Slawomir Idziak: "Transforming Words into Pictures"

Sławomir Idziak is a Polish cinematographer who was nominated for an Academy Award as well as a BAFTA for 'Best Cinematography' in the film Black Hawk Down (dir. Ridley Scott) in 2012. He has made fourteen films with Krzysztof Zanussi, including Imperativ (Golden Lion Prize nomination  and Special Jury Prize in Venice, 1982) or Constants (Jury Prize and Ecumenical Jury Prize in Cannes, 1980). Idziak worked on all the early films of Krzysztof Kieślowski, including his television, feature film and foreign debuts, additionally, Idziak and Kieślowski collaborated on A Short Film About Killing (1988), The Double Life of Véronique (1991) and Three Colors: Blue (1993).

Slawomir Idziak will held a special 5-day long workshop for limited number of places. We will reveal more info soon!   

Idziak's choice of career was not a matter of chance: his maternal grandfather, Józef Holas, was a valued photographer already before World War I. Also Idziak's parents, Halina Holas-Idziakowa and Leonard Idziak, have been involved in artistic photography. Both are members of the International Photographic Art Federation (FIAP) and are recognized for their technical mastery.

He studied at the Łódź Film School where he graduated in 1969. Idziak started his career as an assistant cinematographer on films by Jerzy Kawalerowicz and Janusz Majewski and of cinematographer on Andrzej Wajda's The Wedding (1972). But it was their only film cooperation, at this time Idziak had teamed up with two other important Polish directors - Krzysztof Zanussi and Krysztof Kieszlowski.

In 1970 Idziak had met Krzysztof Zanussi during shooting short film for television - Mountains at Dusk. This was one of the most important artistic meetings, resulting in him doing photography for all of Zanussi's films in 80´s, from the philosophical Constans (1980), The Contract (1980), From a Far Country (1981), Imperative (1982) and A Year of the Quiet Sun (1984), which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Festival. 

Zanussi sees the world very precisely; the way it is built. All of his films take place in a very concrete reality, yet all of them contain things which transcend another dimension. My job is to choose such imagery as will emphasize this extra dimension.

Slawomir Idziak

Idziak´s first meeting with Krzysztof Kieślowski in 1973 during the shooting television featute - The Underground Passage has the same importance as his meeting with Zanussi. In 1976 Idziak did the photography for other Kieślowski's film - The Scar and ten years later Kieślowski asked him to be the cinematographer on the fifth part of Dekalog. Each part had a different cinematographer and the fifth part shot by Idziak became one of Kieślowski's most famous films - A Short Film About Killing (1987), the winner of the first-ever European Film Award and two awards in Cannes Film Festival. In 90´s Idziak worked with Kieślowski on two other films The Double Life of Veronique (1991) and Three Colours: Blue (1993).

To be honest, the style of Three Colours: Blue came about by coincidence. I remember that at the beginning of the film, when the journalist visits Julie [Juliette Binoche] and asks her about her husband, she’s attacked by the music and a blue light pops up. This effect was achieved totally by accident, meaning that I had something in mind but my plan didn’t work. It was a Saturday and the amount of light was too weak to achieve a decent effect. So I placed the negative on the plate and had the blue gels on the camera, then I opened the plate door and it happened by miracle honestly. And the first edit of the movie was really bad…

Slawomir Idziak

At this time, it was a start of international career. He was approached by Hollywood and in very short period he has worked on Andrew Niccol’s sci-fi feature Gattaca (1997), Taylor Hackford’s Proof of Life (2000), Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down (2001) and Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur (2004).

Idziak had gain his first Oscar nomination thanks to Ridley Scott’s war film based on non-fiction book of the same name by Mark Bowden - Black Hawk Down. He said about it: "I started the implementation of the movie "Training Day", I was already after the documentation, when my agent called from the production of "Black Hawk Down" with an offer for me. I even agreed to pay compensation because I really wanted to work with Ridley Scott. But it was quite a dramatic choice." This ninety-million-dollar picture about the failed US intervention in Somalia was a new experience for Idziak on a couple of counts, not least because the pilot's mistake made the cameraman crew a target for a hail of hot shells from machine gun bullets.

Ridley Scott is a very visual director, and is famous for coming up with his own storyboards. So my job was mostly to figure out where to put the other cameras. I always got a storyboard for the first camera, and I needed to stick to what I was asked to do. Ridley is very much like a kid—he likes to play with the toys of filmmaking. A very characteristic answer I got from him when presenting him my ideas—though of course he sometimes bought them—was: “Oh, this is a very good idea. But you know, I prefer mine.” So this the style of his work. 

Slawomir Idziak

In 2007, Idziak was a cinematographer on blockbuster Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. "I spent on the set from 12 to 14 hours a day," said Idziak. Twelve months on the set of Harry Potter he described as the longest shooting period in his career. 

"This is not about creative freedom, it's about money. In "Harry Potter," changing the viewing angle of the camera could have resulted in additional costs. Big costs. For example, the decorations ended at a height of 2.5 meters, higher were lamps. Changing the angle means more post-production effects, that is more money. Storyboards allow production to control the author's pictures, a little out of fear."

Slawomir Idziak

In 2011 Idziak teamed up with the director Jerzy Hoffman to shoot the first Polish 3D film - Battle of Warsaw 1920. Idziak's reasons for wanting to shoot stereoscopically were, he says, very simple: "The battle is a very important part of Polish history - we won in a miraculous way against huge odds. But I don't think young people are so interested in our history, so I thought that by using 3D it would make good entertainment, as well as making the historical point. 3D gives the chance to refresh the cinema and is presenting us with new grammar that can be exploited for films like The Battle of Warsaw," he says. "What we're doing is opening a new chapter and using these discoveries to give a dimensional sense of the battle."

The last film Idziak´s film was Natalie Portman´s directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness (2015). The film which is based on an international bestseller by Amos Oz shot for four months in Israel. Idziak argues that Natalie Portman has set a very difficult task ahead of her: "She was a producer, wrote a script, directed and played the main role. In addition, the actors who accompanied her were not professionals. She had to direct them and at the same time teach them how to behave in front of the camera. I was very afraid of this movie, but in the end it did well."

Now, Idziak rarely make films, he is concentrating on educational activities. In 2006 he founded Film Spring Open, a foundation which providing young people an education corresponding to the latest technological achievements. His last film A Tale of Love and Darkness was also a result of his workshops. As he said: "I'm not that keen on making movies anymore. I don't have time for it - sometimes you spend a whole year on set of an American production. Now I am focused on something else, I have been organising Film Spring Open workshops for the last eleven years. Educating young people is a real gift, the best thing that can happen to an artist my age."