Miller chose Fraser "because, first of all, he’s an incredibly sensitive and caring person, and you can’t understate the importance of having the right personality in that position. And, second, he’s a true artist, and he also does a lot of the camera operating himself, and he has the eye of a poet. He’s a storyteller and is totally invested in what he’s shooting, and that’s the kind of DP this film demanded—someone who knows you don’t need to get overly stylish or sexy, but who knows when to get still, when to push in, when to frontlight or when to backlight. And it’s not a technical thing first, it’s a soul thing first, and Greig has all that."
Director and DP agree that the film’s technical challenges were mainly logistical, as the film was shot entirely on location with no stage work at all, except for the gyms that were built inside an abandoned high school. "We had a ton of locations, and they were scattered all over western Pennsylvania," reports Miller. "We also had a number of different platforms and different camera bodies—Panavision, and an ARRI 235 for all the handheld stuff, as well as different lens sets—and the challenge of getting something that draws from various eras of technology, and using lenses that somehow will all work together."
In terms of a visual plan and style, Miller and Fraser approached the first part of the film in a straightforward, realistic way. "We wanted it to be very earthy and grounded, where we’re in Wisconsin with the two brothers," notes Miller. "So the first act is a little bit more gritty and more documentary. Then there’s this discovery of a whole new world, when he arrives at the du Pont estate, and the camera starts moving differently. It’s lit a bit differently."
"At that point, you get a sense of this fairy-tale world of wealth and privilege," adds Fraser, who says his goal was to make the photography "sit well with the story and unfolding drama." Partly because it was a period piece set in the ’80s and ’90s, and partly because of the nature of the drama, Fraser and Miller decided early on to shoot 35mm film rather than digital. "We did some tests, and I was wildly impressed with the ALEXA," states Miller. "We did a bunch of side-by-side tests, and it was so hard to tell the difference, but in the end, in my gut, I just felt that film was the right choice for this."
The director adds that HD can "feel better" on a certain type of film, such as Spike Jonze’s Her. "I thought that was really better off shooting on the ALEXA. It looked amazing, and it had its own feel that HD was perfect for. But for a period piece, I wanted that depth and dimension that film gives you."
"While the digital looked really good, I just felt that Bennett’s precision and attention to detail in every frame just suited film better," Fraser agrees. "And while there are many advantages to shooting digital now, I still feel film records resolution and color a little better." He also notes that when production began in 2012, "there were still quite a lot of film shoots going on, so we felt we were able to justify it economically, as well as aesthetically."