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After the Fall: Tim Orr on Postapocalyptic Thriller ‘Z For Zachariah’

Cinematographer Tim Orr sat down with Filmmaker‘s Matt Mulcahey to discuss his approach to shooting an eclectic mix of films, including the stark, documentary-like Compliance and the more graphic, futuristic drama, Z for Zachariah, in which a religious Christian woman and an atheist scientist meet after most of the world is destroyed.

Orr compares his work with Zachariah director Craig Zobel with his collaborations with art house favorite David Gordon Green, on more free-form films, including Prince Avalanche and Manglehorn:

“Certainly it is a bit more planned, but what was great about Z for Zachariah is that it becomes a very intimate thing,” Orr says. “There were only three actors and for more than half the shoot it was only two actors. So even though it’s a more classically orchestrated and in some ways precise film, you still just get in the room and block the scene. You still have room to figure things out and come up with ideas on the spot. Beyond that, it’s just sticking true to the rules that we made for ourselves and the tone we are trying to capture.”

And he explains the influence Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky had on Zachariah. “Craig and I talked a lot about Tarkovsky, especially movies like The Mirror, Stalker and even elements of the first quarter of Solaris. Some of that came through in the way the landscape becomes part of the story. And that’s easy to do when you’re in a place like New Zealand, which has spectacular scenery. That said, as much as it’s about the exterior world around them being this Eden-like paradise that frames everything in it, it was ultimately about capturing the emotions of the actors and a lot of that plays in formal close-ups.

“Craig and I wanted the film to have a subtly special look, and not the golden, day exterior light you would expect from an Eden-like world. I wanted it to feel like some of the Russian movies from the late ’60s, early ’70s — and I always tried to quantify that when we were doing the color correction with our colorist Alex Bickel. It was a fine line of finding where I would say to myself, ‘That looks Russian to me.'”