Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins and Oscar-nominated cinematographer James Laxton are as inextricably linked as two creators can be.
Coming of age together at the University of Florida where they met nearly 20 years ago, Laxton has lensed all of Jenkins’ work, from his 2003 short films Little Brown Boy and My Josephine (which would then become their first full feature together) to the Oscar-winning films Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk. “I talk about a visual vernacular that Barry and I share,” says Laxton on their collaborations.
For The Underground Railroad, the 10-part limited series on Amazon based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Colson Whitehead detailing the escape and journey to freedom of a slave girl named Cora in the antebellum south, the bar was raised in terms of level of difficulty, working with green screens and stunts and a 116-day shoot that put him to the test. But as with Jenkins [interview], Laxton’s collaborations with his Beale Street team like production designer Mark Friedberg [interview], costume designer Caroline Eselin-Schaefer, editor Joi McMillon and composer Nicholas Britell created a trust on a shoot that often an emotional rollercoaster.
I talked to Laxton about these core relationships, how they build a language of trust, telling a color story (including what cameras he used and why) and what he’s shot that you might not know about but should definitely check out.
The Underground Railroad is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. James Laxton is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie.
Photos courtesy of Kyle Kaplan/Amazon Studios