Paolo Carnera, the acclaimed Italian director of photography whose latest film is Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger, has simple advice for anyone shooting a film, on any budget: Take photos first.
The White Tiger tells the story of Balram (Adarsh Gourav), who rises from poverty to becoming a rich man’s driver to earning his own wealth, in part by mimicking the flawed values of the wealthy. Carnera spoke to moviemaker Micah Khan for the latest installment of Khan’s series on visual storytelling.
They discuss the color scheme of The White Tiger (inspired in part by India’s flag), how wide lenses help us feel like we’re inside Balram’s mind, and the the challenges of Delhi’s “milky” light. But Carnera also offered some advice to cinematographers, drawing on his 40 years of shooting both low-budget films and more expensive ones like The White Tiger.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a really low-budget movie or a high-budget movie,” he says in the video. “You have to try to do it like it’s the most important movie of your life, always. When I started some years ago — many years ago — very soon I understood that when the audience goes to a movie theater (or now a computer) to see my movie, they don’t know the budget of my movie. They compare my movie, which is a really low-budget movie, with a huge-budget movie.
“So it doesn’t matter what the money is that you have for doing the movie. You have to be always at the top. Always at the top. What is really important is your creativity. That’s ideas,” he continues. “That’s the first thing. Without them, you don’t do nothing. You cannot be a great cinematographer.”
When he’s starting a film, whatever the budget, he begins by taking lots of pictures to help him find the mood, tone and overall look of the project.
“For me, the most important thing was to be, first, a photographer. Before starting a movie, I need to find not just the way of shooting the movie, but to take a picture. To take pictures that remind me of the atmosphere of the movie that I want. Making a lot of pictures helps you find a way of doing the movie.”
Paolo Carnera also shared the advice that he received while studying under Carlo Di Palma, who shot films for Michelangelo Antonioni and Woody Allen.
“He always used to tell us, we have to know everything about technical stuff. But we are not technical people,” Carnera said. “We are creative people.”
You can watch the full interview with Paolo Carnera above.
The White Tiger, directed by Ramin Bahrani and shot by Paolo Carnera, is now streaming on Netflix. You can subscribe to our YouTube channels for more videos like this.