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Famous Partnerships: Beyond the Director’s Chair

It has become a common convention to associate a film with a director, and rightfully so. The director is where all the elements of a film come together, so it makes sense to label a director as auteur of a film.

But, also because of this, many directors receive all the credit when it should be somebody else who created a specific part of the film. Directors who have a specific and recognizable style can often have that style attributed to the creative people they frequently work with. With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to discuss some of the greatest partnerships in movies.

Steven Spielberg / Janusz Kaminski

Janusz Kaminski

If you compare the early work of Steven Spielberg with his more modern work, something is quite obviously changed: the films look different. Many of Spielberg’s early films are characterized by a warm, and sometimes soft feeling, look. Now his films have a much sharper and crisp visual style.

Enter cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. One need only look at Spielberg’s iconic Indiana Jones series to see the difference made by Kaminski. Looking at the original trilogy, the Indy films are characterized by very warm palettes and an average focal length. Looking at Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) we can see the influence of Kaminski.

Skull is characterized by a cool palette, lending itself to the less romanticized villains as we transfer from the Nazis to the Russians. Kaminski also makes heavy use of deep focus, making all the scenes seem sharp and crisp. Every detail is noticeable in the scenes instead of using shallower focus to draw an audiences attention to one area.

An image from Raiders of the Lost Ark

An Image from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Quentin Tarantino / Sally Menke

Sally Menke

When Tarantino burst onto the scene with his hit film Reservoir Dogs (1992), he did so with editor Sally Menke at his side. As much as Tarantino’s trademark dialogue and unique storytelling style influences the audience, so does Sally Menke’s editing style. A unique ability to match cuts to whichever style of scene or film Tarantino brought her way, Menke’s editing gives the work of Tarantino it’s look and feel. By looking at two halves of the same film, we can see the versatility and style Menke brought to the films.

Looking at Kill Bill: Volume One (2003) and Kill Bill: Volume Two (2004), we can see two different styles of film blending together seamlessly. Volume One is more of a Kung-Fu film, in the style of the greats from the likes of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. The over the top violence and minimal story (remember that Volume One only had The Bride going after two of her enemies, and not Bill) makes this film a challenge to cut and keep an audience involved. Menke succeeded in spades.

Uma Thurman takes on the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill: Volume One

Fast forward to look at Volume Two, which is a much different film. The Kung-Fu influences are still there, but the structure and feel of the film takes on a far more Western tone in the same vein as great revenge tales like True Grit (1969) and The Searchers (1956). This shift in tone between two halves of the same film proves the versatility of an accomplished editor like Sally Menke.

Uma Thurman and David Carradine in Kill Bill: Volume Two

Sadly, Sally Menke passed away in September of 2010. As of my knowledge, their is currently no word on who will succeed her on Tarantino’s next film. She will be missed in the editing and filmmaking community.

George Lucas / John Williams

John Williams

This category could easily have involved Steven Spielberg again, but to keep things fresh I’ve included George Lucas instead.

As iconic as George Lucas’ films are, could you imagine them without some of the most memorable soundtracks in history? John Williams can be credited with many of the film tracks you hear and remember. With Lucas, imagine the opening title theme from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). It conjures a sense of adventure and romance, just within it’s opening beats. Without this theme, one could argue A New Hope would not have sprungboard the entire Star Wars franchise. This opening theme gets one excited for the film. From A New Hope, Williams went on to compose music for all the films in the Star Wars franchise.

But I couldn’t put Lucas and Williams together for just this one franchise, even if it does include six films. Williams also composed music for the Lucas/Spielberg collaboration Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), including the theme: The Raider’s March. Much like the theme from Star Wars, The Raider’s March immediately immerses viewers in a sense of romance and adventure, bringing them into the world of Indiana Jones.

While this is obviously a very brief look at only three partnerships in film, it gives a short glimpse into a bit of the work that goes into films to give director’s their distinct look and feel. Also, I intentionally didn’t go into the partnerships between director’s and specific actors as this could be a blog unto itself.

But the partnerships covered are fairly iconic. Where do you think we are going from here? Who are some of the best partners in the film world right now? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Editing, Movies, Shooting
  1. March 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    Zac is absolutely right. The director by himself/herself does not the movie make. It is those around the director who help with the polish. The good director and the good producer collectively are successful or not depending on how they select the cast and crew.

    Keith Warn Ibex Productions

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