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Road to Oscars. The Cinematography of "News of the World"

Let's continue our series while we wait for the magical Night of the Academy Awards.

Today we're talking about News of the World.

News of the World is a 2020 Western drama film about Civil War veteran and newsreader Captain Kidd on his way to return young Johanna to her surviving family. Since the characters move from place to place, one could consider this as a road movie.

Director Paul Greengrass and DoP Dariusz Wolski team up to give us one the few Western movies without a single bar scene.

Wolski started his career working on BBC documentaries and he loved Westerns since he was a kid in Poland. To prepare for the making of the movie, took inspiration from:

- The Searchers by John Ford

- The Gospel According to St. Matthew by Pier Paolo Pasolini (and shot by Tonino Delli Colli)

- The Assassination of Jesse James by Andrew Dominik and DoP Roger Deakins

Wolski is a huge admirer of Deakins' work and relied on his cinematography to see how he approached to Westerns.

The important thing for this film was to find a good balance between a stylish finish and to be faithful to that period but still contemporary.

Imitating Pasolini's style, Wolski wanted to shoot basically the entire movie using a handheld camera inserting static shots with a high-quality composition. Since then-films were shot with a limited budget, Wolski did not want to use expensive equipment, such as cranes.

News of the World, too was not a big production, so the crew decided to use one of the sets three times in different ways. They didn't have expensive equipment, for example a pickup truck was used to do all the tracking shots. They tried to use as much natural light as possible. And all this in just 52 days of shooting. Quite challenging.

Wolski says his motto is: "First roll and then think how you are going to use it".

The film was shot during the last months of the year, that helped a lot when it came to capture low light. Plus, the days being short allowed them to shoot both at dawn and at sunset.

Dariusz Wolski
Dariusz Wolski

Wolski had the chance to play around with colours a little bit, when it came to distinguish sunrise from dusk, due to the fact that our protagonists are often seen travelling.

It was not all fun and games, though. Actress Zengel was 10 at the time of the shooting and this becomes tricky when shooting night scenes.

Being underaged, she had a cutoff time, by 10 pm she should have been off set. Wolski and his crew had to prepare the whole scene very fast to have some spare time to work with Zengel.

This fast-shooting strategy came in handy when dealing with changing wheater. DoP much rather do everything fast leaving the wheater just as it is than waste a lot of time trying to control it.

And since we just mentioned how relevant time was, you can imagine how important it was not having to reshoot over and over again.

This also applies to the scenes where Kidd reads the news from town to town. Instead of having the main character repeat his lines one too many times, Wolski preferred to use multiple cameras.

As per the movie style, he felt the documentary-like was the right one, with a few key features: a great eye for compostition, attention to body language and a master use of lighting.

A very tough scene to film was the shootout between Kidd and the robbers.

Filming had already began and the location was not defined yet. Since there were so many difficulties, they decided to split the scene in two parts, locationwise: one would have been the chase and the other the horsewagon part.

The whole process took five days to film and not in an easy way: the crew had to climb all the time while using handheld cameras or Steadicam and going higher there was basically no room for them.

Suprisingly, that was not the trickiest sequence to film. The two most difficult scenes were:

- the one where Kiowas pass by Johanna in the pouring rain

- the one involving the sandstorm

For the first one, the visual effects team had to create a blue screen-canyon (by which Wolski was pretty amazed) and for the latter.. well.. it's a fricking sandstorm.

Wolski is such a perfectionist, he doesn’t really like to talk about his work. He’d rather let the images speak for themselves. And his work, in this case, is challenging because when you make a Western movie, you have to be careful not to make it look like the other thousands already made. How to avoid this? By adding a touch of a contemporary look.

Talented actor Tom Hanks plays Captain Kidd
Talented actor Tom Hanks plays Captain Kidd

Since Wolski wanted to be as authentic as possible, he decided to lit the homesteads (interior and exterior) with hurrican gas lamps but distributor Universal Pictures did not agree for health and safety reasons. For this reason, some of them had to be electric.

There really is a great attention to details in this movie, epecially (but not limited to) the period accuracy.

This also mean to not caricature Native American. We are kind of used to hear them speak in a forced English accent, which is most definetely not flattering for them. In this movie, they are "overshadowed key characters". They don't speak at all, we barely see their faces, they don't quite interact with other people in the film. Let's say it, News of the World is very respectful of them.

Well, that's it for today. Stay tuned for the next movie: Nomadland.

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