“If you told me four years ago that we’d be making a film with Terrence Malick, I’d say you were crazy,” says cinematographer Tim Orr, who in 1999 was composing the Malick-esque images of David Gordon Green’s poetic debut, George Washington. Now he and Green—who both graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts in 1998—are prepping for a spring start date on The Undertoe, based on a story by Malick (produced by Malick and Ed Pressman) that Orr describes as a Night of the Hunter-like fable about a couple of kids on the run. Orr calls the Badlands/The Thin Red Line director “our primary influence and favorite filmmaker ever. It’s pretty awesome.”
At Sundance 2003, the 35-year-old DP’s amber tones and delicate frames appeared in two of the most attractive American indies of the festival: All the Real Girls, his second CinemaScope collaboration with Green (opening this Friday) and Peter Sollett’s charmer Raising Victor Vargas (opening March 28, after kicking off the New Directors/New Films series).
Orr doesn’t believe that independent means grainy. “A lot of low-budget movies seem to be void of any look,” says Orr, who shot George Washington and Real Girls in widescreen 35mm with the Moviecam Super America (“It’s like a tank,” says Green). “Even with not much time or money, you can do a good job visually if you find the right locations.”
For Orr, who received a political science degree from Appalachian State University before discovering cinema, the right location is often his native North Carolina, imagined as a Southern wasteland littered with industrial detritus and abandoned railroads—”junk in decay,” as he admiringly puts it. “A lot of films set in the South can become very false, so what you have to do is drive down a dirt road for two hours and find some abandoned pool from the ’70s that’s overgrown with kudzu.”
Orr brings the same nostalgic hues and humane specificity to the Lower East Side in Vargas. However, the smaller 16mm gauge, claustrophobic apartments, and handheld improvisation is in sharp contrast to his work with Green. “It was a real challenge working in hot, tight, and sweaty environments where you’re almost standing on your head to get some of the shots,” says Orr. “But Pete wanted it to be very rough, very documentary-style, to keep the performances as natural as possible.”
Now Orr’s looking forward to The Undertoe, where he and Green are considering another type of bygone aesthetic: “We’re thinking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” he says. And in the fall, Green and Orr will likely team up again for the long-delayed film version of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces for Miramax. “David wants me,” says Orr, “but I am still subject to approval.”
J. Hoberman’s review of All the Real Girls