The Cinematography Podcast Episode 126: Jess Hall
For the Disney+ series WandaVision, cinematographer Jess Hall had the opportunity to create the most avant-garde looking project in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jess explored every era of sitcom television to create seven different looks for WandaVision, ranging from the 1950’s all the way through the 2000’s. Each episode’s look came down to researching the film stock, lenses, aspect ratio, the lighting, and whether it was shot with three cameras or a single camera. WandaVision director Matt Shakman was able to give Jess plenty of sitcom television research material and ideas, since Jess did not grow up around American T.V. One of the biggest visual touchstones for Jess for the earliest episodes of WandaVision was viewing a print from the original negative of the 1960’s show, Bewitched. He found the black and white image to look warmer than modern day black and white- the contrast in the whites weren’t quite as cold. Jess tested a number of vintage lenses and ended up using 47 different lenses over nine episodes, even having Panavision create a set of lenses reconstructed from older lens elements. He also used lighting technology that fit each time period, including early diffusion techniques over the lights to create the look.
Jess grew up in England and studied film at St. Martins School of Art, embracing film more as an expressive art form. After graduating, he began shooting shorts and commercials, and then had the opportunity to shoot his first feature film, Stander, with director Bronwen Hughes. Stander is a biopic about a police officer in apartheid South Africa who becomes a bank robber. Jess’ next film was Son of Rambow, a coming-of-age story about two boys making a home movie. Jess and Son of Rambow director Garth Jennings went to St. Martins together. Jennings carefully storyboarded the whole movie, but once they were actually shooting, they did not strictly follow the storyboards. Jess credits director Edgar Wright with being the most accurate storyboard-to-execution director he’s ever worked with, which is important because Wright likes to work fast with many setups and quick cuts. On the movie Hot Fuzz, Jess accomplished over 30 setups per day, and famously did 50 setups in one day. He would try to light the room simply, and worked with camera operators who were used to shooting fast action movies. For the film Transcendence, cinematographer turned director Wally Pfister asked Jess to shoot his first film as a director, after seeing Jess’ work on Brideshead Revisited. Jess was flattered, and found it wonderful to be able to communicate in a technical shorthand and to see up close how another DP works and thinks.
Find Jess Hall
You can watch WandaVision streaming on Disney+
Close Focus: Amazon buying MGM for $8.45 million.
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