Australian film photographer Ari Wegner on the verge of Oscar story

Ari Wegner remembers a life-changing phone call from Jane Campion during a bulging Christmas in 2018.

“I finally braved the heat of going to the supermarket and looked down at my phone and Jane called,” says the Australian film photographer from New York. “I hadn’t talked to her in a while, and I really thought it must have been a random call.”

But instead of just a pocket watch, Campion wanted to know what Wegner was doing for the next few years. She had a western The power of the dogit was called – she was planning to shoot in New Zealand.

“It was just the call you dream of,” Wegner says.

Film photographer Ari Wegner shoots The Power of the Dog with director Jane Campion.

Film photographer Ari Wegner shoots The Power of the Dog with director Jane Campion. Credit:Netflix

Four years later, she has the chance to write history at the 94th Academy Awards on Monday, with a nomination for Best Cinematography along with other Australian and good friend Greig Fraser (Dune). No woman has won the award at the Oscars, and only one has been nominated before – Rachel Morrison (Mud-bound) in 2018.

Wegner, 37, grew up in a creative household in Melbourne – her father Peter won the Archibald Award last year – with an interest in photography. It switched to film when she saw Campion’s short film from 1983 Passionless moments.

“It was the first movie I think I saw that felt like something a normal person could do,” she says. “That a story could be really small and be a great movie.”

Ari Wegner, 37, grew up in Melbourne.

Ari Wegner, 37, grew up in Melbourne.Credit:Ben King

The two had shot a bank commercial together and got along well when Wegner rose through the ranks with a series of boldly creative films – Lady Macbeth (2016), The savage (2018), I Stof (2018), True story about the Kelly gang (2019) and Zola (2020).

While women have been sadly underrepresented, Australian film photographers have an impressive record at the Oscars.

In addition to six victories, this is the third time the country has two nominees in the same year.

Both times before, an Australian has won – Andrew Lesnie (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) by Don McAlpine (Red Mill!) in 2002 and Russell Boyd (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) by John Seale (Cold Mountain) in 2004.

A third Australian photography director shares the glory of the Hollywood Awards this year with Peter Levy, who has won the Emmys for Californication and Peter Seller’s life and deathwins American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) lifetime achievement award for television.

Other Australians have also excelled in Hollywood, including Mandy Walker (Hidden figures, Mulan, Elvis), Adam Arkapaw (Real detective, Assassin’s Creed), Oscar winner Dion Beebe (Memories of a Geisha, Gemini mand, The little Mermaid) and Toby Oliver (Go out, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.).

So why, back to Oscar winner Dean Semler and other pioneers in the 1980s, have Australian film photographers done so well in Hollywood?

Wegner believes they may be easy to work with.

“The Aussies are also pushing a bit against the hierarchy,” she says. “We treat everyone fairly equally. And maybe we come from the Australian film industry, we do not always have the biggest budgets and we do not have all the toys you read about in American film photographer so there is a kind of ingenuity. ”

Wegner believes that training in small films, which are always pressured on time and resources, makes them problem-solvers who do not assume the solution is money.

Fraser, who has been in London preparing to shoot Dune: Second partdescribes cinematography as “half practical and half art”.

“We are committed to turning something that is on paper – it is intangible – into something that is tangible,” he says. “I feel Australians are very practical as human beings. We’re pretty good at getting started – head down, bum up – and getting on with it.


“Cinematography needs that level of plowing. But then a huge part of the artistic, which we also do quite well.”

Levy trained in documentaries – like many of the pioneers – before moving to the United States. He believes Australian film photographers are used to making things work with what they have.

“Generally in Hollywood, you can get what you want,” he says. “If you can afford it, it’s here to get it. In Australia, we had to improvise and get the big money results with smaller facilities. I guess it’s a skill that can translate good work in America and shoot dramatically. occupation.”

Many Australian photography directors also have the ability to remain calm on a hectic film set.

“What works for Australians – and I hope I do too – is a low tolerance for bullshit,” Levy says. “We tend to just want to get to the point. Do not get distracted and point fingers, let’s look for the solution.”

Seale, who shot George Millers Three thousand years of longing last year, believes that Australian film photographers “give everything a chance” and are relaxed.

“When I went over there in the early 80s with Peter Weir to do Witness“America was still in the middle of the very formal atmosphere on the set where the director of photography ruled,” he says. “He – and there were not many [female cinematographers] back then – was involved in the wardrobe, coloring, makeup, lighting, movement, the pictures …

“We did not have that in Australia. Our own style of making films in Australia was much more laid back, where wardrobe, makeup, hair and collaboration with the director on what images would work to make a good haircut, just became a nice team effort. ”

An excerpt from the Bulletin when the Australian cinematographer won an Oscar in 1951.

An excerpt from the Bulletin when the Australian cinematographer won an Oscar in 1951.

Seale believes that the Australian pioneers who recorded on film before digitization became standard had one advantage: they knew exactly what laboratories would do with their negative.

“It was a little scary to go to America and discover that the labs had no control,” he says. “They actually printed each picture for how they thought it was going to look. That’s why I thought a lot of the cameramen were very uneasy.

“There was a lot of bombastic ‘I’m photography director and I know what I’m doing, shouting and screaming. I always thought it was the uncertainty of what the lab did to their negatives.”

So who wins at the Oscars? Levy believes the story suggests Wegner.


“The Oscar likes ‘small l’ liberal cases, it likes period films, it likes location films,” he says.

Wegner knows that a victory would be historically significant.

“It’s going to be a really important milestone for filmmaking in general and for women,” she says. “The most important thing is the normalization of women filming big movies.

“It’s not like there are no women out there who do it; it’s that at a certain budget level or a certain film scale, there’s a perception that you need a guy, a male film photographer, for a great, proper film. “

Wegner and Fraser, friends since working together on the 2009 Australian film Last triphave enjoyed going through the awards season together.

She won at the British Society of Cinematographers Awards and the Critics’ Choice Awards; he won at the BAFTAs and ASC Awards. They also both caught COVID-19 at the awards ceremony, where Fraser was stuck in his hotel room during the BAFTAs, and Wegner was then stricken with bronchitis.

“I love him and I love his work,” she says. “It’s a little amazing that two kids from Melbourne are putting on their good go-out clothes.”

Fraser has enjoyed watching Wegner’s career flourish.

“If Ari were to win, there would be no one who was happier in that audience than me,” he says.

The 94th annual Oscars will be broadcast on Monday the Seven and 7plus, live from kl. 11:00 and is played again at 19.40. Follow our liveblog about the red carpet and ceremony from kl. 11.00.

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