Wally Pfister

Wally Pfister

Wally Pfister, A.S.C. is an American cinematographer who is best known for his work on the films Batman Begins, The Prestige and The Dark Knight. He was nominated for the Academy Awards for Cinematography in back-to-back years (2005 and 2006). Pfister has been director of photography for director Christopher Nolan's films which include Memento and Insomnia, as well as F. Gary Gray's The Italian Job.


Early life

Pfister’s grandfather was the city editor of a newspaper in Wisconsin and his father was a TV news producer who began his career with CBS-TV in Chicago in 1955. Later he worked with Huntley-Brinkley and with Peter Jennings covering political conventions, space flights and the civil rights movement.

When Pfister was approximately 10 years old, a film company shot scenes for Shamus, featuring Burt Reynolds, in his neighborhood. The boy was fascinated by the crew setting up lights and cameras. Soon afterwards, he began shooting 8 mm home movies and short films. Pfister also emulated his father by shooting slides on Kodachrome film and assembling them into little shows for family and friends.


After high school, Pfister found a job as a production assistant at a television station in Salisbury, Maryland. Within a couple of months, he borrowed a CP16 news camera and began shooting little films on weekends, including a visual essay about a Victorian house. “I did these slow, little intricate moves around the architecture of the house,” he recalls, “cut it together with music, and showed it to the production manager. They made me a cameraman. I shot very low budget PSAs for $125 a week.”

Within a few months, Pfister found a job as a cameraman for a Washington, D.C. news service, which provided film for TV stations around the country. With co-anchor Daniel Lockney, he covered Congress and the White House as well as breaking news from 1982 through 1985.

In 1988, Robert Altman came to Washington to direct a mini-series for HBO called Tanner ‘88. Altman was looking for a real news cameraman to play that role in his show. They hired Pfister and asked him to also shoot some B-roll. When the producers saw his work, they brought Pfister on the show as the second unit cameraman. It was the first time he was exposed to acting and dramatic material.

After that experience, Pfister enrolled at AFI. During his second year, he was nominated for an Academy Award in the short subject category for a film about a man caught up in the apartheid struggle. He drew on his documentary experience, and lit it darkly and stark, using a single light so the actor could play in and out of that source.

Janusz Kaminski, ASC had just graduated from AFI, and met Pfister that year. He saw Pfister’s film and recruited him as a grip and electrician for various projects, including a few with Papamichael.

Roger Corman gave Pfister an opportunity to shoot pickup shots and inserts for a Papamichael film. It was the first time he shot 35 mm film. After that, Pfister handled second unit for Papamichael on Body Chemistry and also on other Corman films.

Pfister shot The Unborn, his first feature, in 1991. After that, he filmed an array of horror movies, typically on 15-day schedules.

In 1995, Papamichael asked Pfister to operate for him on a studio picture called Unstrung Heroes. Diane Keaton was the director.

Work with Christopher Nolan

In 1999, Pfister shot The Hi-Line in Montana in the dead of winter on a $300,000 budget. It got into the competition at Sundance. That’s where he met Nolan, who also had a film at Sundance.

Pfister's first collaboration with Nolan was on the neo-noir thriller Memento (2000). The success of this collaboration resulted in Pfister taking over as Director of Photography for Nolan's subsequent films: Insomnia (2002), Batman Begins (2005) and The Prestige (2006).

Pfister has since completed his 5th collaboration with Nolan with the release of The Dark Knight (2008).

As of 2008, Wally Pfister is the only cinematographer that Christopher Nolan has worked with (except Following which he shot himself).

Selected filmography

External links

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