Brooklyn_1Sheet_Mech_7R1.inddFrench Canadian cinematographer Yves Bélanger has shot many renowned films, from Xavier Dolan’s groundbreaking Laurence Anyways to the Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club and Wild. His latest film is John Crowley’s gorgeous Brooklyn which was just nominated for three Academy Awards — Best Picture, Best Actress for Saoirse Ronan, and Best Screenplay for Nick Hornby. Brooklyn tells the moving story of Eilis Lacey (Ronan), a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, Eilis departs Ireland and the comfort of her mother’s home for the shores of New York City. Her initial homesickness diminishes after Eilis is swept off her feet by a new romance, but her new life is soon disrupted by her past, and the young woman must choose between two countries and the people reaching out to her in each. Bélanger expertly created the lush look of the film with a very modest budget. I spoke to him by phone from the set of his next project, a series for HBO that he’s busy working on with Brooklyn’s director, John Crowley.

Danny Miller: You’re known for doing amazing things within a pretty small budget. I assume the budget for this one was relatively small as well?

Saoirse Ronan and DP Yves Bélanger on the set of Brooklyn. Photo by Kerry Brown. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Saoirse Ronan and DP Yves Bélanger on the set of Brooklyn. Photo by Kerry Brown. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Yves Bélanger: A little more than average but I’m used to shooting without a lot of money so I was very comfortable. It’s all about the preparation. We were extremely prepared on this film.

Was Brooklyn shot mostly on location or did you also use soundstages?

Very little — we did all the interiors of the boat in the studio but the rest was on location. Of course we had to dress those locations to make them look right for the period but I always prefer using real places, especially for a film like this.

The look of this film is just so stunning. I’m sure achieving that involved a lot of collaboration with John Crowley and your fellow Québecois production designer, François Séguin.

Oh, absolutely. And, of course, our wonderful costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux. But François was very important — we spent a lot of time going over his designs and planning how to best shoot them. It was a very fun process.

The lighting in this film was gorgeous and evoked some of the movies of the period in which the story takes place.

It’s funny because it was only after we finished the movie that I realized I had used some of Gordon Willis’s techniques, the cinematographer who shot all the Godfather movies and many Woody Allen films. I used a 40 mm lens a lot which was Gordon Willis’s favorite and while I mostly used realistic lighting — as if it were coming from the windows and other natural sources — if you look closely, I often added an extra light just to add a little magic and help create the mood. I wanted that realism but with a touch of glamour.


You’ve worked on so many interesting films. What attracts you most to a particular project?

Well, I’m attracted to a good director, for sure, and I’ve been very lucky there. Usually you think about the director, the story, and the money, and if you get two of the three you usually do it. But these days I’m very lucky, I usually get all three!

Are there any types of films you haven’t worked on yet that you’d love to shoot?

Yes, I would love to do a musical! I hope I get that opportunity.

I’m very excited about Saoirse Ronan’s Oscar nomination, she was so great in this film. What do you think about awards in general?

She’s so fantastic and it’s crazy to look at what she’s already done since she’s only 21! I can’t wait to see how her career unfolds. As for the awards, I usually feel like I’m on the end of the food chain. I’m getting used to all of the people around me getting the Oscar nominations. But that’s fine, believe me, I just really enjoy the work!