Director of photography Thomas Hardmeier, AFC, talks about his work on "The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet", by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

par Thomas Hardmeier La Lettre AFC n°235

The first time I met Jean-Pierre Jeunet to discuss his new film, he immediately told me that he was looking for someone who could help him evolve his taste for coloured and contrasted images. I was delighted to work inside of his universe which I love and which was an inspiration for I, Cesar, A Butterfly Kiss, and Les Tribulations d’une caissière.

He also told me when we met that he wanted to film in 3D and wanted to work with cinematographer Demetri Portelli, who had shot Scorsese’s Hugo. He absolutely wanted to make choices on convergence on set and not shoot using parallel cameras and adjust the convergence in postproduction, or do what the big American blockbusters do by filming in 2D and doing a 3D conversion in postproduction in order to avoid the bother of filming in 3D.

Jean-Pierre also asked me to achieve a maximum of depth of field (T11 or T16, which was very hard to do for night-time shots and indoor studio shots) and the maximum amount of acutance possible. He really likes that type of image, which is also perfect for getting the most out of 3D !
He also wanted to film with a 21 or 25mm, which he is accustomed to, but which was a huge change for me, since I prefer medium - to long-focal length lenses and limited depth ! He also told me that he would make all the decisions regarding shots and camera movements. And in order to do that, he would be the cameraman and grip on his own film.

That was the framework I had to work in. I was delighted because I love having precision beforehand and thinking about lighting style and design. That way, when I was on set, I could focus exclusively on lighting, ambience, the actors’ faces and sets that I was lighting !
I had eight weeks to prepare and 75 days of filming between Montreal, Alberta, and Quebec City ! We were incredibly lucky to have sunny weather for almost the entire duration of shooting. We graded each scene on set and adapted the scenes as we filmed. It is truly a wonderful memory.
During the final grading of 2D and 3D (Xpand-active glasses system) Jean-Pierre, Fabrice Blin, and I refined the choices we had made during shooting. Jean-Pierre let us explore on our own and was always there to guide us. I thank him deeply for his trust.

Difficulties working in 3D

- Lighting close-ups with a 21mm or 25mm, because the matte box with a mirror is enormous

- You can’t use diffusion filters

- It’s hard to change the focal length because of the alignment of the two cameras. The solution is to have more rigs or rigs equipped with zoom lenses. We “only” had one normal rig (Alexa M), a rig for the Steadicam (Alexa M), and a rig (Alexa Plus) for the second unit.


- No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
- Photographers of the 1950s-60s such as Fred Herzog, Ernst Haas, and William Eggleston.

Great thanks
- To

 Demetri Portelli, 

Alain Carsoux, 

my entire Canadian team, especially Dany Racine and David Dinel.
- To Pierre Gill for the magnificent shots created by his second unit

- To Tommaso Vergallo of Digimage.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet, a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cinematography by Thomas Hardmeier, AFC
With Kyle Catlett, Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis, Callum Keith Rennie, Dominique Pinon
Release (France) : 16 October 2013

Production Designer : Aline Bonetto
Costumes : Madeline Fontaine
Montage : Hervé Schneid
Makeup : Nathalie Tissier