Ben Richardson is on to something with ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’

Quvenzhane Wallis stars in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which hits theaters this Wednesday.

Cinematographer Ben Richardson is certainly on to something. The eye-catching work he did as director of photography on his first feature film, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” earned him an Outstanding Cinematography award at Sundance, where the film debuted. The earthy and ethereal film went on to win big at Cannes as well, picking up critical praise everywhere along the way. But given the film’s subject — a young girl and her father living outside the levies of New Orleans in a flood-prone community called Bathtub — it wasn’t the most comfortable gig for a man with a camera.

This looked like a pretty involved shoot, physically.

Directors and the rest of the crew can be a little bit more cautious about what they do, but actors and the person physically holding the camera are two sets of people who can’t. If the shot demands that you’re in the water and the camera’s in the water, you get in the water … I never wanted to say, “I shouldn’t do this” or “I couldn’t do this.” I wanted to just get in there and do it.

And of course on top of that,  accommodations on indie films can be pretty sparse.

I ended up finding this weird big house, and the production ended up putting Crockett, the editor, in there with me. I ended up rattling around this huge, weird suburban family home, and it ended up being the perfect thing for me because it just gave me that space to decompress in the morning.

It sounds like a nice place to come home to.

We ended up with a family of kittens living with us. I threw a huge party at that place in the last couple of weeks of it — half the crew came over. And at one point I mentioned to someone that there’s kittens living in the cupboard, and in no time the chill-out room became the kitten room. I went in there and there were six crew members lying there, blissed out with a little kitten resting on their neck. People remember that pretty fondly. It was beautiful.

How did you deal with the physical challenges of the shoot?
   
I had a very, very serious strategy for dealing with it. In the earliest days of pre-production, as we were jumping in and out of the bayou and Lake Pontchartrain, climbing up in trees … I just started to panic because I was like, “I could literally mess myself up. If I sprain something or if my feet start hurting, I’m operating the movie entirely and lighting it every morning. I can’t be the weak link here.” So, and I’m not kidding, I think I had about five or six different types of footwear in the van. I had about a dozen dry towels, six changes of clothes, shorts, rain stuff.


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