Wally Pfister

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Wally Pfister
Walter C. Pfister

(1961-07-08) July 8, 1961 (age 59)
Education AFI Conservatory
OccupationCinematographer, Director
Years active1988–present
Organization American Society of Cinematographers
British Society of Cinematographers
Anna Julien
(m. 1992;div. 2015)
Children3, including Claire Julien

Walter C. Pfister (born July 8, 1961) is an American director and retired cinematographer, who is best known for his work with acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan. Some of his collaborations with Nolan include Memento (2000), The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005–2012), and Inception (2010). For his work on Inception, Pfister won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography and received a BAFTA Award nomination.


Pfister is also known for his work on director F. Gary Gray's The Italian Job and Bennett Miller's Moneyball . In 2014, Pfister made his directorial debut with Transcendence (2014), through Alcon Entertainment. In addition to feature films, he has also directed commercials and television, including episodes of Flaked and The Tick .

Early life

Pfister was born in Chicago, Illinois and raised in the New York suburb of Irvington-on-Hudson. [1] He is the son of Patricia Ann (née Conway) and Walter J. Pfister, Jr. [2] His grandfather was the city editor of a newspaper in Wisconsin. His father, also known as Wally, was a TV news producer, who began his career with CBS-TV in Chicago in 1955. Later, as an executive at ABC News, the elder Pfister worked with David Brinkley and Peter Jennings, covering political conventions, space flights and the civil rights movement.

When Pfister was about 11, a film company shot scenes for Shamus (1973), featuring Burt Reynolds, in his Irvington neighborhood. The boy was fascinated by the crew setting up lights and cameras. Soon afterwards, he began shooting 8 mm home movies and short films. Pfister also emulated his father by shooting slides on Kodachrome film and assembling them into little shows for family and friends.


After high school, Pfister found a job as a production assistant at a television station, WMDT-TV, in Salisbury, Maryland. Within a couple of months, he borrowed a CP-16 news camera and began shooting little films on weekends, including a visual essay about a Victorian house. "I did these slow, little intricate moves around the architecture of the house," he recalls, "cut it together with music, and showed it to the production manager. They made me a cameraman. I shot very low budget PSAs for $125 a week."

Within a few months, Pfister found a job as a cameraman for a Washington news service, which provided film for TV stations around the country. He covered the United States Congress, the White House and breaking news from 1982 through 1985. In 1985 Pfister began a freelance career shooting documentaries for the PBS series "Frontline" and industrial videos for various Washington production companies.

In 1988, Robert Altman came to Washington to direct a mini-series for HBO called Tanner '88 (1988). Altman was looking for a real news cameraman to play that role in his show. They hired Pfister and asked him to also shoot some B-roll. When the producers saw his work, they brought Pfister on the show as the second unit cameraman. It was the first time he was exposed to acting and dramatic material.

After that experience, Pfister enrolled at the American Film Institute. During his second year, he collaborated with his classmates on a short film called "Senzeni Na?", which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 1991. The film told the story of a man caught up in the apartheid struggle. Pfister drew on his documentary experience, and lit it darkly and stark, using a single light so the actor could play in and out of that source.

Janusz Kamiński had just graduated from the AFI Conservatory, and met Pfister that year. He saw Pfister's film and recruited him as a grip and electrician for various projects, including a few with Phedon Papamichael.

Roger Corman gave Pfister an opportunity to shoot pickup shots and inserts for a Papamichael film. It was the first time he shot 35 mm film. After that, Pfister handled second unit for Papamichael on Body Chemistry and also on other Corman films.

Pfister shot The Unborn, his first feature, in 1991. After that, he filmed an array of independent B-movies, typically on 15-day schedules. Many of these early films were directed by Gregory Dark.

In 1995, Papamichael asked Pfister to operate for him on Diane Keaton's Unstrung Heroes (1995).

Work with Christopher Nolan

In 1998, Pfister shot The Hi-Line in Montana in the dead of winter on a $300,000 budget. It got into the competition at Sundance Film Festival. There, he met Nolan, who had a film at Slamdance. Pfister's first collaboration with Nolan was on the neo-noir thriller Memento (2000). The success of this collaboration resulted in Pfister taking over as director of photography for Nolan's subsequent films: Insomnia (2002), Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), which he partially shot with IMAX cameras, and Inception , which was shot partially in 5-perf 65 mm. He is the only cinematographer that has worked with director Christopher Nolan between Memento and The Dark Knight Rises , and has served as cinematographer for all of Nolan's films except for Following (1998), for which Nolan acted as cinematographer himself, Interstellar (2014), Dunkirk (2017), and Tenet (2020), in those of which he was replaced by Hoyte van Hoytema, after Pfister got the chance to direct his first film, Transcendence . Pfister has stated that he "turned down many projects (including several Harry Potter films), in some cases just to be available for Nolan, or to stay home with my family." [3]

Pfister has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography four times, each time for a film directed by Nolan. He won an Academy Award for his work on Inception at the 83rd Academy Awards. He also has been nominated three times for the American Society of Cinematographers Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases, for Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and Inception, winning for the latter, in 2011.

Directorial work

Pfister made his directorial debut with the science fiction thriller Transcendence , starring Johnny Depp, which was released by Warner Bros. on April 18, 2014. [4] The cast also featured Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Rebecca Hall, and Paul Bettany. [5]

Pfister had stated in 2015 he is finished with working as a cinematographer and planned to continue as a director. [6]

Personal life

Pfister currently resides in Los Angeles, California and has three children: Nick, actress Claire Julien, and Mia. [7]

He is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) since 2002, and the British Society of Cinematographers (BSC) since 2011.


As cinematographer

YearTitleDirectorOther notes
1991 The Unborn Rodman Flender
Lower Level Kristine Peterson
1992 Secret Games Gregory Dark 1st collaboration with Dark
Night Rhythms
Animal Instincts
1993 Stepmonster Jeremy Stanford
Amityville: A New Generation John Murlowski
Mirror Images 2 Gregory Dark
1994Object of Obsession
Secret Games 3
Stranger by Night
1995 The Granny Luca Bercovici
1997A Kid in Aladdin's PalaceRobert L. Levy
1998Rhapsody In Bloom Craig Saavedra
Breakfast with Einstein Craig Shapiro
1999 The Hi-Line Ron Judkins
2000 Memento Christopher Nolan 1st collaboration with Nolan
2001 Rustin Rick Johnson
Scotland, PA Billy Morrissette
2002 Insomnia Christopher Nolan
Laurel Canyon Lisa Cholodenko
2003 The Italian Job F. Gary Gray
2005 Slow Burn Wayne Beach
Batman Begins Christopher Nolan
2006 The Prestige
2008 The Dark Knight
2010 Inception Academy Award for Best Cinematography
2011 Moneyball Bennett Miller
2012 The Dark Knight Rises Christopher Nolan
Marley Kevin MacDonald

As director

YearTitleOther notes
2014 Transcendence
2016 Flaked Television series;
4 episodes
The Tick Television series;
2 episodes

Other credits

Additional photography

1990 Streets Katt Shea Phedon Papamichael
Naked Obsession Dan GoldenDick Buckley
1991 Prayer of the Rollerboys Rick King Phedon Papamichael
1997 Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery Jay Roach Peter Deming
1999 Stuart Little Rob Minkoff Guillermo Navarro
2000 The Million Dollar Hotel Wim Wenders Phedon Papamichael

2nd unit director of photography

1988 Tanner '88 Robert Altman Jean Lepine
1990 Body Chemistry Kristine Peterson Phedon Papamichael
Slumber Party Massacre III Sally MattisonJürgen Baum
1992 Leather Jackets Lee DrysdaleJames Chressanthis
1997 Mouse Hunt Gore Verbinski Phedon Papamichael
1998 Dennis the Menace Strikes Again Charles T. KanganisChristopher Faloona

Visual consultant

2013 Turbo David Soren Christ Stover

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards

2005 Batman Begins Best Cinematography Nominated
2006 The Prestige Nominated
2008 The Dark Knight Nominated
2010 Inception Won

BAFTA Awards

2008 The Dark Knight Best Cinematography Nominated
2010 Inception Nominated

American Society of Cinematographers

2005 Batman Begins Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography Nominated
2008 The Dark Knight Nominated
2010 Inception Won

Other awards

2000 Memento Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography Nominated
2005 Batman Begins British Society of Cinematographers Award for Best CinematographyNominated
2006 The Prestige British Society of Cinematographers for Best CinematographyNominated
Gold Derby Award for Best CinematographyNominated
2008 The Dark Knight Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Cinematography Won
Gold Derby Award for Best CinematographyWon
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography Won
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography Won
Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Cinematography Won
British Society of Cinematographers Award for Best CinematographyNominated
Houston Film Critics Society Award for Best Cinematography Nominated
2010 Inception Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography Won
San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Cinematography Won
Houston Film Critics Society Award for Best Cinematography Won
Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Cinematography Won
Satellite Award for Best Cinematography Won
Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Cinematography Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists for Best CinematographyNominated
British Society of Cinematographers Award for Best CinematographyNominated
Camerimage Golden Frog Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography Nominated
Gold Derby Award for Best CinematographyNominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best CinematographyNominated
2012 The Dark Knight Rises Hollywood Film Award for Best CinematographyWon
International Online Film Critics' Poll for Best CinematographyNominated

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  2. "Sheboygan Press Newspaper Archives, Jun 8, 1957, p. 7". 8 June 1957.
  3. "Christopher Nolan: The Movies. The Memories. – Part 2: Wally Pfister on Memento". Empire . July 2010. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  4. McClintock, Pamela (March 1, 2013). "Johnny Depp's 'Transcendence' to Hit Theaters in April 2014". The Hollywood Reporter . Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  5. "Cillian Murphy Reuniting with Wally Pfister for 'Transcendence' Sci-Fi".
  6. Nolan and I have gone our separate ways: Wally Pfister
  7. "Inception" winning Best Cinematography on YouTube