The Cinematography Podcast Episode 190: Checco Varese

This week we welcome Checco Varese, our friend of the podcast and 4th time guest!

The Hulu series Dopesick tells the complex story of the opioid epidemic through multiple points of view over its eight episode arc. Cinematographer Checco Varese, ASC shot every single episode, and recently earned his first Emmy award in 2022 for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited or Anthology Series.

Checco decided to approach the story and its characters as a series of four concentric plot circles. At the center of Dopesick is the Appalachian mining town and the small town doctor (Michael Keaton) who serves the community there; then the prosecutors trying to nail Purdue Pharma; the pharmaceutical company reps who are riding high on drug sales; and finally the Sackler family, who knowingly misled everyone about the addictive nature of OxyContin. He met with showrunner Danny Strong and director of the first two episodes, Barry Levinson, to discuss the look of each section. For the small Appalachian town, Checco was influenced by the look of the film The Deer Hunter, and used the cool blues of winter light. The Insider was a reference for the storyline of the DEA and Virginia prosecutors, and they embraced the use of florescent lights and conference rooms. To symbolize the wealth and excess of the Sackler family and the Purdue Pharma sales people, Checco liked the bright colors and opulence of Eyes Wide Shut. Since it’s a character-driven story dramatizing true events, Checco knew that Dopesick was about being a fly on the wall, while keeping everything engaging and compelling, so he wanted to make sure that each film reference still felt subtle, natural and realistic.

Checco feels that lighting for film and television can be like poetry. Most of the mood and atmosphere is made with lighting, with the camera movements serving as the film’s punctuation marks: commas, exclamation points, or periods. As a cinematographer, Checco loves to go deep into the project and usually feels passionate about what he’s doing, so that his soul is on the screen. He’s had the opportunity to work with his wife, director Patricia Riggen, on several projects, and they also worked together on a few episodes of Dopesick. Checco says that when they’re on a show together, they get very absorbed in their work, and there’s no “off” switch, but he loves having that relationship with her. For Dopesick, he was excited to work on a series that was truthful and honest, and he enjoys telling important stories that matter.

Dopesick is currently on Hulu.

Find Checco Varese Instagram: @checcovarese

Hear Checco’s previous 3 interviews on The Cinematography Podcast:

2019 Live interview

2019 IT Chapter Two interview

2021 THEM interview

Close Focus: More news this week about Kanye West losing sponsorship deals, Elon Musk buying Twitter and celebrities leaving the social media network, the news about James Gunn and Peter Safran leading DC Studios.

Ben’s short end: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities on Netflix.

Illya’s short end: Nightcrawler from 2014 was always highly regarded and it’s currently on HBOMax.

Listen to Ben’s new horror series Catchersavailable NOW only on Audible!

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Podcast Credits:

Producer: Alana Kode

All web and social media content written by Alana Kode

Host and editor in Chief:  Illya Friedman

Instagram: @illyafriedman @hotrodcameras

Host: Ben Rock

Twitter: @neptunesalad

Instagram: @bejamin_rock

Editor: Ben Katz

Composer: Kays Al-Atrakchi

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