The Cinematography Podcast Episode 119: Maryse Alberti

Maryse Alberti is a very eclectic and prolific cinematographer, shooting documentaries, indie films, television shows, commercials and large films over the course of her career. She prefers films that deal with something real- they don’t have to revolutionize the world, but the characters have to be interesting and grounded in reality.

On her latest film, Hillbilly Elegy, Maryse and director Ron Howard discussed how to treat the different time periods and places in the film. They wanted to juxtapose the character of J.D. at Yale against rural Kentucky and Ohio, while also making the flashbacks to his childhood stand out. The early childhood scenes are color rich and shot handheld, while Maryse used a Steadicam and normal color saturation for the more sedate and polite atmosphere at Yale. Hillbilly Elegy is about strong characters, requiring committed performances from actors Glenn Close and Amy Adams. Maryse made sure to give the actors and director the space to immerse themselves by devising unobtrusive lighting, coming in from windows outside and using lamps on the inside. Her  documentary experience of keeping it simple and natural also translates to her narrative work, and she’s discovered that it is now second nature to find the best camera placement for a scene.

Growing up in the South of France, Maryse didn’t see many movies or television shows until she moved to New York as an au pair in the 1970’s. She also worked in the art world, and had jobs as a performance trapeze artist, musician, assistant on small film sets, and took photos as a hobby. In 1990, she shot her first feature length documentary, H2 Worker, an expose of working conditions in the Florida sugar cane industry, which won Best Cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival. The documentary launched her career as a cinematographer.

Maryse next worked with director Todd Haynes on several films including Poison and Velvet Goldmine. She jumped at the chance to work on the visually rich Velvet Goldmine, loosely based on David Bowie’s early career of the 70’s. At the time, Maryse had just finished working with Bowie on a Michael Apted documentary called Inspirations, and was a huge fan of the glam rock era. She and Haynes spent a great deal of time in pre-production and Maryse found his storyboards to be amazing works of art.

Maryse continued to work on indie films in the 1990’s, never shying away from difficult subject matter, such as the controversial Todd Solondz movie Happiness, which includes a storyline with a character who is a pedophile. Maryse found Happiness to be a tough movie since it was so out of the mainstream, dealing with volatile and sexual subject matter that would be almost impossible to find today. But in spite of it all, the crew found ways to have fun with some of the absurd special effects props for the film.

Director Darren Aronofsky wanted his film The Wrestler to be entirely hand-held. As a shorter woman, Maryse knew it would be difficult and physically demanding to shoot entirely herself, so they hired camera operator Peter Nolan. Maryse and Aronofsky decided to shoot the entire movie on a single 12mm lens. They committed to a naturalistic approach for shooting it and stuck to it. They used a real location for the wrestling ring, including the real wrestling crowd and real wrestlers.

After The Wrestler, Maryse was able to use some of what she learned to shoot Creed, with the exception of the crowd. Maryse kept the camera on the action the entire time, to emphasize that a boxer is truly alone in the ring, rather than relying on any reaction shots from the audience.

In her documentary career, Maryse has worked with director Alex Gibney on several films, such as The Armstong Lie, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Taxi to the Dark Side. She also had the good fortune to work with the late documentarian Michael Apted on several films, such as Incident at Ogala and Moving the Mountain, about the student protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The two grew to be good friends after working together for several years, and she found him incredibly smart, sharp and funny.

Maryse Alberti’s latest film, Hillbilly Elegy is on Netflix.

Find Maryse Alberti: Instagram @marysealberti

Close Focus: Tentpole series for streaming services. George R.R. Martin just signed a mid-eight-figure first look deal with HBO for multiple Game of Thrones spinoffs, setting it up as a tentpole series for HBOMax. Disney+ has multiple tentpole series around Marvel, and Paramount Plus has created new Star Trek series as their tentpoles. Other services are currently looking to find something that sticks.

Ben’s short end: NFTs- Non-fungible Tokens for digital art and music. It now looks like it can be possible to own your own media in another way, as streaming replaces owning tangible CDs and DVDs.

Illya’s short end: The new Netflix movie Bad Trip, starring Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery and Tiffany Haddish.

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Podcast Credits:

Editor in Chief:  Illya Friedman@hotrodcameras

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Ben Rock

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Producer: Alana Kode

Editor: Ben Katz

Composer: Kays Al-Atrakchi

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Jeffrey Jur, ASC on shooting Bridgerton, working with Shonda Rhimes, Dirty Dancing, The Big Picture, The Last Seduction, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and more
Polly Morgan ASC, BSC on shooting A Quiet Place Part II, Legion, working with John Krasinski, Ellen Kuras, Wally Pfister and more

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