I have tried to choose films where I can create reality
Cinematographer, Oscar winner for Pan's Labyrinth
"It is essential to pay close attention to the preparation process, because the opportunity will come, but there will be very few opportunities"
Pan's Labyrinth, Jackie Brown, Hellboy 2, From Dusk Till Dawn… All these great critical and public successes, and many more, have a common denominator: Guillermo Navarro, his cinematographer. The Mexican photographer, winner of an Oscar for Pan's Labyrinth, has shared his technical knowledge and various secrets of his career with members of the community TAI.
The first thing that surprises in Navarro is his precocity. His look began to be photographic from adolescence. “I started doing still photography at a very young age. At the age of 13, I set up a small laboratory at my parents' house, ”she recalls.
En TAI We are convinced that the arts have the capacity to transform society, but also the lives of those who feel the vocation. Navarro is an example of this: “Without photography I would not have survived. It has accompanied me throughout my life in my development ”.
Navarro is a paradigm of the maxim of "learning by doing" that our school has applied since its inception. “I was working taking still photos in a feature film and there I perceived the incredible complexity of photography in motion”, he comments. "Solving the equation of light in a moving camera, with moving actors is really a very difficult circus to master." Neither short nor lazy, complexity was his greatest stimulus: "I put aside still photography to try to understand this."
BEFORE DIFFICULTIES, PERSEVERANCE
Guillermo Navarro seems to have followed by heart that famous maxim of Cicero who points out that "the greater the difficulty, the greater the glory". Because adversity became his travel companion in his first steps in Mexico, with the impossibility of working in his country of origin. So, after making a name for himself in Mexican independent cinema, "I had to leave the country and start my career from scratch from Los Angeles." It was not bad at all.
The experience has left a very clear lesson to Navarro's credit. Persevere and prepare relentlessly so as not to miss the opportunity. And that's how he told the students of TAI: "It is essential to pay close attention to the preparation process, because the opportunity will come, but there will be few opportunities," he advises.
Being in permanent contact with the practice of the arts is another of the keys to training. "Take development very seriously and all the practice you want to do," he recommends. “It's important to try to be present on sets where professionals are working and to observe,” she says. However, he warns that it is not an easy job, but it is worth it. “It is very hard work, there are many hours, with a lot of pressure.”
THE TECHNICAL MASTERY OF GUILLERMO NAVARRESE
Throughout his extensive career as a cinematographer, Navarro has demonstrated technical mastery and a great capacity for providing imaginative solutions that do not clash with cinematographic language: “It is a language in itself and it has its rules. There is a grammar and there is a synopsis like any language has ”, he has told us. And not respecting them has repercussions on the artistic product: “normally when these rules are broken, it is done out of ignorance”, he points out. Hence the importance of good training.
During the talk, Guillermo Navarro has explained to the young artists the main technical aspects that every film photography professional should know. One of them is the axis: "Cinema is filmed with a camera that has only one eye, which is the lens," he explains. "And at the moment that we work with a single lens we are doing it in two dimensions." This is where it is very important to know everything about the axis. “It is essential to respect the laws and the eye so that both the viewer and the actors understand their position in the frame and the relationship between them,” he points out.
And the difficulties, invisible to those who do not know the technical keys of filming, are many. “When you are filming a scene at a table and there are eight diners and there is a dialogue between them, it is an axis nightmare. You have to take into account where each interpreter is looking ”, he explains Guillermo Navarrese. "In general, respecting the axis allows you to have a job that has more character, more quality", he commented to the students of TAI.
EXAMPLES OF HIS WORK
In the course of the talk, the young artists have been able to contemplate fragments of some of the main works as director of photography of Guillermo Navarrese. He himself has explained in detail how he worked on some of the most difficult scenes on set, such as Hellboy 2 o Jackie Brown.
Navarro explains that it is necessary to carry out a previous and in-depth analysis of the situation and maintain active contact with the entire team, especially in action scenes. “There is a collective work in the choreography with the coordinator of the specialists”, he comments.
“He has to know not only how to create the illusion of hitting and fighting, but also how that choreography can be governed by the axes.” The creation of the scene works like a puzzle to ensure that it has the necessary continuity and verisimilitude. “There must be an evolution, observe where the fight begins and where it goes. You have to start putting the pieces of the puzzle in order, but you can't necessarily shoot the scenes in order”, he explains.
Coordination between all aspects of the shoot is essential. No detail can be left to chance. “The solution is to always be attractive. You can't be in a rainy scene and come home dry. When it is an action situation, if the character has a cut on his face, this cut has to appear, even if he shoots the next day”, she argues.
TALENT AND VOCATION
The possibility of generating new worlds has stimulated the choice of works in which he has participated Guillermo Navarrese. “I've tried to choose movies where I can create reality,” he says. "I have sought to make films that occur in the past, in the future or in parallel realities and very rarely have I made tapes where I document the existing reality."
In the meeting with the students of TAI, Guillermo Navarro recalled how he and his team managed to develop that new world in Jackie Brown: “It is a film made in Los Angeles to which we gave a completely different treatment”, he points out. “It is a Los Angeles that nobody knows about, that is not in any other movie. We made it very plastic, almost ugly, because that was the aesthetic that interested us”.
THE VOCATION OF THE CREATOR
Guillermo Navarro wanted to highlight the creative work of the director of photography, the stimulus that creating new worlds entails. “One of the reasons why it has been important for me to choose which films to make is to bet on films where I can create reality”, he relates. “I have always sought to make films that take place in the past, in the future or in parallel realities, and very rarely have I made films where I document the existing reality”, he comments.
An example of this creation of new worlds occurred in Jackie Brown. “It's a movie made in Los Angeles and we managed to give a completely different treatment to the city, to show a Los Angeles that nobody knows about, that isn't in any other movie,” he says. The important thing is that photography generates the ideal environment for the film that you want to tell. "We made it very plastic, almost ugly, because aesthetics is in that."
CHANGES IN THE DIGITAL AGE
The cinematographer of El espinazo del diablo He has worked on almost 50 films, of which only four were made digitally. For Guillermo Navarro, the fundamental thing is to respect the condition of author of the artist. It is something inexcusable: “When the photographer worked in film there was a level of knowledge necessary to be able to expose and print the negative with light”, he explains to us. "That doesn't happen digitally."
It is a way of working, a different experience. “The risk of this is a bit of the iPhone phenomenon,” she warns. “You take the photo and the device decides all the balances, it generates a photo that is correct, very good. But he does it, you can only decide how to frame it, ”she indicates.
For Guillermo Navarro, the image must always be the product of the artist's decisions and work. “There is a whole discussion of how technology has enabled ignorance; now everyone is an expert, everyone knows,” he notes. And Navarro asks to rebel against this: "It is you who have to choose things and who must ensure that the result of the work comes to fruition."
Because art does not exist without the author. “The camera is the one that takes the photo, the camera offers the ingredients for you to cook the image. And this is essential that you understand, because if we don't fall into the drift that the camera is the boss. And that goes against the principles of who we are as artists and professionals”, he expresses.
Photography is an art and creators must defend their creations. Technology must be based on your talent, not the other way around. This idea underlies the discourse of Guillermo Navarrese. His track record and his successes are the best way to convince us of his argument.
Cinematographer, Oscar winner for Pan's Labyrinth
Guillermo Navarro was born in Mexico City in 1955. Since he was a teenager he showed his love for photography and little by little he entered the film industry.
He moved to France at a very young age, where he worked as an assistant to the cinematographer Ricardo Aronovich. Back in Mexico, he had his first opportunity as a cinematographer with the film Just around the corner, 1986 the year.
His first great success came with Cow's head (1991), directed by the Mexican Nicolás Echeverría and which gave a great boost to his career as a cinematographer. The film, which narrates the misadventures of the Spanish conquistador Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, was selected by the Mexican Film Academy to represent his country at the Oscars.
This tape was the first big boost to his career as a cinematographer. Navarro moved to Los Angeles shortly thereafter, where he began working with big names in the Hollywood industry.
A productive collaboration with Guillermo del toro
In 1993 he began his productive relationship with the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro with the film Cronos. The link between Navarro and Del Toro has won the biggest awards in the film industry.
In 2002, El espinazo del diablo it became a hit with the public and won, among others, the Grand Prix at the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival.
Two years later, the Del Toro-Navarro tandem conquered the public with a film that is already a classic of science fiction and fantasy, Hellboy. A success that was repeated in 2008 with the second part of the film, in which they also collaborated.
But it was in 2006 that their cooperation received the highest awards. Pan's Labyrinth received a string of international awards. Among them, the Oscar for best photography, which praised Navarro's work. This fairy tale that mixed history, fantasy and science fiction received three Oscars and 55 international awards.
With the most prestigious directors
Many of the most groundbreaking professionals in the industry have wanted to work with Navarro. Robert Rodríguez chose him for works such as Desperado o Open till dawn.
In the latter, the script was by Quentin Tarantino, who decided to have the participation of Navarro in Jackie Brown (1997)
But the creativity of Guillermo Navarro has not only put himself at the service of science fiction and fantasy for adults. Also great successes of family cinema have had his imagination and technical knowledge. Between them, Stuart Little, Night at the Museum o The adventures of Doctor Dolittle (2020). Youth cinema also owes him his work in the saga Twilight.
In addition, he has worked as a director in several episodes of well-known series, such as Hannibal, Narcos o The Godfather of Harlem, among others.