The Cinematography Podcast Episode 121: Matthew Libatique, Part 2

In Part 2 of our interview, we continue our conversation with cinematographer Matty Libatique.

After Pi, Matty couldn’t believe that such a small movie shot on 16mm black and white film opened so many doors for him. He began to get calls for large Hollywood movies, such as Tigerland with director Joel Schumacher. Schumacher, known for big-budget, glossy films like Batman and Robin, was looking for a new look for the gritty Vietnam training camp film, starring an up and coming Colin Farrell. Matty and Schumacher decided to shoot hand-held 16 mm for Tigerland so that it would amplify the anger, stress and pain of preparing for war.

Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing influenced Matty’s path to a career in cinema, and he had the honor to work with Lee on four films, including Inside Man. Matty found Lee’s approach to film to be incredibly unique. Lee would decide scenes with multiple cameras could become one camera done in one shot, or plan that a single camera scene should be done with multiple cameras and angles. Matty thinks that as a DP you are a collaborator and need to be present as a fellow filmmaker and not as a fanboy, so he resisted telling Lee that Do The Right Thing was the reason why he went into film. Matty also got the chance to work with another hero of his, director and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, who shot Do The Right Thing, on the film Never Die Alone.

Matty teamed up again with director Darren Aronofsky on The Fountain, an incredibly surreal sci-fi love story that takes place across space and time. It was a big challenge for Matty to bring Aronofsky’s vision of The Fountain to life, bouncing ideas off Aronofsky’s astrophysicist collaborator, who described what other universes might look like. By contrast, their next movie together, Black Swan, was a stripped down thriller, focused on taught performances and choreography. Black Swan earned Matty his first Academy Award nomination for cinematography.

Surprisingly, working on the first Iron Man movie felt to Matty just like working on a giant independent film. With a comedic star like Robert Downey Jr. and an experienced comedic director like Jon Favereau, the two often reworked the script before shooting scenes. Matty had never worked on a project with such a large budget, and he helped create the look of the Marvel cinematic universe.

When Matty heard Straight Outta Compton was in developement, he immediately asked his agent for a meeting with director F. Gary Gray, because he was such a big fan of the hip-hop group NWA. The film is about the origins of NWA’s generation-defining album and the story of the band, but it was not a straightforward biopic, and Matty wanted to make sure the movie had the right look and feel for the era.

For 2018’s A Star is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, Matty and Cooper, who also directed the film, wanted to pay homage to the other two versions but Cooper’s take on the story was definitely different. They decided to feature more musical performance in their version, and early into shooting, Cooper changed the ending so that the main character, Jackson Maine, doesn’t die in a motorcycle accident. Matty found that Bradley Cooper has the ability to clearly explain what he sees in his imagination, and his acting experience enabled him to be aware of where the camera was positioned so he didn’t have to watch playback of his scenes.

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

Hear Part 1 of our interview with Matty Libatique.

Hear our 2019 interview with Matty Libatique.

Find Matthew Libatique: Instagram @libatique

Close Focus: ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters in Los Angeles will close permanently and the entire chain will be closing, including the historic Cineramadome.

Ben’s short end: The Power, a movie on Shudder that takes place in a British hospital during 1970’s power rationing, is very creepy and done extremely well.

Illya’s short end: The Vitec Group, who owns most of the tripod manufacturers and several other motion picture equipment companies, recently bought Quasar Science, an LED lighting company. You can buy Quasar Science products at Hot Rod Cameras.

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