Although he is best known as Christopher Nolan’s longtime cinematographer, Wally Pfister hopes to make a name for himself as a director with his upcoming debut “Transcendence.”
The film, written by Jack Paglen, follows Johnny Depp’s Dr. Will Caster, an artificial intelligence researcher who works towards creating a system in which the human subconscience can be uploaded to a computer. Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany and Morgan Freeman also star.
“I really likes the idea, and the script felt really fresh,” Pfister said about why he chose the film to be his first in the director’s chair. “I’ve always been a sci-fi fan, and this seemed like a good fit.”
Pfister, who served as the director of photography for all three of Nolan’s Batman films and won an Oscar for his work on “Inception”, says that though he’s been a director of photography for the majority of his career, he always knew that he wanted to direct.
“It was always in the plans as something I hoped to do down the road,” Pfister said. “I always had it as an idea in the back of my mind, and I just felt the time was right for me to make the transition from one position to the other.”
Pfister says that his relationship with Nolan, whom he worked with for more than a decade on various films, is as strong as it has ever been. The cinematographer attributes this to how well they get along.
“It’s very rare in this industry to find someone who you really work well with and see eye-to-eye with on everything you work on, and I was very lucky to find a person like that in Chris,” Pfister said. “He’s been a great partner and a great friend, and I’ve really enjoyed my time working with him.”
Nolan served as an executive producer on the film.
“When I told him I wanted to direct, he was really supportive,” Pfister says. “He really wanted to help in anyway that he could.”
One way Pfister said Nolan helped was in giving advice to the freshman director.
“His biggest piece of advice really was about the budget. He said it doesn’t matter if you are working with $6 million dollars, $60 million dollars or $106 million dollars. You just want to go out and make the best film you possibly can,” Pfister said.
Another thing Pfister seems to have learned from Nolan is what format to shoot on.
Unlike the majority of filmmakers who shoot their films predominately in a digital format, Pfister refuses to do so, insisting instead on shooting in a 35 or 65 millimeter format.
“I have nothing against digital personally, and I know a lot of people who absolutely love shooting on it, but it’s just not for me,” Pfister said. “I just think you can capture more and things will be crisper and clearer if you shoot on film rather than shooting digitally.”
As a first time director, working with a cast featuring as many big name stars as “Transcendence” does is no easy task. However, Pfister says that his previous experience on the set made him feel rather comfortable.
“There’s a lot of pressure when you get on set with a bunch of talented actors and actresses,” Pfister says, “And I felt that a little bit, but I really think my experience on the set of Chris (Nolan)’s films really made me feel comfortable. I was a bit nervous about getting to work with Johnny, but he’s really great. It was a pleasure and an honor to be able to work with him, let alone work with him on my very first film.”
In certain rings of filmmakers and producers, sci-fi is often looked down upon as a genre. Pfister says he knew that entering the project.
“For some reason, I think a lot of people have preconceived notions about the genre and don’t care for it,” Pfister said. “And I really wanted to make a film that would change their opinion on that.”
How exactly did Pfister plan on doing this? By making a sci-fi film that would require people to think.
“I wanted to make a film that had something to say, that would create and encourage discussion,” Pfister said. “And I honestly think that we managed to do that with this film. There’s a lot being said here about the power technology holds and where it could be taking us, and I think it’s certainly something that’s worth discussing.”
“Transcendence” opens April 18.
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