Let's just start this post off with the fact Robert Richardson, ASC has three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography. By all means follow the link above to the Wikipedia entry to see the work his done with Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, and plenty of others. With that out the way, there's a couple solid takeaways from an interview with him in the August 2019 issue of American Cinematographer just as his latest film with Quentin Tarantino hits theatres.
American Cinematographer: You’ve told me that you can get into a different headspace when you’re behind the eyepiece, operating the camera. You’ve called it ‘the cave.’
Robert Richardson: I don’t really know how to talk about it. The cave is a zone – it is a complete blackout. The world around me disappears other than what I see through the viewfinder. It is the place I love most in this world, a place of complete focus…
AC: That seems like a real gift, to be able to access this zone every time you go to the eyepiece.
Richardson: Yes, I go there, but my talent doesn’t always move that way. I can see, but only as far as my capabilities allow. You can only achieve as much as your capacity to draw upon your vision. And vision’s a complicated journey. It requires a great deal of sacrifice. And it also takes scholarship to progress. Otherwise you fall into the patterns that many critics like to refer to as: ‘This is what they do.’
AC: DiCaprio’s character says, ‘I’m a has-been.’
Richardson: A star is either moving towards the top of falling towards the bottom. How do we deal with that? If you look at Brad and Leo in the film, they’re more or less the same character. Brad’s side has this flow – he just flows with it – but Leo’s side is the one responsible for how they both make a living.
Let me ask you: How do you feel about your career at this time in your life? I question my marks all the time.
AC: I want to be Brad, but I’m Leo.
Richardson: Me too. I’ve always been that way with my work. I’ve never known how to go into the next film. This film frightened the hell out of me to shoot. It’s an epic. I didn’t know how to achieve what I wanted. I’m not that talented a DP.
AC: What? I beg to differ.
Richardson: I’m saying I’m not that good. I could be so much better. I don’t know how to shoot a movie. I don’t know what I’m doing. Every time, I start from the beginning.
AC: This mixture of fear and self-doubt may be part of the artistic process. Does it go away once you start shooting the film?
Richardson: It’s always there in the background, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t subside.
AC: Does your collaboration with creative people help?
Richardson: Yes. When you’re linked to a great director, they shift you, they move you. They’re part of the reason that we all move forward, that we become better at our craft – if there’s a capability within us to allow that to take place.
"I can see, but only as far as my capabilities allow."
"...it also takes scholarship to progress."
"I’m saying I’m not that good. I could be so much better. I don’t know how to shoot a movie. I don’t know what I’m doing. Every time, I start from the beginning."
I just love this. I've never met the man and don't know much about him as a person short of the articles I've read, but the fact that he's pushing the idea to always be learning makes my heart glad. I couldn't tell you if the "...I'm not that good" part is a show for the reporter, but I hope it's true. If such a someone in his position and professional experience is admitting that he too is insecure and unsure about himself and his abilities then good Lord it justifies the rest of our feeling the same way at the start of something new.