Behind the Lens: DP Jo Willems & Limitless
COW Library : Cinematography : Debra Kaufman : Behind the Lens: DP Jo Willems & Limitless
Imagine you could take a simple pill that would give you easy access to 100 percent of your brain? That's the premise of Limitless, which the filmmakers describe as "a paranoia-fueled action thriller about Eddie Morra (played by Bradley Cooper), an unsuccessful writer whose life is transformed by a top-secret smart drug that allows him to use 100% of his brain and become a perfect version of himself." Under the influence of the drug, Eddie can do anything, including learning any language in a day, and soon makes a fortune and has women falling at his feet. But he also draws the attention of shadowy forces that will do anything to get their hands on his stash of pills.
Directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Interview with the Assassin) from a script by Leslie Dixon (Hairspray, The Thomas Crown Affair), based on the novel Limitless (originally The Dark Fields) by Alan Glynn, Limitless, which also stars Robert De Niro, was shot by cinematographer Jo Willems.
Willems, who hails originally from Belgium, initially made his name with music videos and commercials and then burst onto the feature film scene with Hard Candy, directed by David Slade and released in 2005. He went on to shoot London (2005, director Hunter Richards), Rocket Science (2007, directed by Jeffrey Blitz), 30 Days of Night (2007, directed by Slade) and Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009, directed by P.J. Hogan) before landing Limitless. Creative COW's Debra Kaufman sat down with Willems to talk about the distinctive look he's created for Limitless.
How did you get on the project?
Neil [Burger] had seen a couple of my films. I had done a movie with the AD he was working with who also recommended me. Neil and I got together. Usually when you do these meetings on the phone, you've read the script and taken some notes, but there's not much to say about the language of the film. Straight away, we found we had some films we liked in common, and that brought us closer together in a creative relation.
(Left to right.) Director Neil Burger reviews a scene with star Bradley Cooper on the set of Relativity Media's LIMITLESS. Photo Credit: John Baer ©2011 Dark Fields Productions, LLC All Rights Reserved.
Which films did you both like?
We talked a lot about Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, and the Dardenne Brothers, not necessarily films that were related to Limitless, but we got onto this tangent about those kinds of films. That got the spark going between us. I'm close to the Ken Loach style of filmmaking, which is honest and truthful. Even Limitless has some of that…a rawness, to have the audience dragged into something that's real, has some weight rather than being plastic.
You've had a lot of experience shooting music videos and commercials? What do you like about this work?
I started this when I was pretty young. Music videos were my early love, and let me develop a craft and work. Then commercials came around, and that became something else. You start dreaming about making movies. Long-form is something definitely that I like. You really get the joy of developing a whole visual language with a long-form piece. This film had so much potential because of the main character that changes and constantly changes back and forth. To develop a language and look, to try to make the audience feel what the character was feeling, was really fun.
How did your background prepare you to shoot Limitless?
I guess whatever you do, you bring it with you. I never work in specifics when I start a project. I work in a more intuitive way. Things come to me and are stored within my head of whatever inspired me. My experience in music videos and commercials…it's all one melting pot in my head.
Bradley Cooper stars in Relativity Media's LIMITLESS. ©2011 Dark Fields Productions, LLC All Rights Reserved.