Phedon Papamichael, ASC "How to Tell a Story"

An award winnig cinematoghrapher whom credits include many critically acclaimed films, such as The Million Dollar Hotel, 3:10 to Yuma, Walk The Line, The Descendants, Nebraska, Downsizing & more.

 

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Phedon Papamichael was born in Athens, Greece and moved with his family to Germany, where in 1982 he completed his education in Fine Arts, in Munich. He was always into visual arts; his dad was a painter and a production designer. 

His first short film, the 35mm black & white SPUD, earned him the Award for Best Cinematography at the Cork Film Festival in Ireland. Following a call from John Cassavetes, his cousin and later collaborator, Phedon moved to Los Angeles. While continuing to work on short and experimental films, he began his feature career as a Director of Photography for Roger Corman, for whom he photographed seven films within two years.  

"There was one particular film called Le Mépris, its Godard's with Michel Piccoli and it was cinemascope, it was very graphic.. the colors... I related with that movie because first of all i loved Brigitte Bardot but second of all i realized that: "oh, there's somebody doing this job!". I mean i knew some directors but that's the first movie i wrote down the name of a cameraman. I wrote down Raoul Coutard. And i got: "ok, so there's somebody that does that. He moves the camera, he designs shots, he helps to tell the story, he helps the director." 
Phedon Papamichael, ASC

Papamichael now counts over 40 feature films to his credit as Director of Photography, including the early block-busters While You Were Sleeping starring Sandra Bullock and Cool Runnings, as well as Phenomenom, starring John Travolta, all directed by Jon Turteltaub. His credits include many critically acclaimed films, such as Unstrung Heroes (Un Certain Regard, Cannes 1995), directed by Diane Keaton, and Unhook the Stars, starring Gena Rowlands and directed by Nick Cassavetes.

Somebody asked me 'what is the most important thing for you in cinematography?'. I go 'Lighting'. They go 'Lighting?!'. Like it was some kind of surprise to them. That's how you tell a story. You create a mood. You set the light for the character.
Phedon Papamichael, ASC

Papamichael paired with several directors on multiple films including his work with Wim Wenders on Willie Nelson at the Teatro, The Million Dollar Hotel, Ode to Cologne: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Film and Other Side of the Road (short). His work with James Mangold included Identity, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma and Knight and Day


Papamichael´s collaboration with Alexander Payne including The DescendantsSideways, or highly acclaimed Nebraska, which received 6 Academy Award nominations, Papamichael received an Oscar nomination, a BAFTA nomination and an ASC nomination amongst other honors. “There wasn’t an intellectual or symbolically creative reason for black and white, it just seemed to be the appropriate format,” said Papamichael.  “As Alexander and I were growing up, a lot of film language was taught to us in black and white.  He grew up watching black and white westerns and Japanese movies; I grew up in Munich absorbing the German new wave, so we came together very naturally on the decision.”said Papamichael. 

The fourth collaboration between Phedon Papamichael and director Alexander Payne, Downsizing follows everyman Paul Safranek (played by Matt Damon) after he undergoes a procedure that reduces him to five inches in height. It's part of a social experiment to protect resources, limit pollution and ensure the survival of humanity. But Paul discovers that the miniature Utopia he's entered has its own set of problems. 

It was a difficult film to make because it's a concept film, it's sci-fi, it has a lot of effects, it's a longer shooting schedule. Typically our shooting schedules are a maximum of 50 days. Nebraska was 35, this one was 80.It's still an Alexander Payne movie, it's just set in a fictitious world of a downsized community. The "big" world and the "little" world were hard for Alexander to wrap his head around at first.

Phedon Papamichael

Papamichael's work also includes several forays into television. He received an ASC Award Nomination for Best Cinematography for Oliver Stone's innovative mini-series Wild Palms, as well as his second ASC Award Nomination for Best Cinematography for the Francis Ford Coppola-produced pilot White Dwarf. Papamichael has also shot and directed over 100 commercials for such clients as BMW, VW, Audi, Seat, Cadillac, Nissan, Hyundai, Renault, Fuji, Barilla, McDonalds, Fosters, Bud Light, Coors, Beck's, Goodyear, ESPN, Powerade and Nespresso. 

 

 

Selected filmography

Downsizing (2017)
The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016)
The Monuments Men (2014)
Nebraska (2013)
This Is 40 (2012)
The Ides of March (2011)
Knight and Day (2011)
The Descendants (2010)
Arcadia Lost (2009)
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
The Weather Man (2005)
Walk the Line (2005) 
Sideways (2004) 
Identity (2003) 
Moonlight Mile (2002) 
Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet (2002)
America's Sweethearts (2001)
The Million Dollar Hotel (2000) 
27 Missing Kisses (2000)
Willie Nelson at the Teatro (1998)
MouseHunt (1997)
Phenomenon (1996)