Cinematographer Greig Fraser: “You don't want to be the guy that screws up Dune"

Australian Fraser talks at TIFF about working on the tentpole picture and the secrets of his craft

“You don’t want to be the guy that screws up Dune,” said the tentpole’s cinematographer, Australian Greig Fraser, during a TIFF Visionaries talk in which he discussed his craft.

“That’s a big thing and I put a lot of pressure on myself to not screw up and to push forward. I get nervous, and I hope that’s natural, and I hope that never goes away.”

French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s epic sci-fi adaptation based on the books by Frank Herbert gets its North American premiere at TIFF on Saturday at Cinesphere IMAX Theatre and impressed critics when it premiered in Venice last week. It is scheduled to open day-and-date via Warner Bros in cinemas and on HBO Max on October 22.

Melbourne-born Fraser’s work frames undulating desert scapes and vertiginous vistas of futuristic cities in the story starring Timothée Chalamet as the scion of a family tasked with protecting the highly coveted spice on the planet of Arrakis.

Fraser noted how filming Dune for the Imax format dovetailed with the part of the film when Chalamet’s character Paul Atreides begins to feel a kinship with the land. “It’s a beautiful partnership of format, ratio, size, and scale as well as intimacy,” he said.

The Australian said there was no formal route to becoming a cinematographer. He started as a director and as he realised his passion lay in creating images the transition into his current role “was very simple, actually”.

Gareth Edwards had seen Fraser’s Oscar-nominated work on Lion and admired his knack for making shots look naturally unlit. The director brought him on to lend a gritty feel to Star Wars stand-alone film Rogue One that distinguished it from the shiny tone of most sci-fi epics.

“It was very quickly that I stopped seeing it as a Star Wars film but instead seeing it as a really interesting story of a really interesting character,” he said. “That’s how long it took me to say, ‘Oh I have to do this movie’.”

Fraser, whose credits include Zero Dark ThirtyViceBright Star, episodes of The Mandalorian and the upcoming The Batman, said: “Cinematography is as much life experience as it is knowing how to light something … You should have a POV on that lighting; it should be from your experience … so before you even pick up a camera, you need to develop an aesthetic and an opinion.”

Despite working with some of the biggest filmmakers and actors in the world Fraser says there is one person who makes him starstruck – Wim Wenders. When the German filmmaker invited him to collaborate on a commercial he had to email him back to make sure it wasn’t a prank.

Cinematographer Greig Fraser: “You don't want to be the guy that screws up Dune"
Greig Fraser. Credit: Australian Cinematographers Society
Cinematographer Greig Fraser: “You don't want to be the guy that screws up Dune"
Greig Fraser. Credit: Australian Cinematographers Society

“You don’t want to be the guy that screws up Dune,” said the tentpole’s cinematographer, Australian Greig Fraser, during a TIFF Visionaries talk in which he discussed his craft.

“That’s a big thing and I put a lot of pressure on myself to not screw up and to push forward. I get nervous, and I hope that’s natural, and I hope that never goes away.”

French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s epic sci-fi adaptation based on the books by Frank Herbert gets its North American premiere at TIFF on Saturday at Cinesphere IMAX Theatre and impressed critics when it premiered in Venice last week. It is scheduled to open day-and-date via Warner Bros in cinemas and on HBO Max on October 22.

Melbourne-born Fraser’s work frames undulating desert scapes and vertiginous vistas of futuristic cities in the story starring Timothée Chalamet as the scion of a family tasked with protecting the highly coveted spice on the planet of Arrakis.

Fraser noted how filming Dune for the Imax format dovetailed with the part of the film when Chalamet’s character Paul Atreides begins to feel a kinship with the land. “It’s a beautiful partnership of format, ratio, size, and scale as well as intimacy,” he said.

The Australian said there was no formal route to becoming a cinematographer. He started as a director and as he realised his passion lay in creating images the transition into his current role “was very simple, actually”.

Gareth Edwards had seen Fraser’s Oscar-nominated work on Lion and admired his knack for making shots look naturally unlit. The director brought him on to lend a gritty feel to Star Wars stand-alone film Rogue One that distinguished it from the shiny tone of most sci-fi epics.

“It was very quickly that I stopped seeing it as a Star Wars film but instead seeing it as a really interesting story of a really interesting character,” he said. “That’s how long it took me to say, ‘Oh I have to do this movie’.”

Fraser, whose credits include Zero Dark ThirtyViceBright Star, episodes of The Mandalorian and the upcoming The Batman, said: “Cinematography is as much life experience as it is knowing how to light something … You should have a POV on that lighting; it should be from your experience … so before you even pick up a camera, you need to develop an aesthetic and an opinion.”

Despite working with some of the biggest filmmakers and actors in the world Fraser says there is one person who makes him starstruck – Wim Wenders. When the German filmmaker invited him to collaborate on a commercial he had to email him back to make sure it wasn’t a prank.

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