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THE SOLOIST

Allegro Molto
Wright came to "The Soloist” with a very specific vision of the film's design – aiming to reflect the naturalistic truth of life on the streets of L.A. while at the same time bringing a musicality to the camera movements that mirror the transcendent themes of the story. For Foxx, the simple poetry of Wright's approach was key to the film. "The way Joe uses the camera captures everything the movie is about,” says the actor. "He always contrasts the darkness with beauty and light.”

To do so, Wright brought on board a largely British team of collaborators, most of whom had worked with him before. He worked especially closely with Irish-born cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who received an Oscar® nomination for his lyrical photography for "Atonement.”

"Joe and I initially thought of a very simple, unadorned style for the film,” McGarvey reflects. "We both were thinking of the style of the British realists, particularly John Schlesinger's ‘Midnight Cowboy,' and the Italian neo-realists as well because I think this film, although grander than reality, does have some of the lyrical flashes the neo-realists had.”

He continues: "Most of all, we wanted a spare sort ascetic quality to the images, so you see the characters within a very believable frame. And because we used a lot of real people, we didn't want to in any way enhance the artificiality that you sometimes sense in Hollywood movies.”

Over several weeks, Wright and McGarvey storyboarded the entire film. They also made the key decision to shoot the film in 35mm anamorphic format, which, McGarvey notes, gives the film an even stronger sense of veracity. Just as important as veracity, however, was a musicality to the photography to echo the vital importance of music in holding together the threads of Nathaniel's world. "Music was absolutely critical to the photography for this film,” McGarvey emphasizes. "We would often film to a playback of music. It's amazing how this creates a synthesis between the actor and the camera, and how the camera sort of fuses with how the actor moves.”

Music often inspired specific photographic sequences in "The Soloist.” McGarvey gives an example: "When Nathaniel is playing underground in the tunnel, we wanted to show how the music elevates him, and give a sense of him taking flight. We devised a shot that would lead us into a symphonic, lyrical sequence, a centerpiece scene in the film that required a 100-foot Strada crane to rise up above an aperture in the street overpass and reveal the city above.”

Wright and McGarvey also coordinated closely with Sarah Greenwood, the film's production designer who won the BAFTA Award and received Oscar® nominations for her work on "Pride & Prejudice” and "Atonement.” With "The Soloist,” she continues her collaboration with key set decorator Katie Spencer, a relationship that has spanned more than a decade.

The concept that Greenwood and Spencer had in mind was to contrast Los Angeles' soaring wealth and lofty-minded dreamers with its less visible pockets of struggle and grit. This was all done in a compact, if highly charged, two square miles, in that vastly diverse zone between Disney Hall, Skid Row and the Los Angeles Times building. "In downtown Los Angeles, within those two square miles, we could create a microcosm of all the different aspects of the city,” Greenwood says. "Here, you have images of the wealth of the city and the glorious Disney Hall and literally, within spitting distance, you have the extreme poverty of Skid Row. The film emphasizes this contrast between Steve and Nathaniel's worlds by having Steve living on top of the hill from which he can look down at L.A. from on high, whereas Nathaniel is often found underground, in a basement or a tunnel.”

Greenwood spent time poring through the w

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