German cinematographer Florian Hofmeister created what he describes as an “authentic, intimate observation” and gave Cate Blanchett “editorial power” in lensing a defining moment in Todd Field’s contemporary drama. TarIt stars Blanchett as fictional composer, conductor and EGOT winner Lydia Tarr.
Focus Features’ film follows the maestro downward, and Hofmeister’s cinematography — in competition at the EnergaCamerimage cinematography festival in Torun, Poland, Nov. 12-19 — employs a visual style that’s a lot about restraint. Hofmeister discusses the film in the new episode The Hollywood Reporterof Behind the scenes Podcast series.
“If you want to create a world that feels immersive enough, the scene has to be authentic,” says DP. “Todd emphasizes the idea of observation. For example, in the large concert hall for all the rehearsals, he was adamant that they should feel like a workspace. We didn’t want to romanticize your first instinct, the music.
A key scene was shot in one long, continuous take as Tarr gives a master class at Juilliard. The drama escalates with a tense exchange with a student, who soon storms out of the classroom. “It’s probably one of the scenes we talked about the most. Todd was adamant from the start that it had to be a single shot, but not for the sake of showing or following someone.
Hofmeister says that when he discussed the scene, he had approximately 35 shots in mind. “The idea is to create a camera movement that follows those 35 setups — you have wides, you have more intimacy with her, you’re following her closely, you have a two-shot. At the piano. We’d go through all the stages of what we thought were appropriate angles.
“With the camera, the idea is that we reach for those different angles to do these individual moments of visual justice, but it’s Kate’s performance that drives it. Basically, you give her editorial control over that sequence.
Filmed in a German theater where most of the film was made, the scene was technically challenging. The filmmakers considered several methods, including the use of a crane, before they built a rig with a fixed camera head for the holds to carry and traverse.
He did a technical rehearsal and a full day with Blanchett before he shot the scene. “I still remember, the first take was absolutely perfect [until the last 15 seconds]”Hoffmeister says. “It’s 10 minutes. You think, ‘Are we really going to be able to pull it off?’ And in the end, we slipped technically. So we had to go again.
“I want to say what a privilege it was to work with Todd and Kate in that particular instance, because they kept going. There’s no one to blame. We committed to it. We went 12 more times to finally get everything right. And then it worked. And, of course, it’s the most It was delightful.
Watching the sequence felt like a dance. “Wherever we wanted the camera to go, people had to carry it by hand. People would pass it from the stage to the auditorium, they would carry it through the seats,” says the DP. “Then you have the focus puller in the socks running after the camera and the boom operator trying not to shoot … this amazing actress. While immersing himself in this show.”
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This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.