Russell Boyd on ‘Hacksaw’ meeting and Peter Weir’s next feature ‘The Keep’

Russell Boyd (r) with Peter Weir (l) shooting Master and Commander.

On May 6, the ACS National Awards for Cinematography will be held at NSW Parliament House, the 46th edition of the annual awards. 

This year, the work of the nominees was judged by a panel of five ACS members – president Ron Johanson plus Russell Boyd, Anna Howard, Ernie Clark and Andrew Taylor – over a three-day period. 

Feature nominees this year include Denson Baker (The Dark Horse), Andrew Commis (The Daughter), Katie Milwright (Looking for Grace) and Bonnie Elliott (Spear).

Judging feature work can be a tricky proposition, says Boyd. “We’re there to judge the cinematography, not the story or the direction, although that can influence your decisions.”

Boyd may be a veteran, with credits ranging from The Last Wave to Liar Liar, but he has well and truly embraced the digital revolution. “I really only shoot commercials these days and they’re all digital,” he says. “I love the new digital cameras.”

Boyd hasn’t shot a feature since Peter Weir’s The Way Back in 2010, but is still meeting about the occasional gig.

“I was one of the first people that Mel interviewed to shoot Hacksaw, and I knew I wasn’t going to get it,” he laughs.

“I think he did it under the Old Pals Act because I know him very well, although I haven’t worked with him for a long time. So I went in for the interview and he didn’t ask me much. I had more questions than he did, as to whether he wanted to shoot anamorphic or digital or film or blablabla. It was early days so he hadn’t made those decisions. But we talked a little bit about old times.”

Boyd worked with Gibson on Weir's Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously and later on Forever Young in the States, but the DP admits his feature days may be behind him.

“It’s bloody hard work and I’ve been doing them for years and years. Too much time away from home. We’ve got grandchildren now and I’m into my 70s, so I just don’t want to do that six-month drag anymore. It was after The Way Back that I thought, this is it. Because it was a really tough physical film to shoot, mostly in the snow.”

Although Boyd has shot Weir’s last two films, he says he’s unlikely to shoot the next, an adaptation of Jennifer Egan’s novel The Keep.

“The last time I spoke to him he was heading off to Germany to see if he could get it financed,” says Boyd. “It’s pretty unlikely that I would do it. It would be shot in Germany and [with] all-German crew. I don’t speak the language and it would be very tough.”

So who would Boyd pass the baton to? Of the current crop of cinematographers coming through, Boyd singles out Greig Fraser (Lion) for particular praise.

“I wouldn’t say he’s the new kid on the block because he’s been around for a while but he has really hit Hollywood with great gusto [this year],” says Boyd.

“I thought he did a fantastic job on the Star Wars film [Rogue One]. It didn’t get much recognition but every shot, every close-up in it was like the most exquisitely-lit portrait.”