Since kicking off his career in the 1980s, Emmanuel “El Chivo” Lubezki has become one of the greatest living cinematographers. His work has been recognized in the U.K., Italy, Australia, Germany, and many other corners of the world. With two Academy Awards under his belt, this year, he may score a hat trick with The Revenant – becoming the first person to win three consecutive Oscars.
El Chivo mostly lets his stunning camera movements (or even his amazing Instagram account) do the talking – he rarely grants interviews. But Mexican-based Life and Style managed to get an interview with El Chivo for its February issue, making it his first interview in Mexico in more than 10 years.
There, he discusses everything from how he initially wanted to be a photographer, his reservations about Birdman, and working with Iñárritu. Check out some highlights below, as translated by us.
On why he didn’t become a photographer
I wanted to become a still photographer, and I went to an arts school to see what the courses were like. At that time, it was very politicized, and it was closed for half the year; I didn’t want to waste time…It was complicated to get accepted to the [Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos] and I didn’t think I would. I started studying Mexican history and philosophy, but CUEC ended up accepting me, and five months in, I was already filming on Super 8 and, as they say in Mexico, “me chupó la bruja.” I became a cinematographer without meaning to, and I basically abandoned still photography.
On working with Alejandro González Iñárritu back-to-back
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do Birdman, and I didn’t know if I wanted to do it in one shot – it seemed excessive.
Alejandro was sent the script for The Revenant way before Birdman, and we began talking about that movie. Normally, Alejandro works with the person I believe is the best cinematographer in the world: Rodrigo Prieto. But [Rodrigo] was working on a project with Martin Scorcese, so Alejandro was looking for a cinematographer. We started talking about The Revenant, about the script and how to design the film. We started too late in the year, so there wasn’t enough time to do preproduction and to start filming, which needed to be done in fall and winter, so it fell through.
That’s when the opportunity arose to start filming Birdman immediately. He showed me the script, and I was shocked. A movie shot amidst nature is one thing; shooting one in a studio about show business is another. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do Birdman, and I didn’t know if I wanted to do it in one shot – it seemed excessive – but when you start working with Alejandro, you realize he’s a great artist, friend, teacher, and director and that doing it in one shot was deeply linked with what the movie was trying to convey. I signed on to do it.
On inspiration for The Revenant
There is nothing, that I can remember, that is similar to this movie. The language of this movie is very particular, and it sort of comes from not using other movies as a frame of reference. We didn’t find photos that we could use for reference, so we ended up talking more about the location and a lot about the music.
In two days, we did five days of filming, and I was impressed by [Iñárritu’s] appetite.
On using long takes in The Revenant
We wanted people to be immersed in the movie, and for it to feel very visceral and naturalistic. Long takes allow for people to get inside that Universe – at least for a moment. And that, without realizing it, helps them see the movie in a subjective way, almost as though they are seeing this through the eyes of the character and going from objective to subjective.
On his initial thoughts on Iñárritu
I didn’t know Alejandro well: he was a DJ on the radio, and we thought that he was a little too friendly with conservatives. That discredited him as an artist, at least in our pathetic way of judging people. We saw him as an outsider until one day, when he invited me to do a commercial. The first day, we worked 42 hours nonstop, and the second day, 30 hours. In two days, we did five days of filming, and I was impressed by his appetite, the way he worked with actors, and the quality of work he wanted to create. So I called Alfonso [Cuarón] and said: ‘I just worked with Iñárritu, he’s amazing and will be a great film director.’ Alfonso told me something like: ‘¡Cabrón, es un güey del network!’
Check out Life and Style’s full interview here.