Our returning guest Checco Varese, ASC talks to The Cinepod about his latest work on the Amazon Prime show, THEM. As a trained architect, Checco finds some of the same techniques are useful in cinematography, such as understanding the use of space, flow, color, art and construction. Having spatial awareness as a cinematographer helps in understanding physically where the camera can go to allow it enough room during set design.
THEM is a period piece about a Black family that moves to an all-white neighborhood in 1950’s Southern California, and the terror they experience at the hands of their neighbors and a supernatural force. Checco and showrunner/creator Little Marvin discussed at length how they wanted THEM to look. Little Marvin described it as taking the classic look of a 1950’s movie with the camera language of 1970’s films like The French Connection and The Deer Hunter, using the tricks of 1990’s music videos and the technology of 2021. Checco and fellow DP Xavier Grobet traded off shooting episodes, and they both really enjoyed prepping and collaborating together. They decided to avoid the color red in the set and costume design, so that when red does appear in the show, it’s shocking and more frightening.
Checco has been the director of photography on a few horror films and series, but he is choosy about what kind of frightening subject he wants to work on, and considers what the subtext is beneath each story. Humanity has always tried to make social injustice or social advancement digestible through a medium, and the horror genre is a great way to push the envelope. Checco sees a common thread in three of the scary projects he’s shot. The Strain was about vampire creatures that take over the world, which are a metaphor for outsiders, or even immigrants. IT Chapter Two is a drama about outsiders who have to deal with their past, and THEM is about the horrors of racism, redlining and injustice.
You can watch THEM on Amazon Prime.
Checco’s latest show, Dopesick, a drama series about the opioid crisis, will be streaming on Hulu in October.
Find Checco Varese: http://www.checcovarese.com/
Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep136/
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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com