Clubhouse Conversations — News of the World

Interviewer Shelly Johnson, ASC questions cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, ASC about how he helped director Paul Greengrass leave his comfort zone for this Western drama.

Based on a novel by Paulette Jiles, the Reconstruction-era drama News of the World tells the story of a Confederate war veteran (Tom Hanks) traveling through Texas — reading newspapers to townsfolk to eke out a living — when he comes upon an orphaned girl (Helena Zengel) who needs to return to distant relatives after spending most of her life raised by a Kiowa tribe. The evolving relationship between the unlikely pair forms the emotional core of the story.

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Wolski and Greengrass found inspiration for their approach, thematically and visually, in John Ford’s classic Western The Searchers, photographed by Winton C. Hoch, ASC.

The director, a self-described Ford fan, told American Cinematographer that News of the World is, in a sense, “The Searchers in reverse, because in that movie [John Wayne’s character] is going to find a girl so he can get her home, and in this film, our character has already found the girl and is trying to bring her home.” 

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Wolski also examined other Westerns he admires, including The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford — photographed by Roger Deakins ASC, BSC. 

The filmmakers worked on rugged locations throughout New Mexico, which led Wolski to suggest that the film be shot entirely with a combination of handheld and Steadicam techniques. 

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The cinematographer chose to shoot with Arri Alexa LF and Mini LF cameras, Angénieux Optimo EZ1 and EZ2 zoom lenses, a Panavision Primo 11:1 zoom, and Panavision System 65 primes.

A native of Poland, Wolski (seen below) studied at the famed film school in Łódź. Following his move to the U.S. in 1979 and gaining experience as a camera assistant and operator on low-budget features, he began his career shooting music videos, including clips for such artists as Paula Abdul, David Bowie, Van Halen, Elton John, Neil Young, Aerosmith and Sting.

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Wolski then gained attention with his stylish camerawork in the features Romeo is Bleeding and The Crow, leading to his first major studio project, the thriller Crimson Tide, directed by Tony Scott, for which the cinematographer earned an ASC Award nomination.

Wolski’s other feature credits include Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Dark City, Alice in Wonderland, Prometheus, The Counselor, Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Martian, All the Money in the World and Sicario: Day of the Soldado. He recently completed shooting the period drama The Last Duel for longtime collaborator Ridley Scott.

Interviewer Shelly Johnson is a California native and graduated from the Art Center College of Design in 1980. Inspired in part by the camera crews his father worked with as a television director, Johnson focused on cinematography, soon establishing himself with an impressive and diverse array of television series, movies and miniseries, including the 1997 retelling of Stephen King’s The Shining. He was nominated for ASC Awards for his work in the telefilms Everybody’s Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure and The Inheritance, as well as the series The Others and Training Day.

Johnson parlayed his success into the feature film realm, with credits includingJurassic Park III, The Last Castle, Hidalgo, Sky High, The Expendables 2, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The WolfmanCaptain America: The First Avengerand the recent World War II drama Greyhound.  

News of the World is additionally covered in the March 2021 issue of American Cinematographer.

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