[Right] with dir Neil LaBute - "Nurse Betty" [1998]

 

   


  JEAN-YVES ESCOFFIER

 

Born: 12 July 1950, Lyon, France.

Died: 1 April 2003, Los Angeles, Calif., USA.

Education: ÉNSLL, Paris, France.

Career: Came to the USA in the early 1990's.

Ph commercials dir by Mehdi Norowzian, Jeanne Moreau [for Air France], David Lynch [for Nissan], a.o.

Ph music videos, e.g. 'Hurt' [2002; a: Johnny Cash; d: Mark Romanek].

His work is discussed in the book 'New Cinematographers' by Alexander Ballinger [2004].

Appeared in the doc 'L'endroit du décor' [ep #3 'Le décor et Léos Carax' dir by Laurent Canches; ph: Olivier Blaise & Bernard Martinot].

Awards: 'César' Award nom [1987] for 'Mauvais sang'; European Cinematographer of the Year [1992] for 'Les amants du Pont-Neuf'.


Obituary: The extended documentary sequence that opens Léos Carax's 1991 film 'Les amants du Pont-Neuf' says much about the life and talent of the man who lit it, the cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier.

It shows the nightly trawl of Paris's homeless, who are picked up by the social services, washed, patched up, fed and, if they wish it, re-deposited on the streets at dawn. The unflinching honesty and compassion were worthy of Caravaggio, as was the technique, in which blue-white flesh emerged from a treacly dark, and concrete bunkers gaped like the doors of hell.

Born in Lyon, Escoffier knew, by the age of seven, that he wanted to be a cameraman. He studied at L'École Louis Lumière, and worked as a camera assistant on features.

Given this experience, Escoffier should have fallen for big-time movies. Instead, he was always most comfortable with outcasts and renegades. His directors would include numerous hard cases - Léos Carax, Gus Van Sant, Neil LaBute, Harmony Korine - while the films he shot for them depict unattractive individuals in the most unsparing light.

Escoffier worked his way up to documentaries and his first feature, 'Simone Barbès ou la vertu'. With pallid, bruised flesh tones, and bilious interiors that made the characters appear ill at ease, Escoffier quickly earned a reputation as a specialist in the atmosphere of the night. "I like dark walls", Escoffier explained, "because film is about people. Each time you have a bright wall, the wall is stronger than the character. I like the reverse situation. I like to go as close to natural as possible - to design the tension, the darkness and the brightness, the way life would give it to you."

It seemed a brilliant idea, when the city of Paris closed the Pont-Neuf for a year for restoration in 1988, to shoot a film on the historic bridge. Carax cooked up a scenario for his mistress, the actress Juliette Binoche, and his long-time friend Denis Lavant as street entertainers eking out a living amid the tumbled masonry. He asked Escoffier to capture Paris's underbelly on film - something for which he'd shown a flair with Carax's previous 'Boy Meets Girl' and 'Mauvais sang'.

But injuries and confusion delayed shooting so that, when Carax was ready, the bridge had already re-opened. The production moved to Montpellier, where the Pont-Neuf was rebuilt on a lake, along with the entire Seine-side frontage.

By the time the film was ready for release in 1991, Escoffier had had enough both of Carax and the French film industry. He was already in demand to shoot commercials, and his reputation was further enhanced by the award of a César [Best Film/Meilleur Film de l'année (1986)] for Coline Serreau's '3 Hommes et un couffin'. This comedy about three bachelors forced to mind a baby not only succeeded on the US art-house circuit but spawned two Hollywood remakes. On its coattails, and with the help of a European Film Award for 'Les amants du Pont-Neuf', Escoffier launched a busy American career.

Hollywood sought him out for films that required a subdued palette and a jaundiced eye. He evoked Depression-era New York for 'Cradle Will Rock', Tim Robbins's film about Marc Blitzstein's opera of oppression, prostitution and class war. For 'Nurse Betty', a cynical film by the playwright Neil LaBute, he walked a tightrope between the tormented home life of Renée Zellweger and the fantasy world of the TV soap into which she escapes.

When Escoffier died, he had just completed Robert Benton's version of Philip Roth's 'The Human Stain' with Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins, and was working with Wong Kar-wai on the troubled and long-delayed '2046'.

His bruised colours and shadowy interiors are at their best in John Dahl's 'Rounders', set in the all-night poker clubs of Manhattan. "I love to do the city by night," Escoffier remarked during that production. "It is like a painting." [From obituary by John Baxter in 'The Independent', 19 April 2003.]


Oscar-winning director Robert Benton was devastated at the death of cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier earlier this year from heart failure shortly after the two had completed working together on Benton's new film, 'The Human Stain'. This was the first time the pair had worked together, joining forces on shoots in Quebec and Massachusetts and then taking a 'further journey,' as Benton puts it, in working with artists at Technicolor's Burbank-based digital intermediate division Technique, on the first digital intermediate for both men. By the end of that journey, Benton felt he had finally found a DP and creative partner to replace Nestor Almendros, with whom Benton made five films.

'I developed the same kind of shorthand with Jean-Yves that I had with Nestor,' Benton says. 'During filming, I did not suggest lenses, and I did not position the camera, and I only looked through the lens when Jean-Yves asked me to. That's how much I trusted him. And when he suggested at the beginning of the project that we should perform a digital intermediate, I agreed to do it even though I had never worked digitally before and didn't know much about it. He influenced me in that decision and beyond.'

Escoffier was well acquainted with the tools and techniques of the digital color-timing process from his commercial work, but 'The Human Stain' represented his first digital intermediate on a full-length motion picture. Nevertheless, the DP was wholly committed to the principal that the process should be used to make 'subtle changes to improve that five or ten percent of the film that would make the whole film better,' according to colorist Stephen Nakamura, who has color-timed several major features in the last year.

'His belief, which is something I totally agree with and think more DPs and directors are beginning to understand, was that the process was not about 'fixing it in post,' though we obviously can and do fix things,' says Nakamura. 'It's about extending the cinematography - continuing to work the images the DP creates. I think he felt it gave him the opportunity to be a better cinematographer because the process allowed us to adjust images to keep with his original vision. It wasn't about changing his work - it was about satisfying his vision.'

Technique scanned the movie at 2K resolution on a Grass Valley Spirit DataCine, and then used a Grass Valley Spectre Virtual DataCine system to manage and play the data during the DI process. Nakamura color corrected the film on a da Vinci 2K system loaded with multi-channel power tiers, a frequently used defocus board, and several add-on tools such as Grass Valley Scream software, which helped with grain reduction. He painted to images projected by a Barco D-Cine Premiere DP50 projector, and filtered through a Walker Box attachment, built exclusively for Technique by engineer Dave Walker and programmed with Technique's proprietary look-up table (LUT) to mimic the eventual film look of the piece. The movie was later recorded back out to film using Arri Laser recorders.

According to Benton, several scenes in the film benefited from slight changes made at Technique during the digital intermediate 'to invisibly impact the film,' as Benton describes it. The director feels this capability of the digital intermediate process 'enriched the specificity of the locations, bringing out the best in the shots.' [From article 'The DI Dimension' by Michael Goldman on the millimeter.com website, Oct 2003.]


 

 FILMS

1973

L'amour c'est du papier [Michel Leeb] c; short/12m; cph: Lionel Legros

1977

The Sand Castle/Le château de sable [Co Hoedeman] c; stop motion anim/30m

1979

Simone Barbès ou la vertu [Marie-Claude Treilhou] c

1980

Le facteur Cheval [Claude & Clovis Prévost] c; doc/13m; cph: Étienne Fauduet

1981

Ballade à blanc [Bertrand Gauthier] c

1982

L'archipel des amours [seg (9m) 'Lourdes, l'hiver' dir by Marie-Claude Treilhou] c; 9 seg; other ph: Georges Strouvé

1982

Ulysse [Agnès Varda] b&w-c; doc/22m; cph: Pascal Rabaud; also seg of 'Cinévardaphoto' (2004)

1982

La fonte de Barlaeus [Pierre-Henri Salfati] b&w; short/14m

1982

Coup de feu [Magali Clément] c; short/12m

1983

Accordéon Blues [Jacques Gibert] c; short/11m

1983

Habibi [Françoise Prenant] 16mm/c; short/35m

1983

Papy fait de la résistance [Jean-Marie Poiré] p/c; 2uc; ph: Robert Alazraki

1983

Boy Meets Girl [Léos Carax] b&w

1984

Stateless [Bojena Horackova] c; short/22m

1985

3 hommes et un couffin/3 Men and a Cradle [Coline Serreau] c; cph: Jean-Jacques Bouhon

1986

Mauvais sang/The Night Is Young/Bad Blood [Léos Carax] c

1987

Codex [Philippe Decouflé] b&w-c; ballet film/26m

1987

Jaune revolver [Olivier Langlois] c

1988

Les amants du Pont-Neuf/The Lovers on the Bridge [Léos Carax] c; filmed August 1988, July 1989, February & September-December 1990

1992

Charlie and the Doctor [Ralph C. Parsons] c; short/16m

1992

Dream Lover [Nicholas Kazan] c

1994

Jack & Sarah [Tim Sullivan] c

1995

Grace of My Heart [Allison Anders] c; 2uc: Adam Holender

1995

The Crow: City of Angels/The Crow II [Tim Pope] c; 2uc: Mark Gutterud; addph: Steven Poster & Gary Kibbe

1996

Excess Baggage [Marco Brambilla] c

1996

Gummo [Harmony Korine] c

1997

Good Will Hunting [Gus Van Sant] c

1997

Rounders [John Dahl] s35/c; addph: Jerry Holway

1998

Cradle Will Rock [Tim Robbins] s35/c

1998

Nurse Betty [Neil LaBute] s35/c

1999

15 Minutes [John Herzfeld] s35/c; 2uc: Hisham Abed & Robert Poole

1999

2046 [Wong Kar-wai] p/b&w-c; cph: Christopher Doyle, Lai Yiu-fai & Kwan Pung-leung; prod started in December 1999 and was stopped/resumed several times in 2000 and August 2001

 

[Right] with dir Neil LaBute [glasses] - "Possession"

 

2000

Possession [Neil LaBute] s35/c

2000

One Hour Photo [Mark Romanek] c; co-add inserts ph; ph: Jeff Cronenweth; filmed 2000-01

 

"The Human Stain"

 

2002

The Human Stain [Robert Benton] s35/c; addph: Russell Carpenter; in memory of J-Y. Escoffier

2002

Polígono sur (el arte de las tres mil)/Seville, Southside/The Three Thousand [Dominique Abel] c; doc/105m

2002

No claudicar [Dominique Abel] c; doc/32m

 

 TELEVISION

1982

Les yeux des oiseaux/The Eyes of the Birds [Gabriel Auer] tvm

1994

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies [Martin Scorsese & Michael Henry Wilson] b&w-c; 3-part doc/226m; cph: Nancy Schreiber & Frances Reid

1994

Witch Hunt [Paul Schrader] tvm

1998

Agujetas, cantaor [Dominique Abel] doc/58m

 

 FILMS AS CAMERA ASSISTANT/OPERATOR

1973

La famille heureuse [Patrice Leconte; short] c.op; ph: Jean Gonnet

1974

Hu-Man/Pleurs [Jérôme Laperrousaz] co-c.asst; ph: Jimmy Glasberg

1975

C'est dur pour tout le monde [Christian Gion] c.asst; ph: Lionel Legros

1975

Lumière [Jeanne Moreau] 2nd c.asst; ph: Ricardo Aronovich

1976

Shoah [Claude Lanzmann] co-c.asst; ph: Dominique Chapuis, a.o.; filmed 1976-81

1976

Le passe-montagne [Jean-François Stévenin] c.op; ph: Lionel Legros

1978

Les héros n'ont pas froid aux oreilles [Charles Nemes] co-c.asst; ph: Étienne Fauduet

1978

Le pion/The Pawn [Christian Gion] c.op; ph: Lionel Legros