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The Art of Collaboration: In Conversation with David Mackenzie and Giles Nuttgens

The relationship between the director and the director of photography is clearly one of crucial importance-- one has a vision, the other works to capture that vision on camera. When the relationship ...

The relationship between the director and the director of photography is clearly one of crucial importance-- one has a vision, the other works to capture that vision on camera. When the relationship works well the film is a dream made real, but disagreements can quickly turn a production into a nightmare.

It is immediately apparent that director David Mackenzie and Director of Photography Giles Nuttgens work well together— during a recent industry event, the two were almost at the point of finishing each other’s sentences. Having completed two films together— Young Adam (2003) and Asylum— director and DoP are planning to collaborate on a third feature.

“It’s a subliminal understanding, rather than an intellectual process,” says Nuttgens, reflecting his collaboration with Mackenzie.

During the event, hosted by the Director’s Guild, Mackenzie and Nuttgens talked about the challenges of making Asylum, which like Young Adam, is a period film set in the 1950’s.

“Asylum was a very complicated thing to bring to the screen,” says Mackenzie. “… I thought I could do something with the material. It’s a non-sentimental melodrama, even though that sounds like a contradiction in terms. It’s sufficiently f***ed up to be interesting.”  

Despite the difficulties inherent in accurately recreating a 1950’s mise en scene, both director and DoP agree that working together previously gave them a “mental shorthand” by which they could agree quickly and easily on most decisions regarding the look and feel of Asylum.

“We were confident [in each other] having done one film,” says Nuttgens. “And we have a huge amount of respect for each other’s work.”

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