July 17, 2024

Capturing terror in THEM: The Scare with DP Brendan Uegama

The second season of the Amazon Prime horror anthology series THEM takes place in 1989 and 1991 Los Angeles. LAPD detective Dawn Reeve is investigating a horrifying murder. As she gets closer to the truth, a dark and menacing force threatens her and her family. THEM: The Scare explores themes of fear, dark family secrets and the supernatural.

Cinematographer Brendan Uegama was a fan of season 1 of THEM, and got a call from his agent to meet with writer, creator and showrunner Little Marvin about shooting season 2. As an anthology series, each season is its own standalone story. Brendan and Little Marvin’s guiding idea was not to make the show look exactly like it took place in the early 1990’s, and discussed how to create a feeling of warmth, contrasted with the feeling of terror in the shadows. Brendan decided to use just two lenses and two focal lengths on an ARRI Alexa Mini LF, with everything drastically changing look and tone for episode 7.

On Episode 7, “One of Us is Gonna Die Tonight” of THEM: The Scare, Brendan had the opportunity to fully unleash his creativity. Little Marvin decided to direct this episode, and he wanted it to feel utterly horrific, using all of the tools they had at their disposal: lighting, camera effects, and sound. They embraced using as much red lighting as they possibly could throughout the episode. “We had lights in different areas, and we had red from the toy store.” says Brendan. “We had red flares, red cop lights. And Little Marvin’s like, ‘Man, it would be cool if it was even MORE red.’ So I started adding red lights behind all the cop cars and uplighting things, really going heavy with the red. And once we started looking at that, we’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, now it feels like this is a hellscape.’” Brendan chose to use a 4:3 aspect ratio exclusively for episode 7 to make it feel like the walls are literally closing in. After strictly using the same lenses and focal lengths throughout the series, Brendan changed it up for almost half the episode with a Petzval lens, which creates a unique, swirly bokeh in the center of the frame. Along with the red lighting and aspect ratio shift, it helped create a distorted, nightmarish look. (Hear Robbie Ryan’s discussion of using a Petzval lens on Poor Things https://www.camnoir.com/ep248/)

Brendan enjoyed the creative opportunity to work on THEM: The Scare. “A huge part of it was the overall excitement to make something great,” he says. “It was exciting to push boundaries and not do formulaic television of any kind.”

Find Brendan Uegama: Instagram @brendanuegama_dp

Hear our interview with THEM season 1 cinematographer Checco Varese, ASC. https://www.camnoir.com/ep136/

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June 5, 2024

Shogun director Jonathan van Tulleken and cinematographer Christopher Ross, BSC

The FX miniseries Shōgun takes viewers on a journey filled with action and adventure through historically accurate 1600’s Edo-era Japan. Englishman John Blackthorne arrives on a Dutch trading ship after a rough voyage, interested in beginning trade with the Japanese. The country is governed by five regents locked in a power struggle, and the ruler Toranaga thinks the Englishman might be useful to him.

Director Jonathan van Tulleken and cinematographer Christopher Ross worked on episodes one and two together, establishing the look of the series. They have a deep understanding of each other’s creative vision, collaborating on several TV shows over the years. For Shōgun, Jonathan and Chris created a visual experience that honors both the grandeur of feudal Japan and the disorientation of a foreign visitor like the “anjin,” John Blackthorne. The two met and created a look book and sizzle reel to present to FX. Jonathan drew inspiration from movies such as The Revenant and Apocalypse Now. Chris was influenced by classic Japanese films Ran, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and Akira Kirosawa’s jidaigeki (historical drama) films. Most importantly, they wanted the show to be bold and stand out with a cinematic look and genuine artistic intention behind it. Chris chose anamorphic lenses and wider aspect ratios for the first two episodes, playing with the point of view of the outsider’s subjectivity and disorientation. The choice of anamorphic lenses, which create a lot of background blur but keeps the character in crisp focus, may have seemed controversial, but has become more widely used on today’s television shows. (Read this article from The Ringer to learn more.)

Shōgun was shot in British Columbia during the winter, with the wild ocean shores of Canada and carefully designed soundstages standing in for Japan. Jonathan, Chris and the production team chose a lighting and color palette of browns and greens for the warring factions. Opulent costumes, warmer lights and colors represented palace life in Osaka, while in the village, the use of blues and grays reflected the harsh realities of the time period.

The dialog is almost entirely in Japanese, and Jonathan actually enjoyed directing in a language he didn’t speak. “It meant that you were not giving line readings, you couldn’t give line readings. You had to direct in a much more pure way, dealing with the bigger arcs of the scene, the character development, without getting into very macro stuff that isn’t helpful. I think you could just feel the emotion.” Chris agrees. “What you’re hoping to achieve is some sort of emotional resonance with a character that is in tune with what they’re saying and synchronous with what they’re saying.”

Find Jonathan Van Tulleken: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1743387/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

Find Chris Ross: Instagram @edjibevel

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November 1, 2023

The Pigeon Tunnel cinematographer Igor Martinović

The Pigeon Tunnel is director Errol Morris’ latest documentary about David Cornwell, otherwise known as the author John le Carré, who wrote several best-selling spy novels after serving as a spy himself. Cinematographer Igor Martinović explores the nature of deception visually in the film, using multiple mirrors and reflections of Cornwell as he’s being interviewed.

For The Pigeon Tunnel, Igor wanted to create a visual story that enhances the story Cornwell tells about his life, adding another layer that the viewer might not notice right away. They used four cameras to shoot the interviews, and 12 mirrors to reflect Cornwell in different parts of the room. Igor liked the idea of a spy’s multiple personas represented by multiplying images. It was tricky to shoot with so many mirrors reflecting the cameras and lights, so for some shots, the equipment had to be erased in post. Igor also used mirrors in some b-roll shots, as Cornwell walks though the forest between the mirrors. For the re-creations dealing with Cornwell’s troubled childhood, Igor played around with some surrealist composition and kept the frame imbalanced, to represent the unstable conditions that he grew up in.

Igor has worked on several commercials, documentary features and documentary series with director Errol Morris. With his 1988 film, The Thin Blue Line, Morris changed how documentaries were made. His approach to documentary filmmaking is something he describes as “anti-verité.” Even though his films are non-fiction, Morris always approaches each one as a filmed story, using composed interviews with the subject speaking directly to the camera, and creating artful reenactments. As a cinematographer, Igor was a long admirer of Morris’ work. When shooting the documentary Man on Wire,  Igor watched The Thin Blue Line as a reference, and it inspired some scenes in the film. He’s enjoyed being able to work with Morris now.

In 2011, Igor shot a horror movie, Silent House, that was almost entirely filmed in one take. It was actually about 15 total shots, limited mainly by the amount of space they had on each memory card. He found it to be an interesting challenge, as if they were filming a dance or a play. They were able to accomplish the long takes through extensive rehearsals and improved the performances each time.

The Pigeon Tunnel is currently on Apple TV+.

Find Igor Martinovic: https://igormartinovic.com/

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July 19, 2023

Junk Film: Why Bad Movies Matter author Katharine Coldiron

Author Katharine Coldiron wrote her book, Junk Film: Why Bad Movies Matter around thirteen essays exploring movies from the 1940’s to the 2010’s. Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Staying Alive, and the musical television show Cop Rock are just some of the disastrous projects explored in the book. Katharine feels that bad movies can be unintentional teaching tools for film students and movie aficionados- but you have to watch a ton of bad movies before you can learn anything from them.

There are specific elements that all bad movies share: insufficient resources, incompetence in the basics of filmmaking, and bad acting or screenwriting that create unintentional comedy. Bad movies are actually records of ATTEMPTS at making a movie, and you can see the broken mechanics of each project discussed in Junk Film. In writing the book, Katharine chose to focus on movies she was interested in exploring. She didn’t want to write about movies that have been well-covered. For example, she chose not to write about Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, but instead focused on his follow-up, another stinker called Best Friends.

Katharine feels that the problem with most junk films is not the cinematography, which is at least usually competent. Where these films fail is in the directing and editing process, with the director incompetently stringing along narrative logic from one scene to another. After watching so many bad movies, Katharine has a pointer for creating a good movie: if the director, editor and crew is cohesive, competent, and cares about the film’s final quality, then your movie will at least be watchable.

Junk Film is available on Amazon and at Barnes&Noble.com

Find Katharine Coldiron: http://kcoldiron.com/
Twitter: @ferrifrigida

WIN an autographed copy of Junk Film: Why Bad Movies Matter. Follow us on Instagram @thecinepod, Threads @thecinepod Facebook @cinepod or Twitter @ShortEndz and comment on our post about the book giveaway for this episode!

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May 17, 2023

Dead Ringers cinematographer Laura Merians Gonçalves

Cinematographer Laura Merians Gonçalves was extremely intrigued to work on the new Prime Video series, Dead Ringers. The show is based on the 1988 David Cronenberg movie, which starred Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists. When she read the script for the series, Laura thought changing the genders of the twins to female gave the show more interest. She liked that over six episodes, they could explore a deeper, more complicated story about women. Laura shot the bulk of the series, episodes three, four, five and six.

Both Laura and DP Jody Lee Lipes, who shot episodes one and two, worked closely together to share ideas and find the look of the show. There is a restraint to the color palette, with the exception of red as a theme- just as in the movie. They used red scrubs and even red latex gloves in the operating rooms. The style of the show is very stark and elegant, making it easier to cleanly insert the twinning shots.

The biggest challenge for Dead Ringers was ensuring that the twinning for actor Rachel Weisz was seamless and convincing. Jody had previous experience shooting twin shots with VFX supervisor Eric Pascarelli on the HBO series I Know This Much Is True. For Dead Ringers, the twinning shots were done with the assistance of an old motion control camera system that actually used floppy disk drives. Anything involving twinning was discussed in advance and carefully planned and blocked. A body double, Kitty Hawthorne, was also essential for the twinning effect to work. Rachel would do rehearsals and then takes for side A, with Kitty miming the other twin. Then they would switch and do side B, with Kitty now mimicking the A side twin. The motion control camera exactly synched the camera so that the scene could be composited seamlessly together in post.

Laura found that with the real-time movie magic they were able to create, it was easy to forget that actor Rachel Weisz was actually just one person. She is a huge fan of motion control and doing things technically in camera, rather than relying on special effects in post. The actor can be invested in their performance as their character and they don’t have to have a face replacement or deep fake special effect.

Dead Ringers is currently streaming on Prime Video.

Find Laura Merians Gonçalves: https://lauramerians.com/
Instagram: @lauramelodygoncalves

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June 2, 2021

Jess Hall, ASC, BSC: Marvel’s WandaVision, Hot Fuzz, working with Edgar Wright, Wally Pfister and more

For the Disney+ series WandaVision, cinematographer Jess Hall had the opportunity to create the most avant-garde looking project in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jess explored every era of sitcom television to create seven different looks for WandaVision, ranging from the 1950’s all the way through the 2000’s. Each episode’s look came down to researching the film stock, lenses, aspect ratio, the lighting, and whether it was shot with three cameras or a single camera. WandaVision director Matt Shakman was able to give Jess plenty of sitcom television research material and ideas, since Jess did not grow up around American T.V. One of the biggest visual touchstones for Jess for the earliest episodes of WandaVision was viewing a print from the original negative of the 1960’s show, Bewitched. He found the black and white image to look warmer than modern day black and white- the contrast in the whites weren’t quite as cold. Jess tested a number of vintage lenses and ended up using 47 different lenses over nine episodes, even having Panavision create a set of lenses reconstructed from older lens elements. He also used lighting technology that fit each time period, including early diffusion techniques over the lights to create the look.

Jess grew up in England and studied film at St. Martins School of Art, embracing film more as an expressive art form. After graduating, he began shooting shorts and commercials, and then had the opportunity to shoot his first feature film, Stander, with director Bronwen Hughes. Stander is a biopic about a police officer in apartheid South Africa who becomes a bank robber. Jess’ next film was Son of Rambow, a coming-of-age story about two boys making a home movie. Jess and Son of Rambow director Garth Jennings went to St. Martins together. Jennings carefully storyboarded the whole movie, but once they were actually shooting, they did not strictly follow the storyboards. Jess credits director Edgar Wright with being the most accurate storyboard-to-execution director he’s ever worked with, which is important because Wright likes to work fast with many setups and quick cuts. On the movie Hot Fuzz, Jess accomplished over 30 setups per day, and famously did 50 setups in one day. He would try to light the room simply, and worked with camera operators who were used to shooting fast action movies. For the film Transcendence, cinematographer turned director Wally Pfister asked Jess to shoot his first film as a director, after seeing Jess’ work on Brideshead Revisited. Jess was flattered, and found it wonderful to be able to communicate in a technical shorthand and to see up close how another DP works and thinks.

Find Jess Hall: http://www.jesshalldop.com/
Instagram @metrorat

You can watch WandaVision streaming on Disney+

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep126/

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August 30, 2020

Jas Shelton, Emmy-nominated cinematographer on Homecoming Season 2, working with the Duplass brothers, Keanu with Key and Peele, The Stanford Prison Experiment

Jas Shelton’s career has spanned nearly every genre, from comedy to horror and suspense. Jas grew up in East Texas and attended the University of Texas in Austin. He had difficulty getting into the film program, so he started shooting music videos for bands, then began shooting student films. Austin was a hub for fairly large films at the time, where Jas found work as a gaffer or on second unit, including Miss Congeniality, Varsity Blues, and The Ladykillers. When he and director Kyle Alvarez began planning for the second season of Homecoming on Amazon, they chose to use a different color palette from season one, with darker, moodier looks for the flashback sequences vs. the present day. They were influenced by the look of 70’s movies and Brian DePalma films, with slow push-in zooms on the characters, several split-screen sequences and off-center framing. Jas shot all seven episodes of the series, and has received an Emmy nomination for his work. Jas had also worked with Kyle Alvarez on The Stanford Prison Experiment, which was another challenging project since most of it was shot on a white laboratory set, but careful use of close-ups and shadow helped bring more depth to the film. Jas’s tight camerawork and careful planning for Homecoming was a much different approach from Jas’s previous work with the Duplass brothers on the series Togetherness, The Do-Deca-Pentathalon and Cyrus. Mark and Jay Duplass favor a rough, homemade, documentary style, with lots of improvisation, so scenes often began with close ups on long lenses, with wider shots at the end. For the film Keanu, Jas’s experience with more improvisational filmmaking was useful, since Jordan Peele would often rewrite scenes right before shooting.

See Homecoming season 2 on Amazon Prime

Find Jas Shelton: https://www.jasshelton.com/
Instagram: @jasshelton

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep89/

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