There are few richer collaborations in contemporary cinema between a director and their cinematographer than Paul Thomas Anderson and Robert Elswit. The pair worked together from Anderson’s debut, “Hard Eight,” all the way through “Inherent Vice,” with Elswit picking up a much-deserved Academy Award for their penultimate film together, “There Will Be Blood” (more on that later). In a recent episode of the “Light the Fuse” podcast, hosts Charles Hood and Playlister Drew Taylor share the second half of their interview with the director of photography, where he discusses his work on the “Mission: Impossible” films as well as his collaborations with Anderson. Cinephiles who loved the look of their pictures together will be heartbroken to hear that the chances of them working together in the future are slim.
READ MORE: Breakdown: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Cinematographer Robert Elswit
“God, I don’t know what it is anymore,” Elswit said about the process with Anderson. “It’s like a bad married couple. Unpleasant.” When Taylor asks if they’re going to get back together, the cinematographer responds, “I don’t know. Probably not. You know, it depends on how he feels. I would do it again . . .I didn’t enjoy myself on ‘Inherent Vice’ . . . It was a combination of me and Paul just not getting along, and I can be as immature as him.”
We’ve got our fingers crossed that these two can make it work in the future (couples counseling, perhaps?), but since “Inherent Vice,” Elswit has worked with other strong filmmakers including Christopher McQuarrie, George Clooney and Dan Gilroy. Though there are some great films in that list, particularly “Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation” and “Nightcrawler,” none of them led to an Oscar win, like he earned with Anderson on “There Will Be Blood.”
READ MORE: How Cinematography Tells The Darkening Character Story In ‘Nightcrawler’
“I never saw the movie as an audience sees the movie,” Elswit says in the interview. “You know, when you’re doing post, you’re sitting there and you’re watching edits, or you go to the lab and you’re looking at the movie. And you’re constantly watching it for what your work is at that moment, whether you’re timing it. It’s like you never enjoy the movie. You don’t sit back and forget about you and see it the way an audience sees it. ”
But a screening at London’s The Roundhouse with a live orchestra, including the film’s composer Jonny Greenwood on second violin, gave him new eyes on the final results.
READ MORE: Paul Thomas Anderson Gave John Krasinski The Best Life Lesson
“I sat there and for the first time–after about three glasses of wine–I’d forgotten, I was just watching the movie,” he explains. “For the first time, I was really reacting to stuff that I’d forgotten and then I was a little overwhelmed by it, in a way that I didn’t expect. I was moved by it, shocked by it. It had an enormous impact on me…At the end, half drunk, the lights come up . . . and I go, ‘You know what, I really did deserve the fucking Academy Award,’ and I’d never felt that before.”
Listen to the rest of the “Light the Fuse” podcast episode for more of Elswit’s refreshing honesty about his experiences.