Master Class with Chris Doyle in Istanbul: "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For..."
Chris Doyle, one of the guests of the 23rd Istanbul International Film Festival, gave a master class on cinematography. It was a real opportunity to hear this talented artist talking about his work and to ask him questions. People were charmed and fascinated by the liveliness, expressiveness and humor of Chris Doyle, who was behind the cameras in “Last Life in the Universe” which was also screened at this year’s festival. For more than two hours, he spoke about his technique, his own personal outlook on cinema, and his collaboration with directors such as Wong Kar-wai, Zhang Yimou, Philip Noyce.
Chris Doyle, who made his name with his work for Wong Kar-wei, is a creative master of the image, who can travel beyond the standard by finding the appropriate images for the context of each film. “In the Mood for Love”, “Hero”, “Quite American”, “Rabbit-Proof Fence”, and the “Psycho” remake are just a few examples of his work as a director of photography.
In Istanbul, he started his master class with a “compilation” of his work along with U2’s famous song “Still haven’t found what I’m looking for…” These lyrics actually were part of his answer to the question “What is your best movie?”, and he pointed out that not being completely satisfied with your work keeps you searching for new directions and dimensions: “My best film is my next film!”
The “compilations” as he described them are kind of “mood pieces” that gave us a “platform” to discuss certain ideas. Doyle also presented fragments of the film “Happy Together” and emphasized: “My work as a cinematographer is to take an idea and make it into an image; to grasp the idea and transform it. If every scene of a film can achieve this, then it’s successful.”
How does one make the work one’s own rather than just a job and how to make more personal kinds of films not just another TV series or Hollywood remake? His answer was simple yet complicated: “I suggest that everyone should try and find their own personal voice. Take a risk, do not follow Hollywood’s conventional filmmaking which repeats the clichés. And trust, life, personality are more relevant than technical knowledge.”
For him all art aspires to jazz: “All of those involved begin and end together but they figure out the middle part on the way, just like in jazz. We have to find the ‘music’. Musical themes like repetition, timing, rhythm, the solos that each artist has. These are basic to the kind of films I make, such as ‘Happy Together’, ‘In the Mood for Love’ and the others”.
The famous cinematographer continued with how to “find the film” and talked about the process rather than a plan: “In the way of work everything becomes clear. If you get just one wonderful well defined moment that might be enough to work towards a complete work. Sometimes you find the character on location, sometimes the location itself is the character. In ‘Last life in the Universe’, the house is that ‘character’. Sometimes you just find something, and that’s it! Many films are created from a mistake or from something unexpected, a surprise.”
Doyle has indeed brought unexpected, surprisingly fresh and creative perspectives to the cinema. He said he makes films simply because he desires to communicate with others, and once again mentioned how ‘late’ he started filmmaking: “I was 30 years old when I first held an 8mm camera and it was by chance.”
We hope, he will keep communicating with us and singing “still haven’t found what I’m looking for…”
© FIPRESCI 2004