August 31, 2022

Director Steve Pink and cinematographer Bella Gonzales on the indie film The Wheel

The Wheel is about a young couple whose marriage is in crisis. They decide to retreat to a house in the woods to try to work out their differences, where they meet another couple who seem to have it all figured out. As they get to know each other, all four characters prove to be flawed and complicated.

The Wheel is the first romantic drama Steve Pink has directed. He’s known for his work on comedies such as High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank and Hot Tub Time Machine, and he was thrilled for the chance to direct a drama. Steve cast actor Amber Midthunder (Prey), who had worked with cinematographer Bella Gonzales a few years ago on a short film, Prayers of a Saint. Steve admired her work on the short, and asked Bella to be the DP for The Wheel. It was during the summer of 2020 and most film productions were still shut down, so it was appealing to work with a small cast and crew that could stay in a bubble together to shoot a true low-budget indie drama for 18 days. They found a summer camp location in the mountains outside Los Angeles, and after a short two week prep, Steve, Bella and the 20 person crew drove up, with their own cars packed with equipment. Steve even used some of his own furniture, with some of the female cast member’s costumes provided by his wife’s wardrobe.

For cinematographer Bella Gonzales, the movie was about finding moments and figuring out the heart of the movie. Every visual decision was based on what emotion the characters were feeling in each scene. It wasn’t about getting the perfect shot, it was all about capturing the moods of the characters and the drama of complicated relationships. They had a circle of trust with the actors and the camera crew to create intimacy. Bella and Steve embraced the limited scope of the location- being able to shoot in the small area of the woods and the house made their creative decisions very easy. The crew was so small that everyone was extremely involved and invested in making the film great.

Find The Wheel on VOD such as AppleTV+ or other streaming services.

Find Steve Pink: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0684336/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
Instagram: @alsostevepink

Find Bella Gonzales: https://www.bellagonzales.com/
Instagram: @bellagonzalesdp

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep181/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

July 20, 2022

Cinematographer Paula Huidobro on CODA, Pam & Tommy, Physical

Our returning guest is Paula Huidobro, who has been very busy the past few years shooting the 2022 Best Picture winning film CODA, the Hulu series Pam & Tommy, and the AppleTV+ series Physical, just to name a few.

Paula and CODA director Siân Heder knew each other as grad students at AFI, and have worked together on four other projects including the film Tallulah and the show Little America. For Paula, shooting CODA was definitely a different process. There were interpreters for each of the actors on set, and most shots had to be framed as medium shots so that their hands could be seen while they were talking. There could be few over the shoulder shots, or someone saying lines with their back to the other person. Siân Heder and Paula wanted to make sure that a deaf person watching the movie could understand exactly what the actors were saying. CODA is set in a New England fishing village, and Paula found it was a very visual environment to shoot, and extra challenging going out on a fishing boat in the ocean.

The Hulu show Pam & Tommy is about the 1990’s stolen sex tape of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. Paula served as DP for every episode of the 8-part series, and she watched Pamela’s film Barb Wire and Tommy’s Mötley Crüe performances for the references. It was hard work to shoot every single episode- she felt she never had enough prep time with the director, location scouting or script. She enjoyed working with director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, Cruella) who also was the pilot director on Physical. He wanted to give complete freedom to the actors to move within the scene, so Paula would light the whole space and would start with her camera all the way wide, then push in for a close up. It was like a dance between the actors and they would explore the scene as they filmed it. Paula would shoot in nearly one take then just pick up whatever was missing. Pam & Tommy has a very aggressive style, using a lot of shots pushing in closer and closer, as the release of the sex tape and the fallout for Pamela’s career becomes an unstoppable freight train. It also has elements of humor and absurdity, and Paula enjoyed the novelty of shooting scenes with Tommy’s talking penis (an animatronic). Pam & Tommy had an excellent makeup and prosthetics department, and actors Lily James and Sebastian Stan are made up to be remarkable likenesses of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. Paula found the makeup to be so good that it wasn’t difficult to light the actors. Most of all, Paula and each of the directors wanted to be thoughtful in how they portrayed Pamela Anderson and how her world and entire career had been shattered by illegally releasing this tape.

Physical explores the troubled interior life of Sheila Rubin, an extremely unhappy 1980’s suburban housewife with an eating disorder. But once she finds aerobics, things begin to change for her. Paula finds Physical to be a very dark show, but she really likes how they portray Sheila’s inner thoughts. The character almost always says one thing but in her mind she’s thinking dark thoughts about herself or someone else. Paula would hold shots on actor Rose Byrne a bit longer so that later, her inner thoughts are added in voiceover. The show has great production design- a mix of drab and dark 70’s interiors with big splashes of 80’s color saturation on the set, especially during the workout scenes. Paula enjoyed being able to do some fun and playful things with lighting and camera work for the aerobics sequences.

Find Paula Huidobro: https://www.paulahuidobro.com/
Instagram @paulahuidobro

CODA is streaming on AppleTV+. Physical Season 2 is currently streaming on AppleTV+. You can find Pam & Tommy, a limited series, on Hulu.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep175/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by DZOFilm: https://www.dzofilm.com/

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

May 25, 2022

Filmmakers James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte on their new documentary series, The Big Conn

James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte are Emmy-nominated documentary directors and producers for the HBO documentary series, McMillion$. Brian and James return to Cinepod to talk about their latest documentary, The Big Conn, now airing on Apple TV+.

The Big Conn is a four-part documentary series that tells the unbelievable true story of larger-than-life attorney, Eric C. Conn. Conn stole over half a billion dollars from the government and taxpayers in the largest Social Security fraud case in United States history. Conn got away with it for more than 10 years before two whistleblowers told the FBI what he was doing and Conn went on the run.

Documentary filmmaking has grown and elevated as an art over the years, and James and Brian take a cinematic approach to the form. Their previous documentary series, McMillion$ had a thread of comedy throughout, with such interesting characters that it reminded them of a Coen brothers movie. For The Big Conn, Brian and James took a similar approach. They dive deep into Eric Conn’s life, using comedy to hold the audience’s interest, but underneath it’s a very serious exposé about the broken American Social Security system.

To put together such sprawling stories, James and Brian create a story outline, determine who the interviewees should be, interview the characters, write a script and then decide where they need to put in animated graphics, archival footage and recreations during the editing process. Talented cinematographer Jeff Dolan has worked with the team for years, shooting both interviews and recreations on The Big Conn and McMillion$. Brian and James planned out and put together a guide for lighting and shot composition for the look of the interviews, based on shots from scripted movies they love.

The Big Conn is a 4-part documentary series currently airing on Apple TV+.

James and Brian have a podcast to accompany The Big Conn, diving deeper into the story and subject matter. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-big-conn-the-official-podcast/id1621583098

Fun Meter, James and Brian’s production company: https://www.funmetermedia.com/
Instagram: @funmeterofficial

James Lee Hernandez: @iamthejlh
Brian Lazarte: @bdlazarte

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep169/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Aputure: https://www.aputure.com/

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

April 6, 2022

Cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagné on Severance, working with Ben Stiller, Escape at Dannemora, Mrs. America

Severance, a trippy, mind-bending thriller on Apple TV+, takes the idea of work/life balance to an extreme. Certain employees working for the mysterious corporation, Lumon, undergo a surgical procedure called severance that plants a chip in their brain. Severed employees can’t remember anything from their personal lives while at work, and outside of work, they can’t access their memories of their office life. This creates two separate people, known as “innies” at work and “outies” at home.

Cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagné grew up in Quebec City, Canada, surrounded by movies from her father’s video stores which sparked her love of film. She took photography in school, then enrolled in a film program in Montreal. Jessica first began working with director Ben Stiller on the Showtime series, Escape at Dannemora. The two enjoyed working together, and while shooting Escape at Dannemora, Stiller was already talking about directing Severance. Jessica didn’t particularly like the idea of shooting an office show with absolutely no windows, with the same lighting setups over and over. However, during the preproduction process, she was able to find references that allowed her to find ways to shoot the Lumon offices in a cinematic way. The production design team also created a very strange and surreal world within the gigantic building, whose brutalist exterior is a real location at the former Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey.

Jessica crafted a unique camera style for Severance. Most of the scenes that take place in the Lumon offices are done with tracking dollies on remote heads, rather than with Steadicam. She enjoyed playing with camera height, often showing the ceiling and choosing wide, surveillance-like angles from corners or above. The office workers are often physically “severed” in shots- by cubicle walls, computers or doorways. In the elevator up or down from the office, the office workers transition from their “innies” to their “outies,” with a dolly in and zoom out on their faces to create a morphing effect.

Find Jessica Lee Gagné: https://www.jessicaleegagne.com

Instagram: @jessicaleegagne

See Severance on AppleTV+: https://tv.apple.com/us/show/severance/umc.cmc.1srk2goyh2q2zdxcx605w8vtx

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep164/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Arri: https://www.arri.com/en

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

March 16, 2022

Director Mariama Diallo and cinematographer Charlotte Hornsby on the horror film Master

The horror film Master explores the idea of institutional and historic racism at an elite, mostly white college campus, as two Black women are stalked by evil spirits. Director and screenwriter Mariama Diallo is a lifelong horror fan, and sees the horror genre as an expression of anxiety. She feels that horror frees you to talk about ideas that are disturbing and unsettling at their core.

Master incorporates some of Mariama’s personal experiences as an undergrad at Yale, where the advisors/mentors were called Master. As an African American, Mariama later found it bizarre and perverse to have referred to someone in this way. She knew she wanted to make a film called Master, and examine the scary realities of what that word means. Once she began to write, Mariama found that accessing her memories of being a Black woman at an elite university felt painful and horrifying, so she knew this was where the script needed to go. She started imagining how to picture the school- orderly, controlled, static and a looming presence. When the malevolent spirit appears, it is a jarring, violent rupture to the polite presentation of the school.

Mariama and cinematographer Charlotte Hornsby worked together on her short film Hair Wolf, and they knew they shared the same ideas and influences. As they got into preproduction on Master, they watched movies, had long discussions about the look of the film, and shotlisted the film together. Prior to becoming a DP, Charlotte was an art director, so she has a deep understanding of using color in her work. Charlotte was definitely influenced by the color palette in Suspira and chose to use shades of red and experimented with using shadows for a haunted feel. Charlotte also liked the use of zoom lenses in movies such as Rosemary’s Baby, and used a long slow zoom in Master to key into the pace of the scene. She chose to represent the POV of the supernatural forces watching from a distance with a zoom lens, while putting the camera on a dolly to act as the character’s perspective.

Find Mariama Diallo: Instagram: @diallogiallo

Find Charlotte Hornsby: https://charlottehornsby.com/
Instagram: @charlottehornsby_

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep163/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Aputure: https://www.aputure.com/

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

June 30, 2021

Cinematographer Alice Brooks on shooting In The Heights, Home Before Dark, working with director Jon M. Chu

Alice Brooks grew up on Broadway musical theater and movies as a kid, and loves shooting music and dance oriented films and TV shows. Alice has always been in awe of dancers, and though she isn’t a dancer herself, she is inspired by their work ethic and loves that she can capture dance with her camera.

Working on In The Heights has fulfilled a lifelong dream for Alice. She and director Jon M. Chu have known each other since college at USC. The two bonded over musicals- she shot his she shot his student short, a musical called When The Kids Are Away in 2002 and worked together again on the film Jem and the Holograms. Alice and Jon were shooting the Apple TV+ series Home Before Dark when he asked her to shoot In The Heights. Jon, choreographer Christopher Scott and Alice had also worked together on a Hulu series called The LXD: The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers for three seasons, and they got used to working together and working quickly, figuring out how tell a story and develop characters through dance. Jon, Alice and Chris Scott felt their whole careers came together to make a musical like In The Heights. The characters’ hopes, dreams, fears and anxieties can be played out not only through song and dance but in the environment around them, which sometimes shifts to where they are emotionally.

With just 49 shoot days, preproduction for In The Heights was essential. Alice and Jon Chu would location scout in the mornings and then spend afternoons in the dance rehearsal space with Chris Scott. They would share their input and make suggestions from each location scout on how to face and orient the dance. Alice and Jon thought at first many more locations would be done on a soundstage, but they found that shooting in real places on the streets looked and felt so true- even the theater and the subway station were real locations. During shooting, every Sunday they would meet and go through the coming week because the schedule was so tight and the camerawork so complex, looking at videos from dance rehearsal to discuss the shots and angles to use, deciding if a crane shot was needed, and how many cameras to use for each scene. Jon made animatics detailing each scene from storyboards and dance rehearsal footage. With 17 song and dance scenes in In The Heights, Jon had huge goals for the musical numbers, and Alice, the dancers and the entire film crew were able to pull it off.

Alice grew up in New York and got into acting at a young age. She and her family then moved to Los Angles, and she realized as a teen that she did not want to be an actor. Being on set around the camera crew made her realize that she wanted to shoot movies, and that being a DP was her true dream. After graduating from USC Film School, Alice asked many of the graduate students if she could shoot their projects, knowing that the key to honing her craft was practice, practice, practice. She shot about 20 shorts, including Jon M. Chu’s musical short, When The Kids Are Away. Alice thinks it’s important to find the right people to work with, since you’re spending so much time together, and forming that bond helps everyone. She wants to make movies that inspire her daughter. For anyone with a family, it’s important to pick the projects that are worth it, since filming can take so much time away from loved ones.

Find Alice Brooks: https://www.alicebrooks.com/
Instagram: @_alicebrooks_

You can see In The Heights in theaters, the best place to experience the film’s immersive sound design and visuals. You can also find it streaming on HBO Max.

Alice’s new musical film directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda is tick, tick…Boom! releasing in the fall.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep130/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Aputure: https://www.aputure.com/

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNQIhe3yjQJG72EjZJBRI1w
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz