Conrad L. Hall: Cinematographer Extraordinaire
(In his own words)
We live in the era where the director is generally lionized as the superstar of the cinematic event. So much so that we sometimes forget the contributions of that most vital individual of a film’s creative team, the cinematographer. It is one of those invisible jobs behind the camera that too often goes unnoticed unless it’s done badly. So here at Cinema Station from time to time we will be looking at the work of some extra ordinary cinematographers, acknowledging their excellence and investigating their process.
Our first cinematographer is Conrad L. Hall (1926 – 2003) winner of three Academy Awards for cinematography and generally viewed as one of the ten most influential cinematographers in the history of the medium. In his career he shot more than thirty films and scores of television films as well as commercials. His best known titles include: Harper (1966), The Professionals (1966), Cool Hand Luke (1967), In Cold Blood (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969),Day of the Locust (1975), Marathon Man (1976), Tequila Sunrise (1988), American Beauty (1999) and Road to Perdition (2002). His Academy Awards were for Butch Cassidy etc, American Beauty and Road to Perdition. Among the films he shot of his favorite films were; Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993), Fat City (1972) and Electra Glide in Blue (1973).
Conrad L. Hall was the son of writer James Norman Hall co author of the Bounty trilogy of novels that includes: Mutiny on the Bounty (1932), Men Against the Sea (1934) and Pitcairn’s Island (1943).He was born in Papeete, Tahiti in French Polynesia, was educated at USC and began his career around 1949 in TV and working on documentaries. His third Academy Award was accepted posthumously by his son Conrad W. Hall who is a cinematographer like his father.
The following are some quotes by Mr. Hall on his profession.
– Early on I found that telling stories with words was not my cup of tea. …I discovered that there is great power in telling stories through pictures.
– I don’t have any mental checklist of things to look for) when lighting a scene, but I do have a frame. And in that frame is a subject to deal with involving the story.
– In really good photography you light just a few things…whatever is important and that’s it.
– I don’t have any vision about any film I shoot. That’s the director’s bailiwick. My job is to create his or her vision.
– The visual language is an undulation language. Like music it has to have its peaks and valleys. Those rhythms are really important.
– Beauty comes from contrast. I love contrast, either the lack of it or the abundance of it.
– I’ve generally found that reality should not be involved in the creative process. You should know the reality, but then go ahead and use whatever dramatic storytelling is necessary to best represent it.
– I love to work with symbolism because it’s very strong visually.
– Happy accidents are occurring all the time. I practically live by them. As a cinematographer you have to be well versed in your craft and aware of what your story is in order to make use of them.
– I read the script and get to know it very, very well. And then I listen to the director talking to the actors. When they rehearse I watch what is going on very carefully, and from that I get ideas about mood and light. Then I create the kind of mood I feel the scene deserves.
– I like actors. The more talented they are, the better I like them.
– I keep my crew motivated by including them in the creative process.
– I’m an old man but I’ve got the energy and spirit of a student. I like hands- on approach to photography.
– Filmmaking is about finding things out, it’s about examining, it’s about discovering. You should approach your work the same way that a child discovers new aspects of the world.
– I keep learning by going to the edge of my knowledge of cinema and trying something different and new.
There’s not much more that one can say about Conrad L. Hall. His words and his works speak eloquently for themselves.