Recently, I watched French cinematographer and friend Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC, receive the first ExcelLens tribute during the Cannes Film Festival.
The ExcelLens tribute was created by French zoom manufacturer Angénieux to honor an exceptional career in cinematography. The ExcelLens event involved a photo-session on the famous red carpet, an award ceremony with speeches, and an elegant dinner for dozens of guests in a pavillion on the beach.
lanterns on the carpet
Philippe is a superb cinematographer who has worked with top directors on both sides of the Atlantic, including Jean-Jacques Beineix, Bertrand Blier, John Boorman, Tim Burton, Alain Cavalier, Patrice Chéreau, Stephen Frears and Robert Redford. Philippe's elegant and sophisticated lighting has earned him French Cesars awards for Thérèse and Queen Margot, and an Oscar for A River Runs Through It. His other credits include Peppermint Soda, Diva, The Emerald Forest, Hope and Glory, Dangerous Liaisons, Too Beautiful for You, Interview with a Vampire, Big Fish and Sherlock Holmes.
Philippe is known for his pioneering use of Chinese lanterns mounted on booms, to provide a soft moving source that follows the actors. In Cannes, a few of the actors that Philippe has worked with symbolically returned the favor, by holding small lanterns around the cinematographer on the red carpet before the award ceremony.
Philippe Rousselot is swarmed by lanterns held by actors Carmen Chaplin, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Victoria Abril, Uma Thurman and Jean-Marc Barr, with director John Boorman behind (photo Dominique Charriau).
The award ceremony featured brief speeches by the actors, Boorman, and Cannes Festival co-director Thierry Frémaux. Thales Angénieux CEO Pierre Andurand then spoke and presented the cinematographer with a big wooden box whose contents surprised us all, and especially Philippe.
(photo Pauline Maillet)
The box contained an Angénieux 28-76 mm Optimo zoom, with an engraving that read: "Philippe Rousselot. 2013 Pierre Angénieux ExcelLens in Cinematography."
Philippe holds up the lens as John Boorman applauds (photo Jon Fauer)
2 declarations of love
Philippe gave a brief speech, thanking Pierre Andurand and the Thales Angénieux company "who make these lenses that are our third eye". He also thanked all the directors that he had worked with, adding that "to be a good cinematographer you have to understand the métier of the director, and the best way to do that is to work with the best directors".
He then thanked his wife, Brigitte Rousselot, for providing him with a house full of "earthly food, and also conversational and intellectual sustenance for all these years", adding "you allowed me to not only do my work, but also to have a life, and a very good one at that."
Turning to the actors beside him, Philippe concluded by saying that even when conditions are tough "as soon as the camera starts to roll, you don't feel the fatigue or the cold any more, and that is due to the actors and actresses. Even though we don't speak that much, there is a bond between us across the barrier of the camera. You feel how intensely we look at you, but when we light you, or when we move the camera towards your face, you know that it is always something of a declaration of love."
Philippe looks back
I wrote to Philippe last week to ask him to share his impressions a month after the ExcelLens tribute. He wrote back:
"I enjoyed it a lot, to my great surprise, because I usually feel like I don't belong in these kind of events. But the presence of John Boorman, of Carmen, Kristin and the others made me forget my nervousness. Going on the red carpet was fun, especially since the photographers had no idea who I was, although they did recognize the actors. I feel happy my speech wasn't booed. But it did feel like someone else was being honored, and that I was there by mistake. At the heart of every success there always seems to be a kind of trickery that we are all a party to. But it's still very pleasant as long as it doesn't go to your head. The zoom was a big surprise. I've been using Angénieux zooms for years, and this one is a little marvel."
Philippe Rousselot speaking in Cannes (photo Benjamin B)
I also asked Philippe to say more about learning from directors, and working with actors. He offered:
"Understanding the mise en scène means that a cinematographer can place his work on a secondary level, and undergo another level of constraints to make himself useful, not just to the esthetics, but also to the meaning, to the direction of the actors, to the general atmosphere of the production, all this allows him to be closer to the director."
"The cinematographer is someone who looks at someone who doesn't return his look. But the actor knows he is being looked at. This creates a barrier between cinematographer and actor which is constantly created and undone."
speaking with Pierre Andurand
I also spoke with Thales Angénieux CEO Pierre Andurand last week, and asked him about the ExcelLens tribute, and also about their new anamorphic zooms.
Pierre Andurand speaking in Cannes
Andurand starts by noting that the zoom lens manufacturing company was founded by Pierre Angénieux in 1935, and became a subsidiary of Thales in 1993. Andurand is especially proud of Angenieux' 3 technical awards from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
Andurand explains that the ExcelLens in Cinematography tribute is an essential part of Angénieux' partnership with the Cannes Festival: "the cinematographers often work in the shadows, and we wanted to bring them into the limelight". Starting from a list of some fifty cinematographers, the team at Angénieux and Orbis-Media (co-organizer of the event) narrowed it down to a dozen by consulting people in the industry and their customers. The final choice of Rousselot, he says, was met with "unanimous approval. Philippe has contributed something exceptional to cinematography."
Philippe Rousselot's zoom
Asked about the gift of a 40 thousand dollar zoom to mark the first ExcelLens tribute, Andurand admits: "I don't think we can do it every year". He reveals that the decision to award a zoom lens came from the employees. "That wasn't the initial plan. It was the workers in the Angenieux factory who proposed that we manufacture a zoom for Philippe Rousselot with his name on it. So it really is a gift from our employees. We didn't expect that Philippe would be so moved. We were all moved. And I can tell you that there were 50 people in the audience from the company who were very touched by his reaction, and who were delighted to have taken part in that magic moment."
150 anamorphic zooms
"Anamorphic, says Andurand -- with its narrow depth and intricate compositions -- offers something to the image that is hard to define. I believe that the pleasure of 'scope will bring the audience back to the theaters."
Angénieux introduced its first anamorphic zoom, a 56-152 mm T4 lens (based on the Optimo 28-76), at the NAB trade show in April. Andurand announces that "the next anamorphic zoom should be ready at the beginning of 2014. It will be a wider zoom, something like 30-80 mm. We would like to have a total of 3 compact anamorphic zooms, and perhaps also a big zoom based on the 25-250 mm."
Andurand reveals that the company was taken aback by the number of orders for the 56-152 mm. "By noon of the first day at NAB, we had requests for more than our yearly production plan! We decided to double our production capacity to deliver as many zooms as possible in 2014. We have more than 150 requests, although the number of firm orders will be lower. We didn't expect the great international demand for anamorphic, we had more requests for Asia than the US!" He adds that part of the success of Angénieux may be due to the abundance of new anamorphic primes coming from Cooke, Zeiss and Service Vision.
Before coming out with a new zoom, Andurand recalls that the people at Angénieux were concerned about whether it would match upcoming primes from Cooke. Andurand and Cooke CEO Les Zellan took the unusual step of having their engineers meet and share their ongoing optical designs. "We were pleased to discover that our designs were harmonious in terms of colorimetry and quality." This led to the NAB announcement by both manufacturers that their lenses would work well together.
Pierre Andurand adds "we're also very close to Arri. The selection of prime lenses is a very personal choice by each director of photography. We at Angénieux would never recommend buying a specific brand, our philosophy is to create a product that works with all cameras and all prime lenses."
Philippe Rousselot's credits on Wikipedia
Angénieux zoom lenses
The Hollywood Reporter short article about the event
My friend Jon Fauer's photos of the event
thefilmbook: Philippe Rousselot's book