A version of this story about “The Lighthouse” first appeared in the Oscar Nominations Preview issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.
If Willem Dafoe is nominated for Best Supporting Actor this year, the moment from “The Lighthouse” that will likely be used on Oscar Sunday will be his call upon Neptune and the forces of the sea to strike down Ephraim Winslow. As he invokes Triton to bring “black waves teeming with salt foam to smother this young mouth with pungent slime,” the faint light created by the lantern casts shadows across Dafoe’s maddened face, his wide eyes and bearded grin still shining in the darkness as the camera slowly closes in on him.
It’s one of many moments where the claustrophobic 1.19:1 screen ratio and noir-esque lighting heighten the unease that reigns over “The Lighthouse,” but cinematographer Jarin Blaschke says that the film’s unique visual style was made with the simplest of cinematography techniques.
“It’s a classic, ghost story, flashlight-under-the-face moment,” Blaschke said. “The halogen lantern was on a basic c-stand that we adjusted as the camera moved in on Willem’s face. With the way he was moving his face as he spoke it created this very serendipitous moment where everything came together.”
Blaschke’s dedication to basics was fitting for a film set on a cold, dreary island where the only source of light during stormy nights comes from the occasional fire, a flickering lantern, and of course, the seemingly otherworldly glow coming from the lighthouse tower.
“I don’t like to doggy paddle and put lights all over the stage. I go to great lengths to keep it simple with just a key light. If the scene needs the camera to see both eyes but one eye is hidden, I don’t want to add a fill light. I rather just build off the key light and work around it to see what you need to see rather than add another light source, which just mucks things up.”
When Blaschke spoke with TheWrap, he was in Iceland getting ready to start shooting on “The Northman,” his third collaboration with “The Lighthouse” director Robert Eggers. The two also worked on Eggers’ feature debut “The Witch,” and it is likely that the two will be working together for a long time as Blaschke cherishes the creative trust they share together.
“There’s a whole level of experimentation and mining what’s inside of me that I get to do with Robert. I can put ideas out there that I might not bring up to other people, and Robert might shoot it down and that’s fine. With other people I’m worried they might wonder if they hired the wrong person. I get to edit Robert and he gets to edit me, and that’s going to help with ‘The Northman’ because we’re going from a film that had only two characters and a very small setting to something with a much greater scope and number of characters.”
Read more of the Oscar Nominations Preview issue here.