Cinematographer Greig Fraser talks 'Foxcatcher,' 'The Gambler' and NOT 'Star Wars'
I've known Greig Fraser for a few years now and have been positively stoked to see him rise through the ranks and become, truly, one of the great DPs of his generation. He's gone from making a big splash with painterly work in Jane Campion's "Bright Star" to taking on major projects from Matt Reeves ("Let Me In"), Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty") and Bennett Miller ("Foxcatcher"). Oh, and now he's lined up a "Star Wars" movie.
But don't expect any details on that one here. Naturally, I tried, but Fraser is mum on just what Gareth Edwards' standalone feature is after recently being tapped to shoot it, and can you blame him? In the meantime, it's not like there isn't plenty to chew on. He's behind the camera on two completely different films this year — "Foxcatcher" and Rupert Wyatt's remake of "The Gambler" — both with striking looks and, interestingly, shot on very different formats. We get into that, too.
Read through the back and forth below. This one's a long one. A casual chat that digs in here, lays off there. Kick back on a lunch break and check it out. He's a bright one with a lot of great insights into his particular line of work in this business.
"Foxcatcher" hits theaters on Nov. 14. "The Gambler" follows a few weeks later on Dec. 19.
HitFix: Dude, you're all over the place.
Greig Fraser: I'm like a chicken with its head cut off right now.
It sounds like you're doing a lot of cool stuff, though.
I cannot complain. But I can and I will, of course, because that's the nature of humans, to complain. I was just talking to an AC that I'm interviewing for this Australian film and I sat there and I talked to him for like 15 minutes about the London part of the shoot. And he went, "I thought you were shooting in India and Australia." And I went, "Oh, fuck, yeah, yeah, yeah, we are. We're shooting in India and Australia. So transplant the word London to the word India and you'll have the correct conversation."
The news here is that the London shoot you're talking about is Gareth Edwards' undisclosed "Star Wars" movie, which I'll get to. But what are you shooting out in India?
I'm doing a little film called "Lion," which is a film that a director by the name of Garth Davis is directing. Garth did half of the episodes of "Top of the Lake."
He was like an assistant director and I was like a junior schlepper at a production company at the same time. He got a music video here and there and I shot it or I helped him with it or whatever. So back in the days when we were both kind of young and pretty dumb we were each other's go-to guys for work. So he's now doing this film.
And you're doing a "Star Wars" movie!
And then I'm doing a fucking "Star Wars" movie, which is like – I don't know about you but "Star Wars" is like my first film love, do you know what I mean?
For a lot of people, yeah.
Princess Leia was the first woman that I kind of went, "Yeah, she's all right, that one."
Which one is Gareth doing?
Gareth is doing a standalone film. Of course I do know some specifics, but it's obviously something I've signed my kidneys away for.
So you can't even tell me what it is, if it's the Han Solo movie or if it's the Boba Fett movie or what.
No. I can't tell you what it's about. I think I signed my left kidney to Disney and my right kidney to George Lucas. So I'd hate to be talking to you next time when I'm on dialysis.
[Laughs.] Well I liked "Godzilla" quite a bit, actually. So I'm pretty excited you're collaborating with him.
Did you see "Monsters?"
I did, yeah.
That's the thing that made me a fan of Gareth because, you know, filmmaking's hard. Like it's so hard and that guy took a camera down to Mexico and shot, directed — he took an editor and a sound guy and that was it and two actors. And he basically made a film. And he wasn't bound by the handcuffs that most filmmakers are bound by, which is, "We don't have a tank going across the road so we can't shoot that shot." He just went, "Well, there's a truck. I'll just shoot the truck and then turn the truck into a tank." He wasn't bound by the same mental brain space that handcuffs directors into not doing things or doing things when they've got permission. I was really impressed by the size of the guy's cojones because he went out and made a film that was totally anti-establishment and it was good. I hadn't seen "Godzilla" when I took "Star Wars." I haven't seen movies in ages because of the kids but I sat down and I watched it with him and we talked about all the pros and all the cons. And we basically just talked about what we loved about each of the ["Star Wars"] films and what we hated about each of the films.
Does it have a title?
It does have a working title but I don't know if it's up to me to tell you what that is.
Sorry, dude. I'm terrified, man! You know, after "Zero Dark Thirty," I was so terrified that someone was going to trip me up on something or the CIA was gonna, like, knock at my door and go, "You shouldn't have said that."
I hear you. But it's awesome. It was just five years ago that we were sitting at a table in a restaurant talking about "Bright Star." Now you're doing "Star Wars."
Yeah. And the thing is, it's never been my goal to do "big" films because a big film in itself is not very interesting to me. I don't love big films for the sake of big films. It's not been a career drive to get to that point. But it's really exciting purely just because it's such a big part of my childhood. And also, too, dude, if I fuck it up then I fuck up my childhood. So, you know, the pressure's on!
Totally. Well let's dive in with "Foxcatcher." As I told you previously I saw it at Telluride and loved it. What kind of visual ideas did Bennett Miller bring to the table when you first started talking about it? Like were there photographs or anything, any kind of reference points?
He showed me references of, you know, that type of person, that type of family, that type of world. I say "that world," meaning old money — East Coast old money. There's a certain way about them. They do things a certain way. They're a certain type of person. And at the risk of offending those types of people, they're not always the prettiest pictures in the world, you know what I mean? Like the way people treat other people, it's almost like what I'm finding in India in the caste system, where the money is so old that kids or grandkids or great-grandkids of billionaires have somehow been ingrained to believe that the world will work for them and that they are somehow the top of the tree. Now that wasn't necessarily supposed to be expressed visually, but what I was seeing reference-wise was a lot of ugliness. I sort of love ugliness in the beautiful mansions and the beautiful, you know, ball gowns and the beautiful pictures of people entertaining themselves with that much money. That much money with the references that I was seeing was actually ugly, you know? It was almost beautifully ugly to the point where — and this is not all the pictures I saw but, you know, in Hollywood circles you sometimes see women who are massively done with Botox and fillers and you just see the ugliness within that's come out. It's coming out in their faces and their insecurity, you know? And their perfect bodies and their perfect breasts. And then it becomes an ugly thing. There's a fine line between beauty and ugly.