An Interview with Eduard Grau
Eduard Grau is an acclaimed cinematographer. His credits include, Boy Erased, Suffragette, A Single Man, Buried, Suite Française, Trespass Against Us, Gringo and The Gift. I spoke with Eduard about studying at film school, his work on A Single Man and Suffragette, collaborating with Joel Edgerton on The Gift and Boy Erased, and his most challenging shot to complete.
Did you always think you would go into cinematography? What was your first experience in this line?
I entered ESCAC film school in Barcelona not knowing that I wanted to be a cinematographer, but working as a runner in some shorts I quickly realised that the camera department was the one that was having the most joy. It quickly felt the most creative, enjoyable, and it had a very direct connection with the origin and essence of cinema, the camera.
But at school I also learned producing and I directed a few shorts, because I feel filmmaking is a team effort and it is important to know everyone’s job.
Are there any particular films, or cinematographers who have really inspired your work?
Oh yes, so many. At first I was very influenced by a range of very different directors like Ken Loach, Woody Allen, Carlos Reygadas, Lucrecia Martel, Wong Kar Wai, Andrea Arnold. Then I started learning about some cinematographers that really made me look at cinema with other eyes, people that really inspired me like Harris Savides, Christopher Doyle, Gordon Willis, Rodrigo Prieto, Khondji, and many of the greats... But influences, hopefully, never stop and I am now creatively inspired by people like Natasha Braier, Bradford Young, Robbie Ryan, Diego García, Manuel Alberto Claro, Jessica Lee Gagne or Jody Lee Lipes...
You were cinematographer on A Single Man, which is set in 1960s Los Angeles. What was your approach to shooting the film, and did any films from that era influence your style?
We wanted to make a very subjective film that was shaped with the senses of the character and that had a distinctive look and texture to capture the time. We wanted to tell George´s story in the way he would not only tell it but also feel it. There were a lot of influences, but the onse that stuck the most were the 1960`s covers of LIFE magazine. We looked at Technicolor movies, color photographers, contemporary references, but in the end it was Tom’s movie. He is in every single frame of that movie, he is every character... We put a lot of love into it.
Can you tell me about your experience on Suffragette? What was the most challenging aspect of shooting the film?
Wow, Suffragette was another thrilling ride. It was a great experience where everyone on the crew got along and felt we were doing something that mattered. The biggest challenge was to make it feel not like the classic BBC period film that is very polished and clean. We tried to go the other way, as we felt the Suffragettes deserved a storytelling more according to the way they lived. 16mm gave us not only the look but also the freedom and the attitude.
You collaborated with Joel Edgerton on The Gift, and then again he on Boy Erased. How does the relationship work from the first project to the second?
Joel is a joy to work with and our relationship I feel has grown from The Gift to Boy Erased. It is more mature, more focused but also still fun and creative. Our confidence with each other can be felt in the way we work together and we both feel we pedal in the same direction, trying to challenge each other. We are a team and he makes me better... I hope he feels the same about me!
You like to mix film and digital, and different kinds of film: 35mm outside in Boy Erased, Alexa indoors. What are the difficulties of this, and can you tell me about your thought process?
Well I try to choose what is best for the project and sometimes it is one thing and sometimes is another, and sometimes it is a mix. In Suffragette we liked the look of 16mm, but the night scenes on film weren´t working for us, so we mixed it with Alexa. On Boy Erased, we liked the feeling of the 35mm (especially for exteriors daytime) but it was too costly for the whole movie so we mixed so we could shoot more stuff with the group scenes. Other movies have been all on film (A Single Man, Buried, Suite Française, Trespass Against Us) or digital (Gringo, The Gift, The Way Back, Passing) as you need to try to choose what is best for each movie.
The lighting in Boy Erased appears very simple and natural, but the effect is always very deliberate and clean. What challenges did you and your gaffer face in designing and achieving this look?
We tried to have a movie that was toned down, not with a clean obvious source, to create a more internal mood that felt closer to the introspectiveness of the character. I learnt on that movie to set a light, diffuse it and then put a flag in front of it to kill the most intense part of the source, so what gets to the character had not that much intensity or direction. I liked this technique for the way it looks, but also felt was in tune with our character, trying to escape from the drawn path.
Can you think of a shot throughout your career that was particularly challenging to complete?
(Laughing) Usually the hardest to complete don’t make it to the end movie. Shooting the flashback scene of A Single Man, running after a crying Colin Firth under the heavy rain to find Julianne Moore opening the door and also crying was hard, especially when the viewfinder steamed up and I couldn’t see them properly and I had to operate on pure instinct.