Aussie cinematographer Greig Fraser talks about his Oscar Nomination for Lion

While at a special function to celebrate the Aussies nominated for Academy Awards in Los Angeles, our very own Jaime Lewis sat down with Greig Fraser, who has received an Oscar nomination as Director of Photography for Lion – one of three Australian films (alongside Tanna and Hacksaw Ridge), which is enjoying a slew of nominations at the annual award ceremony. And though Lion may have been one of his most celebrated works, he’s also coming off the back of working as DOP on one of the biggest films of the last year – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Greig spoke to Jaime about the nomination, filming in India and what it all means for Australian cinema.

First of all, congratulations on the Oscar nomination, and on what was a massive year for you…

Well it was actually the culmination of several years of work, both Lion and Rogue One took quite a bit of time to produce – and were released around the same time, which is a funny thing because you do a year and a half’s worth of work, and they come out almost two days apart! It’s quite unnerving – I would have liked it not to time out like that, but I didn’t have any say in it!

Lion is up for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography for Greig Fraser

And this is your first Academy Award nomination – what does something like this mean for you?

I don’t know, but I guess it does helps validate my job a little bit. Without underplaying what the Academy does, everyone knows what an Oscar is. I was just talking to my neighbour today, who doesn’t speak much English – he’s a 70 year old Mexican guy – and I mentioned I was nominated for an Oscar, and he knew exactly what that was. Worldwide, everyone knows what that means, and it sort of puts you in that “upper echelon” in everybody’s minds. Though I don’t subscribe to the theory that an award show validates a creative person’s ability, because there are so many incredible people who work in the field who have never been nominated, it’s fantastic and I’m not going to say no to a nomination!

And then you won the top prize at the ASC Awards for Lion, too, congratulations for that as well!

Yeah, that was fantastic. So the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) and the Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS), they’re closely linked, and so to have all my peers, my DP peers, who I grew up with, watching and admiring their work, all coming up to me and telling me they loved the film and they voted for it… that’s a really cool, it’s a real honour.

Can you talk a little bit about some of the challenges of achieving these award winning shots in India?

When you land in India, and you have a camera, the world gets very unusual. It’s hard to control people, there’s so many people. And for someone to come from the relatively small city of Melbourne, and turn up in Calcutta, which must have at least ten times as many people, it’s very hard. Ultimately though it’s all about creating a bubble between the camera and the actor, and allowing the actors the space to do their thing. So shooting in India, while it has its concerns, it also gives back a lot as well. You get so much natural beauty and energy out of the people, and the locations are amazing as well.

And working with Garth Davis, a first time feature director, what was it like working with him, as a well-experienced DOP?

Even though this is his first feature, he’s done quite a lot of shorts and quite a lot of commercials. So I’ve worked with Garth for hundreds of days of shooting, and thousands of hours of standing on set with him, so it wasn’t really a departure from that. We were always making the best out the story that we had; no matter the project, his process was still the same. So I never really made the leap between the work that I’d done with him before, and the feature, because we were always trying to serve the story.  But it  was great to work with him again, and to see him get a DGA award, I’m really proud of him. He’s an incredible Director and Australia should be really proud of Garth, and they should be watching his career very closely.

You’re nominated, as is screenwriter Luke Davies, and you’re up for Best Picture… it’s going to be really buzzy on Sunday!

Yeah, we’re looking forward to it. I think we’ll all have a drink and enjoy it. Of course it matters to the people that wins, that they won, but ultimately to be in this group of nominated is an incredible honour no matter what happens. And to have so many Australians nominated alongside me is amazing, it’s something I cherish. Australia really plays on the world stage, and it puts out a lot of great technicians and great creative people, and hopefully a film like this really ramps that up.

Lion is in cinemas now, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 5th April. The winners of the Academy Awards will be announced tomorrow from Noon AEDT, with a live broadcast on Channel 9.

Interview by Jaime Lewis, article by Larry Heath.