The Cinematography Podcast Episode 251: Ed Lachman

El Conde is a a dark comedy/horror film that portrays former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a 250 year old vampire. Director Pablo Larraín wanted to play with the idea that a dictatorship is a blood-sucking drain on society with lasting generational impacts. Cinematographer Ed Lachman immediately liked Larraín’s message. “El Conde is his allegory of how we are seduced into yielding to fascism. And it isn’t just in Chile. It’s like the last 50 years, we’re facing that all over the world. That’s why I think the film has something to say- if you can get past the gore.”

Ed had been a long time admirer of Larraín’s work. He found Larraín’s films to be conceptually brilliant with camera placement and movement to tell the story. “They say a cinematographer and a director is a marriage. But I always like to think of it as a dance partner- you hear the same music, but do your steps compliment each other? And I’ve certainly felt I have that relationship with Pablo.” Ed knew he wanted to shoot El Conde in black and white, referencing gothic vampire movies such as Nosferatu and Vampyr (1932). Working with Netflix Latin America, Larraín obtained approval to originate the film in black and white rather than shoot in color and then desaturate it later. For production design, special effects and costumes, all the color choices could be made for the best look in black and white. Ed decided to use the ARRI LF camera, and fortunately, ARRI had just developed a monochromatic sensor for them to use. He enjoys shooting with an actual black and white camera because the exposure latitude and grain structure is different, and he can use monochromatic filters meant for black and white cinematography.

El Conde features some amazingly realistic scenes of vampires flying. The night flying sequences had to be done with a blue screen, which did require a color camera. But all of the day flying sequences and stunts were shot with the black and white camera. The flying sequences were done practically, with no special effects. A 120ft crane suspended the camera operator, who moved through the air with the actors and stunt acrobats on wires.

Ed used the EL Zone System, a method he invented, to figure out the proper exposures for the cameras on El Conde. He’s developed the EL Zone system over the past 10 years, in an effort to measure light values and standardize exposures for digital cameras, and won a technical Emmy in 2023 for the technology. The system uses 18% gray as the standard, which is a universal photography standard. The camera’s sensor data is used as a reference point and filmmakers can view the entire exposure of a shot on a monitor to make lighting adjustments easier.

El Conde is streaming on Netflix.

Find Ed Lachman, and learn more about the EL Zone System

Close Focus: A round up of some news:

  • Filmmaker Sean Wang won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival for his first feature film, Dìdi. Meanwhile, his short film Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó (available on Disney+) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.
  • Some accomplishments for the podcast: The Cinematography Podcast turns 10, and was the sixth most downloaded film podcast in the UK this week.
  • Ben continues to be impressed by Michael Cioni’s new company Strada, which is building better tech tools for all kinds of content makers. Strada has just launched a private Beta testing group for anyone with a project that could use Strada’s platform.

Ben’s short end: Ben’s father Alan Rock was Bozo the Clown in Orlando, Florida and also was in a movie called Jimmy the Boy Wonder directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, known as “The Wizard of Gore.” Ben got in touch with the DP, Andy Romanoff, who went on to become a camera crane/remote head operator.

Illya’s short end: Slow Horses on AppleTV+.

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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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Email: editor@camnoir.com

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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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