The Cinematography Podcast Episode 264: Armando Salas, ASC

Netflix’s gripping new series, Griselda, takes viewers deep into the world of Colombian drug lord Griselda Blanco. But behind the drugs and violence is a masterfully crafted world, built by cinematographer Armando Salas, ASC. Armando, known for his work on Ozark, brings a unique perspective to Griselda. His approach to color throughout the series tells a story that’s more about character than it is about the drug trade. “In the end, we’re making a work of fiction, and we really want to connect with the audience,” says Armando. “And the things you know and hear about Griselda Blanco is, you know, she’s a killer, a psychopath. There’s not a lot of redeeming qualities when you’re looking into the drug wars in Miami at that time.” Even through all the death and destruction in the series, director Andrés Baiz didn’t want Griselda to be too dark. He still wanted to find some joy and absurdity within the story.

Armando met with director Andrés Baiz, who wanted to hire a local Los Angeles DP who also spoke Spanish, since a majority of Griselda’s script is in Spanish. Growing up in Miami, Armando happened to know the story of Griselda Blanco very well. He also worked on a 2006 documentary called Cocaine Cowboys, about how Miami became the cocaine capital of the US. They did careful location scouting around LA for places that looked like Miami in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Armando and Baiz wanted the show to have the right period look. “We didn’t take an intellectual conceit, I wasn’t only using lenses or camera technology that existed at that time. We were really more interested in finding the right feeling,” Armando explains. “And so, we looked at a lot of photography from the period, we looked at a lot of films from the period, we looked at modern films that were doing a good job of recreating the period, but we kind of landed our our own version. Again, it’s really just like capturing the vibe and building the world. And so we had a very aggressive and unique approach to the LUT and the color characteristics of our negative.” The Polaroid pictures Baiz took during location scouting became a big inspiration for the color palette of the show.

Throughout the six episode series, Armando used color to help tell a compelling character story. Griselda’s world is full of deep, rich colors as she’s living the high life. In contrast, Armando chose a bluer, more desaturated color for scenes with June Hawkins (Juliana Aidén Martinez), the Miami PD intelligence analyst. As she breaks the case and convinces law enforcement officers to go after Griselda, she enters a world of color. “And on top of that, we unleash the camera. We go flying down the sidewalk with her from multiple angles. It’s the fastest camera movements in the series. And over the course of the series, her storyline and Griselda’s storyline meet, and the color, the glitz and glamour of Griselda’s world has been mostly stripped out at that point. June has come into her own, and they meet in that world. The two arcs have now connected, and it’s one story.”

Griselda is available on Netflix.

Hear our previous interview with Armando discussing his work on Ozark and more.

Find Armando Salas: Instagram: @cinesalas

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Ben’s short end: The YouTube Channel CinemaTyler takes an in-depth look at cinema’s greatest movies. They recently created a 21 episode video essay about the film Apocalypse Now.

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