The Cinematography Podcast Episode 120: Matthew Libatique, Part 1

Cinematographer Matty Libatique’s work ranges from mind-bending features like Pi, Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream to huge Marvel movies such as Iron Man and Birds of Prey. He enjoys balancing his work on both large films and smaller indies in order to feel satisfied and to keep his craft sharp.

For his latest film, The Prom, Matty met with director Ryan Murphy about the project. The star-studded cast and the message about gay acceptance appealed to him. But once Matty saw the Broadway play he was concerned- he had never shot a musical before, and he wasn’t quite sure how to translate a big Broadway musical into a movie. Matty had worked on several music videos and was the cinematographer of 2018’s A Star is Born, which featured musical performances, but it was incredibly gritty and grounded in reality compared to The Prom’s bubbly feel-good fantasy world. He and director Ryan Murphy met and knew they wanted to keep it big and colorful while not going too over the top. Murphy loves working with color, and the two decided The Prom had to feature two distinct palettes of colors- the yellow/browns of normal Indiana contrasted with the bright pastels of “the prom” and the theater people who descend on the town. For the final scene in the movie where all the characters go to the all-inclusive prom, Matty and his team utilized a full array of lights on stage that they programmed on the fly.

Growing up, Matty was always attracted to light, camera and composition in movies, but he didn’t understand what anybody did on a film set until he saw Do The Right Thing. The Spike Lee film made him realize he wanted to make movies. He went to AFI film school along with director Darren Aronofsky and the two bonded right away. They began making movies together in a partnership that continues today. Matty says of his long relationship with Darren Aronofsky that when you keep working with the same directors, it’s a sign you’re doing the right thing and dedicating your craft to the right ideas. Their first feature together, Pi, had to be created within the parameters of an incredibly low budget. Aronofsky couldn’t afford to shoot color film, only Super 16mm black and white reversal, so Pi had a grainy, gritty look and style immediately. A few scenes in Pi use a body-mounted rig to give it a first-person perspective. Matty and Aranofsky first saw the rig used by Icelandic cinematographers Eidur and Einar Snorri, now known as a Snorricam, and knew they wanted to use it in Pi- but the key was to use it sparingly.

Matty’s film, The Prom, is currently on Netflix. He is currently shooting the film, Don’t Worry Darling, directed by Olivia Wilde.

Hear our 2019 interview with Matty Libatique.

Listen for Matty Libatique, Part 2, coming next week! He talks about Tigerland, The Fountain, working with Spike Lee, Iron Man and more.

Find Matthew Libatique: Instagram @libatique

Close Focus: Movie theaters are opening up- Godzilla vs. Kong box office made $48.5 million in the first five days in theaters.

Illya’s short end: The Canon EOS R5 has just had a free firmware update that unlocks a new form of RAW Light recording ability.  You can buy the Canon EOS R5 at Hot Rod Cameras.

Ben’s short end: The HBO documentary Q: Into the Storm by filmmaker Cullen Hoback explores the QAnon conspiracy, its origins on 8chan and his efforts to unmask Q.

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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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