The Cinematography Podcast Episode 250: Cristina Dunlap

The film American Fiction has been nominated for over two dozen awards, including five Academy Awards. Director Cord Jefferson is a seasoned writer who worked on acclaimed series such as Watchmen, Station Eleven, and The Good Place. He adapted the screenplay and wrote the script for American Fiction himself. Jefferson knew that he would also like to direct the film, although it would be his first time ever directing.

Cinematographer Cristina Dunlap knew immediately after reading the script that she wanted to work on the film. “I think there’s always a concern every time you work with a new director, just learning their style and how they work. But the second I sat down with Cord, I could tell immediately that he was going to be a wonderful person to work with because he is just very joyous and positive and excited, collaborative and open to ideas. And so when we started talking about the script, it was really more excitement. And, you know, he was very honest. He said, ‘I’ve never even directed traffic before. So you’re going to have to maybe hold my hand through some things or answer questions.’ And I was completely willing to do that.”

Fortunately, Cristina and Jefferson had about eight weeks of prep time in Boston, with only about 25 actual shoot days. Cristina likes to break down each scene psychologically, to explore visually what each character is going through. They scouted locations with the rest of the crew, and spent time figuring out the blocking so that they would have a concrete plan when the actors were on set. Cristina relied on the Artemis Pro app to map the location spaces which really helped create photo storyboards, figure out the lighting setup and plan Steadicam moves. She knew it would be challenging to be able to fit everything in on each shoot day, especially when there would be six or seven people in a scene. The beach house was an especially challenging location for lighting- it had dark wood walls and low ceilings. Cristina knew they wanted to able to see the ocean through the windows, but they couldn’t afford to light with a Condor lighting rig every day from the outside. She had to pull out a lot of lighting tricks and build off the practical sources in the space. For one scene, an arborist helped the gaffer by climbing a tree in order to rig several gem ball lights in the branches.

Cristina got her start in photography. She went on to shoot music videos for artists such as Coldplay and Lizzo, and was the DP of the 2022 Sundance Audience Award winning feature, Cha Cha Real Smooth.

American Fiction is in theaters now.

Find Cristina Dunlap: Instagram: @cristina_dunlap

Close Focus: Academy Awards nominations, including those for cinematography.

Hoyte Van Hoytema, Oppenheimer

Robbie Ryan, Poor Things

Ed Lachman, El Conde

Matty Libatique, Maestro

Rodrigo Prieto, Killers of the Flower Moon

Ben’s short end: True Detective: Night Country (Season 4) has been great. Mexican director, writer and producer Issa López has directed and written the first three episodes, and her film, Tigers Are Not Afraid, is also great. If you like shows with drama and horror in cold climates, the 3-season series Fortitude on Amazon from 2015 is also worth watching.

Illya’s short end: Several companies are releasing cameras with a global shutter, including the Red V-Raptor and the Sony a9 III. Most cameras use a rolling shutter, and that tech has improved, but with the new global shutter technology, the dynamic range issues are solved.

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Sponsored by Aputure: The Aputure Accent B7c LED light can screw into a standard E26/27 household base, making it easy to use on location as practical lighting. It also has a built-in rechargeable battery and wireless Bluetooth control with nine different settings. Find them at Hot Rod Cameras.

Sponsored by Greentree Creative: If you enjoy The Cinematography Podcast and you’re interested in growing or starting your own podcast, contact Alana Kode at Greentree Creative. Greentree Creative can help you with social media marketing, strategy and planning, podcast production, and digital content creation.

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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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