The Cinematography Podcast Episode 198: Linus Sandgren

We welcome cinematographer Linus Sandgren, ASC, FSF for his third time on the podcast. On his latest film, Babylon, Linus was happy to work with director Damien Chazelle again. The two had previously collaborated on La La Land and First Man. In all of his films, Chazelle thinks musically, and camera movement is essential to his films instead of just relying on editing. Linus liked Babylon’s script- though it was long, it had many fast moving pieces, and the story was told in a refreshing, unconventional way. He thought of it as a 2.0 version of La La Land- it expressed Chazelle’s love of cinema, and despite some of the dark places the story goes, he felt an affection for the characters in Babylon. Like La La Land, Linus combined long takes with complicated camera moves, while also using handheld verité techniques they developed on First Man. To prep for the film, Linus and Chazelle watched several Los Angeles-period films together, such as Chinatown, There Will Be Blood, and Boogie Nights.

The movie combines absolutely maximalist wide shots to intimate closeups and tracking shots on specific characters, in order to keep the film emotional. One of the biggest and most spectacular scenes in Babylon is the 32-minute pre-title opening sequence, depicting a wild Bel Air party complete with revelers, cocaine, and an elephant. They shot it in the lobby of the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, crammed with hundreds of extras. Chazelle wanted a really high angle on the party, but they couldn’t fit a crane into the space, so Linus rigged a cable cam corner to corner from above to capture the action. They spent a long time blocking and rehearsing the party sequence, filming the overhead shots, then shot with a Steadicam through the party the second day.

Babylon is about the early days of cinema, when the silent movie era is transitioning to sound. The crew had to show the process of shooting film in the first days of “talkies” and the filmmaking equipment of the time had to be historically accurate. Though Linus didn’t use vintage film cameras on the movie, the production designer found film cameras to use as props and they were able to use old arclights that were fitted with HMIs so they actually worked on set.

Find Linus Sandgren: Instagram @linussandgren_dp

Babylon can be seen in theaters nationwide.

Close Focus: Movies based on video games are getting better and video games are also getting more cinematic.

Illya’s short end: The Kindred series on Hulu (shot in part by DP Cybel Martin) is a tense, reimagined adaptation of the Octavia Butler novel.

Ben’s short end: Ben watched lots of At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert on YouTube over the holidays and found himself in the audience on If You Picked the Winners in 1991 by Siskel & Ebert. See Ben at 00:58.

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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