, I thought, “You have a relationship with Anthony. I don’t want to do second unit.” I assumed that was the case, because no movie has two main units. But he said, “No, I want to see what comes with this cocktail, this mixture.” It allowed Danny to shoot much more having the two of us, and we shot in seven weeks what would have taken 13 to 14 weeks otherwise. Because Danny is a fair and generous man, it was wonderful.
How much discussion was there about what your techniques would be?
Chediak: We spoke with each other more than we did with Danny in preproduction. Then we went to Danny and presented our ideas to him. Anthony had more knowledge of the cameras, so he passed that knowledge on to me.
Mantle: On “Slumdog,” I had configured these SI-2K digital cameras for an equation of speed, mobility and momentum, so I could move faster in a limited space. On this film, Enrique and I couldn’t even turn around in that canyon. You can’t swing a cat, to quote an English phrase. Film was out of the question, so I got a batch of three [digital] cameras — sophisticated prototypes — to suit different needs for the canyon. One was something we called a fist-cam, which meant I could put the camera very close to the face.
For scenes such as the one where Franco covers himself in a bag?
Chediak: When James is under that bag, I had to have one light in one hand, the camera in the other. You’re looking into this little monitor, trying to keep the bag out of the lens … there was a lot of juggling. I hit his face a few times.
Mantle: I hit him loads of times. He was very patient. But I thought it was odd that I’d traveled thousands of miles to Salt Lake City with this vast expanse of countryside, and here I’m inside a bag in a refrigerated set with a fist camera about a quarter inch from James Franco’s nose, looking up it. I thought, this is probably the smallest set I’ve ever been on in my life.
Were egos ever an issue between you two?
Chediak: We developed a lot of trust with each other. Part of the plan was once we started shooting, we went with our instincts. We never interfered with each other.
Mantle: In the beginning, there was resignation, but as the trust grew, the resignation disappeared.... I’m conditioned, as [Enrique] is, to feeling this is totally my domain with the director. But here you had somebody working parallel to you, as deep into the material as you are … not doing the same thing but his thing. And it was deeply fascinating and inspiring. The film is bigger than both our egos.