Having shot a wide variety of films, including DOGVILLE, 28 DAYS LATER and ANTICHRIST, Anthony Dod Mantle reveals why his Oscar-winning stint on SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE was a journey back to his roots.
During the 2008/2009 awards season, British-born cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle was the talk of the town, walking away with the cinema world’s most prestigious awards for his camerawork on Slumdog Millionaire-the Golden Frog at CAMERIMAGE, a BAFTA, the ASC Award and an Oscar. Not bad for a self-confessed slacker.
We met Dod Mantle during the Edinburgh Film Festival, at one of the city’s more salubrious hotels. He had just flown in to support the late addition of Lars von Trier’s controversial Antichrist to the festival’s programme. We became admirers of his work after seeing what he did with a Canon XL1 on Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, not to mention his celebrated capturing of the essence of India in Slumdog Millionaire, which, as it transpires, was an almost three-decade journey back to where his love of photography began.
“I am inherently lazy,” reveals Dod Mantle. “I was 24-years-old and doing bugger all, except turning vinyl in clubs, serving drinks and travelling. I went to France for a year, and lived in Scandinavia for a year and a half. The reason I got a camera was because of my girlfriend. I was meant to be buying frying pans because her parents were coming for dinner, but she loved me dearly and was very sweet and said, ‘If you want to spend the money we have for kitchen utensils on a camera it is important for your development, because you’ve been pissing around for 24 years. If you want to find a vocation and it’s that, let’s do that’. She encouraged me to spend the money on the camera and we went to India and I started taking photographs. It was kind of documentary stuff—people, the odd fluke that turned into an art —and it made me realise that it could be something else. What it gave me was that experience, that gift, of taking a photo that is really about yourself, then you put it somewhere and someone gets an experience from it too.”
I don’t rate style at all, I rate storytelling. I rate the art of telling a new story
Returning from India, Dod Mantle spent a year taking stills before signing up for a BA Honours course at the London College of Printing (now London College of Communication). “It was a mixture of mad poets, filmmakers, performing artists, stills photographers and would-be moviemakers,” he recalls. “I started in stills and did a year and a half there, and then started messing around with movie formats, mostly video —I very quickly discovered the difference between being on your own, having the fascist control of a stills photographer, and the group mechanics of making films. You had less control, there was less ego, but you were communicating and telling stories visually, and that was natural and I felt that cinematography was the way to go.”
After completing his degree, Dod Mantle went to the National Film School of Denmark to study cinematography. He eventually met up with Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, and was asked to shoot the first Dogme film, Festen. “I didn’t really take Thomas too seriously. The rules I obviously respected because there are always rules, like in anything else. I thought it was a bit of a task, but I’d made enough films by then to think, intellectually, [that] it was interesting to be forced to do things differently. That’s what turned me on about Dogme. It’s not about whether you specifically do one thing or another; it’s just the fact that it made you think differently. It’s about finding other ways of doing things, and that’s what Dogme was for me.”
Through his work with Dogme, Dod Mantle developed a reputation as the go-to man for shooting digital video-although this was not the only reason he ended up working on 28 Days Later.
”I was actually shortlisted for Last Orders, with director Fred Schepisi, but it didn’t happen because they needed a more mature, grown-up, sensible, experienced DoP than I was at that stage,” he smiles. “And that is still a problem! While I was there, coincidentally, [Schepisi] spoke to Danny Boyle, who recommended Brian Tufano for the film; 45 minutes later, Danny Boyle was on my answerphone in Copenhagen saying, ‘I love your work, I love your operating, and I’d love to talk to you about a couple of projects.’”
Dod Mantle explains that this wasn’t so much because of his experience shooting digital on the Dogme films, but because Boyle was looking for something radically different from his previous films; interesting, because Dod Mantle doesn’t have an instantly recognisable style.
“I don’t rate style at all, I rate storytelling. I rate the art of telling a new story,” he says. This is clearly visible in the small British film Brothers of the Head (2005), a movie made up of lots of different styles and shooting methods. “I loved doing that. It was mad but creative. The script was amazing. I went for it because it was an odd story. I was really fascinated by Tony Grisoni’s words, but that was an extension of me messing around with technology.”
“Slumdog was not messing around,” Dod Mantle continues of his Oscar-winning stint on Boyle’s 2008 crowd-pleaser. “Slumdog is another example, as with Brothers of the Head, [where] you have to know your technology and how to explore it, and work out what these directors want, and hit it on the head for them. Brothers was a big technical exercise to hit. I was shooting through knickers and silk stockings from Paris, and shooting the negative back to front; I was doing lots of things on that film to get stocks to look like they should. Slumdog was also an adventure to get those cameras to perform like that. I really dug my own grave on Slumdog because the digital capture took over from the filming. We started out shooting very little of the film on digital. Some of it had to be, but a lot of it was going to be celluloid, but we very quickly moved into digital. But that’s the way Danny is.”
Dod Mantle’s last film Antichrist was a complete stylistic contrast to Slumdog Millionaire. Where Slumdog Millionaire is warm and vibrant, Antichrist is cold and clinical. “It is clinical but shouldn’t be as clinical as it is. It is hard to make it organic. Antichrist is fabricated. Antichrist is nature, but its energy is two people in an empty space with a spiritual/ mental/psychotic space around them. Slumdog is one million people in a space: the colours, the textures and the organic there is wonderful. You get seduced by stuff that’s not relevant. You’ve got to filter through the initial membrane of aesthetics; you’ve got to get rid of that. I can’t enforce a style on those two films and put them in the same box. That would be pretty crazy.” ♦
Taken from movieScope magazine, Issue 17 (May/June 2010)
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