Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Robert D. Yeoman – Movies Spotlight – June 2010

Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman (Bob) is well known among fans of independent film – having worked with directors Wes Anderson, Kevin Smith and Gus Van Sant. Yeoman’s work has a keen visual sense of composition but is grounded in reality (it is not overly superficial and glossy looking). He shot this month’s film Get Him to the Greek directed by Nicholas Stoller.

Getting Started:

Yeoman started his career in high school taking black-and-white photos of people and architecture for fun in Chicago, where he grew up. He did not aspire to have a career in film until later in life. While attending Duke University, he began to become interested in film, specifically documentaries like Harlan County U.S.A.. So, he decided to go to USC film school for his masters to learn more. He first tried his hand at directing, but found cinematography to be a much more appealing medium for him – partially because many of his classmates continually asked him to shoot their films. Starting in the business, much like everyone else starting in Hollywood, he was a personal assistant to a commercial director working for no pay hoping and begging to get a chance to shoot something. In the mid 80’s he found himself broke and questioning his career choice when he finally got a break. Robby Muller, the D.P. on To Live and Die in L.A., was looking for someone to shoot some test footage for the film. He hired Yeoman, liked his work and brought him onto the production to shoot B-roll and second unit. Before the film was complete, Muller left due to other commitments and Yeoman stepped in to finish the film. From there, he got additional camera work on films like Once Bitten and Wanted: Dead or Alive before getting his first job as director of photography on Rampage.

Independent Film:

Breaking into shooting feature films, Yeoman took jobs on just about anything, B-movie schlock, poor teen comedies, but it was his collaboration in 1989 with director Gus Van Sant on Drugstore Cowboy that first established him as a fantastic D.P. – both due to the success of the film in artistic and critic circles and Yeoman winning the best cinematography award at the Spirit Awards (funny enough beating out Robby Muller). Despite the acclaim for his work on the film, Yeoman continued to get subpar work for the next five years. Then he made a film with Wallace Wolodarsky called Coldblooded, the film is of little consequence, rather it is who he became affiliated with as a result that is – being Wes Anderson. Anderson and Wolodarsky are friends, and in 1995, Yeoman having just shot Coldblooded for Wolodarsky was hired to shoot Anderson’s first feature Bottle Rocket (a film which Martin Scorsese considers one of the best of the decade). The film was a cult and critical success and Anderson and Yeoman developed such a good working relationship that Yeoman has shot ever one of Anderson’s live-action films to date. Next Yeoman shot some more subpar Hollywood B-movies before returning to work with Anderson again on the stylishly visual Rushmore and then was hired by Kevin Smith to shoot Dogma, as Smith and Miramax (who then passed on distributing it, thankfully Lionsgate stepped in) thought that the scope of the film needed someone to visually elevate Smith’s straightforward (dialog before art) style (and he did). Yeoman next worked with Roman Coppola, also another friend and co-collaborator of Anderson, who hired him to shoot his feature film CQ (which Yeoman did excellent work on), the two having previously worked together on the second unit of The Rainmaker. Then he did two more Anderson films, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, an ambitious film for them both that shot almost entirely on location. Anderson next produced his friend Noah Baumbach’s film The Squid and the Whale (Baumbach co-wrote The Life Aquatic and later Fantastic Mr. Fox) and due to their great working relationship Yeoman was hired to shoot the film, giving it, texturally, sort of the same look  as The Royal Tenenbaums. Yeoman then worked with Anderson on his two-part short/feature Hotel Chevalier and The Darjeeling Limited. He also shot Menno Meyjes’s (the once Spielberg prodigy) Martian Child and Manolete that year too. Finally, the latest indy film he has worked on was Drew Barrymore’s directorial feature debut from last year Whip It.

Hollywood Film:

After Rampage, Yeoman shot the teen sports comedy Johnny Be Good and then after a few B-movies and his breakthrough film, Drugstore Cowboy, he did another low budget Hollywood film about video games, The Wizard. Again, despite the praise from Drugstore Cowboy, he did not get much quality work in Hollywood. His first hit came with 2005’s Red Eye, directed by Wes Craven. However, he did get additional photography work on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker, Secondhand Lions and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. In the 00’s Yeoman was getting a lot more quality indy work, which allowed for him to cut back on the not so great Hollywood stuff. After 2001, he only shot three Hollywood films for the rest of the decade: Red Eye, Yes Man for Peyton Reed and this month’s release Get Him to the Greek (director Nicholas Stroller also worked on Yes Man as a writer, which is likely where he met Yeoman).

Bob Yeoman Box Set (Selected Filmography/Career Highlights):

1.) Drugstore Cowboy (1989) – for Gus Van Sant [DVD]*
2.) Bottle Rocket (1996) – for Wes Anderson [Blu-ray/DVD]
3.) Rushmore (1998) – for Wes Anderson [DVD]*
4.) Dogma (1999) – for Kevin Smith [Blu-ray/DVD]
5.) CQ (2001) – for Roman Coppola [DVD]*
6.) The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) – for Wes Anderson [DVD]
7.) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) – for Wes Anderson [DVD]*
8.) The Squid and the Whale (2005) – for Noah Baumbach [DVD]
9.) The Darjeeling Limited (2007) – for Wes Anderson [Blu-ray/DVD]*
*Editor’s Picks (from a cinematography prospective)

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