"Joker", Lawrence Sher and his “ShotDeck” Project

A contribution by Camille Aubriot, student at the ENS Louis-Lumière Film School

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Because students from the ENS Louis-Lumière and La Fémis attended Camerimage this year, the AFC offered them the opportunity of contributing in one way or another to the articles that are published on our website and broadcast via our newsletters. Camille Aubriot, of the ENS Louis-Lumière, discusses the image bank created by cinematographer Lawrence Sher, ASC, whose project moved her because in it, she found a response to some of her desires and unanswered questions.

This was my first year at Camerimage and I discovered a universe teeming with screenings, meetings, discussions, equipment demonstrations and Master Classes that make us want to push our artistic work even further. The few days I spent at the festival were so exciting and enriching for me. What more could a student studying cinematography hope for than a festival dedicated to the subject?

I watched Todd Philip’s film Joker and attended the Q&A session with the cinematographer, Lawrence Sher, ASC, afterwards. It was really exciting to hear him speak about his approach to the film and his work with the director. They would generally shoot four or five takes, each one different from the others, with little to no rehearsals and without floor marks. That forced the first assistant camera to constantly pull focus, like the main character, who is trying to find himself throughout the film, and in the end, they both meet.

This session brought me to Lawrence Sher’s conference the next day, which was on his project for a visual database named “ShotDeck”. It is a collection of stills online, sorted into categories by precise keywords, by type of shot, color, emotion, location, focal length, etc. The idea is to be able to save the selected images into folders or decks that can be shared with colleagues, directors, set designers and producers.
This project is still in beta version, but it already allows users to find new sources of inspiration (and even to make new discoveries), but also to efficiently prepare visual references for a new project. Lawrence Sher also showed us his “deck” for the film Joker, which he created just after he’d finished reading the screenplay.

His approach particularly moved me, because his desire to develop this tool partially answers some of the questions that I have as a student. I began to take screenshots of shots that impressed me visually, and I began to wonder how to sort them: how to organize this file of images, and name them, so that I will be able to easily find the ones I am looking for, with all necessary information?
At the School, we are constantly asked to supply visual references in order to communicate what we are imagining. That’s also what we will do once we graduate, because discussing a film’s aesthetics is something that is very personal, and sometimes hard to communicate without references that we can rely on.
Lawrence Sher believes that we are “all inspired by something”. Therefore, it seems essential for me to build a database of images that inspire me, speak to me, and correspond to my visual taste, and which I will later be able to rely on as I work on projects.

“ShotDeck” might be one possible answer to my desire and to my unanswered question, and Lawrence Sher sees it as “a tool for making better films”. He’d like to ask his fellow members at the ASC to participate by having each of them add images from five of their films. As far as I’m concerned, I’d also like to see French films, and films from other countries, included, so that the project will be as diverse as possible.

(Translated from French by A. Baron-Raiffe)