OSRAM interview with the world famous cinematographer Michael Ballhaus

Michael Ballhaus welcomes the British costume designer Sandy Powell.
14.02.2013
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OSRAM-Interview with the world famous cinematographer Michael Ballhaus

OSRAM provides the HMI lamp that is used in every second movie and is even twice (technical) Oscar winner. It was only natural, to invite the Oscar-nominated cinematographer Michael Ballhaus for a conversation and to support the special exhibition at the Munich Kinemathek about the Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, with whom Ballhaus devoloped a total of seven films.

In an interview with the curator of the special exhibition Nils Warnecke Ballhaus insights into the mutual cooperation.

How was it to work with a director who himself is a major movie-goer, and who gets a lot of his inspiration from other films?

Ballhaus: It was always really wonderful with him, and in fact he sees films as other people see eating and drinking. Martin Scorsese is a major fan of Hitchcock, and I knew all the Hitchcock films as well, and there was a particular setting in Hitchcock's 'Marnie' that was the model for the first film we did together, called 'After Hours' from 1985.

Watching films together then is part of the preparation?

Ballhaus: Well yes, that was a really central part of getting things going. There were also films of course that for me personally were very important, for example 'Lola Montez'. That was really the point in my life where I thought I'd like to become a cameraman. As a young man I had the chance to watch the camera work of the film from the sidelines of the Bavaria Film Studios, and I also photographed a lot and grew up in the theatre belonging to my parents. It was this connection between photography and theatre that you have as a cameraman that was ideal for me really.

You've directed a lot of films with Scorsese. What stayed the same with the teamwork?

Ballhaus: What remained the same was this high level of mutual understanding -  I understood him and his vision and I also knew how I could transfer his typical style into images. It wasn't just about the size but also the focal distance, light and the other factors. We discussed all of that together and we also had a lot of fun watching some really wonderful old films. Of course I knew most of the films. But to see them again with him and to get things pointed out to me, well, that was simply fabulous. This form of preparation was really something special.

And you had the feeling that he gave you some flexibility? He wasn't constantly looking through the lens?

Ballhaus: Major corrections didn't happen very often, and he normally never tried to determine things himself, he never said for example "why not make it a bit darker or a touch lighter". No, I never heard anything like that from him.

How is it working together with different actors during filming?

Ballhaus: Well, you have to adjust yourself to their individual styles. Robert de Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio for example, who were often seen in films together: De Niro is somebody who plays every take differently. As cameraman you have to adjust yourself again each time to what he does, but Leonardo on the other hand is very precise. When in a scene he stood in the dark and said his words, I said "You know what Leo, if you just move a step forward when your text comes then you get into the light and it has a com-pletely different effect." He does that really precisely, and with a pretty good feeling for timing as well.

Mr Ballhaus, many thanks indeed for the talk.

OSRAM expresses its gratitude to the Deutsche Kinemathek for making available the content of the interview.

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