Paul Sarossy, ASC, BSC, CSC, spoke to me from Toronto during a brief hiatus from the TV series Reign, whose third season will begin airing on The CW Oct. 9. The show shares some similarities with Showtime’s The Borgias, for which Sarossy received Emmy and BSC Award nominations in 2011, and his sixth CSC Award in 2013.
Almost 20 years ago, Paul served as director of photography on the feature-directing debut of John Bailey, ASC. The project was Mariette in Ecstasy, an adaptation of the Ron Hansen novel in which a fervently religious young woman experiences the stigmata.
As far as I know, only a few people have seen this film. It was screened a few times but never officially released, in part due to the financial difficulties of Savoy Pictures. I saw a check print in cans in a box during a recent visit to John’s house in Hollywood, and I hope to debrief him someday about the film. John has called Mariette in Ecstasy “a bittersweet experience that made me realize how much more freedom I would always have as a cinematographer than as just another struggling director trapped in the Hollywood system.”
I asked Paul about the experience of working for a cinematographer-turned-director. “It doesn’t seem that long ago, but I guess it was,” he says. “Over the years, you end up working with all sorts of people. Very often, I’m working with first-time directors who are normally actors. It was interesting to see an experienced filmmaker try to adapt to a new role in the process. On Mariette in Ecstasy, funnily enough, I was also working with my wife, Geraldine O'Rawe, who was playing the female lead.”
Paul had the unusual opportunity to experience the switch from the other side as well. In 2000, he directed Mr. In-Between, a feature set in London that concerns a love triangle. For the cinematography, he tapped Haris Zambarloukos, BSC, whom he had met at Camerimage. It was Haris' second feature.
“I can’t think of a gentler and more talented cinematographer than Paul," says Haris. "At Camerimage, he was screening Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter. I was deeply moved by that film and just blown away by the images. It had great depth to it, and the framing and lighting seemed to merge seamlessly with the dialogue and the emotion. Conversation and friendship struck quickly, in a way that only seems to happen at Camerimage!"
“When I got back home from Poland, I got the phone call to direct Mr. In-Between,” Paul recalls. “It seemed very natural to ask Haris to shoot it. I thought he’d be wonderful for the film, and he was. He did amazing work.”
“Paul was truly inspirational on Mr. In-Between," Haris says. "We had very little money and time, but we made every penny and every second count. It’s one thing having enthusiasm, but Paul managed to channel that into a very cohesive approach while filmmaking. Of course, he was extremely well prepared, but he also seemed to always be in control of situations. Blocking seemed to happen effortlessly; choices were made promptly. Paul always told me that if we couldn’t make a frame happen, we had to follow the action and let it happen. To this day, I still use that thought process.
“I think Mr. In-Between is quite inspired, and I am very proud of it. Working for Paul was a real privilege, and it allowed me to glimpse a standard of excellence very early in my career that I still aspire to almost 15 years on.”
Before Paul returns to the set of Reign, he is spending some quality time with his wife and children. Reign is produced mostly in the Toronto area, which is a luxury for the locally based cinematographer. “One of the joys of this job is that you get to travel the world and go to exotic places and see people who live different ways,” says Paul. “Particularly when you’re young, it’s just absolutely spectacular. But then, as things happen, you have a family and your home tends to be in one spot. It gets complicated when home keeps shifting around.
“It’s definitely a process of discovery,” he continues. “As kids get older, their roots start forming and their friendships and school involvement become more complex. Being home as much as possible is best, and that sometimes means picking projects that are closer to home.
“It’s amazing to be a cinematographer, and my love for it has never disappeared,” he says. “Ultimately, you’ll find something exciting in every project, big or small. You’re always solving problems with many different people with different points of view. I think that keeps you healthy physically, emotionally and intellectually.”