You may not know his name, but it’s very likely that Stephen Goldblatt has been involved in one of your favorite movies. He’s been director of photography for over 30 years and has been involved in so many big Hollywood productions. He’s worked with many of the greats including Mike Nichols, Francis Ford Coppola, Tony Scott and Barbara Streisand, as well as many of Hollywood’s most recognized actors, including Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Natalie Portman, Mel Gibson and Bette Midler, among others. The people of Guanajuato are fortunate that today this man has settled in San Miguel de Allende. Sarah Hoch, Director of the Guanajuato International Film Festival, tells us that when he first arrived to San Miguel Allende, the cinematographer spoke to a bartender about who he was and it was there that he found out that there was a film festival and he put him in touch with Sarah Hoch so he could offer this Master Class.
Moderadet by Daniel Kandell, this conference had a very unique structure. After speaking briefly about his career as a still photographer for Life MAgazine and his brief time at the School of Photography (which only taught him never to go to Photography School), Stephen showed clips from several of his movies (which he chose) and after every clip he would talk specifically about it and took a few questions from the audience. The films included Batman Forever, Close
r, Lethal Weapon 2, The Help and the one he claims to be his favorite Angels in America.
Throughout the conference, Goldblatt spoke of what the role of the photographer is and the importance of having a solid relationship with your director. Typically a cinematographer does more movies a year than a director does (because the latter is involved in the whole production, the former only during shooting), which is why the cinematographer tends to have more experience to offer the director.Goldblatt has a lot of respect for every element of filmmaking and he says that he makes his decision depending on what the story requires, highlighting important moments (like a 360-pan while introducing the world of Skeeter in The Help), as well as the possibilities that come with bigger budgets.
Many in the audience asked his opinion about shooting in digital. Goldblatt finds digital technology fascinating, but politically it creates problems on the set because it takes a certain authority away from the cinematographer and he now has to share it with the visual effects people and other technicians (this is why he prefers to shoot on film and in lower budget films without visual effects) and because digital is so flexible, it allows for less experienced people to get involved with the decisions taken on the set. He says the transition was easy because shooting in digital is easier, but handling the relationships on the set has become a problem.
He also spoke of the responsibility of the cinematographer towards the actors, particularly their image, since some people have been fired because the actor doesn’t like the image that’s being created. Goldblatt is very interested in blocking, telling the actors where to move and how to avoid giving away all the tricks of the camera, for example, making Meryl Streep look taller in Julie & Julia and helping Octavia Spencer not to look down to the light. In every clip he showed he made the audience notice his use of light, including a scene in For the Boys where he had to build 150 lamps in a special color he needed to get the look he wanted (he said it was a scary scene to shoot as it was pitch dark).
Stephen Goldblatt, a man with absolute respect for every aspect of filmmaking and a great clarity towards the decisions he’s made in his career. When he decides where to put the camera, he says it’s based on instinct along with the mistakes he’s made in the past, which is why he’s constantly experimenting and observing the work of his colleagues with great admiration, including Mexican Emmanuel Lubezki… who owes him $15 for a drink he bought him at the Academy Awards in 1996.