January 31, 2024

American Fiction cinematographer Cristina Dunlap

The film American Fiction has been nominated for over two dozen awards, including five Academy Awards. Director Cord Jefferson is a seasoned writer who worked on acclaimed series such as Watchmen, Station Eleven, and The Good Place. He adapted the screenplay and wrote the script for American Fiction himself. Jefferson knew that he would also like to direct the film, although it would be his first time ever directing.

Cinematographer Cristina Dunlap knew immediately after reading the script that she wanted to work on the film. “I think there’s always a concern every time you work with a new director, just learning their style and how they work. But the second I sat down with Cord, I could tell immediately that he was going to be a wonderful person to work with because he is just very joyous and positive and excited, collaborative and open to ideas. And so when we started talking about the script, it was really more excitement. And, you know, he was very honest. He said, ‘I’ve never even directed traffic before. So you’re going to have to maybe hold my hand through some things or answer questions.’ And I was completely willing to do that.”

Fortunately, Cristina and Jefferson had about eight weeks of prep time in Boston, with only about 25 actual shoot days. Cristina likes to break down each scene psychologically, to explore visually what each character is going through. They scouted locations with the rest of the crew, and spent time figuring out the blocking so that they would have a concrete plan when the actors were on set. Cristina relied on the Artemis Pro app to map the location spaces which really helped create photo storyboards, figure out the lighting setup and plan Steadicam moves. She knew it would be challenging to be able to fit everything in on each shoot day, especially when there would be six or seven people in a scene. The beach house was an especially challenging location for lighting- it had dark wood walls and low ceilings. Cristina knew they wanted to able to see the ocean through the windows, but they couldn’t afford to light with a Condor lighting rig every day from the outside. She had to pull out a lot of lighting tricks and build off the practical sources in the space. For one scene, an arborist helped the gaffer by climbing a tree in order to rig several gem ball lights in the branches.

Cristina got her start in photography. She went on to shoot music videos for artists such as Coldplay and Lizzo, and was the DP of the 2022 Sundance Audience Award winning feature, Cha Cha Real Smooth.

American Fiction is in theaters now.

Find Cristina Dunlap: https://www.cristinadunlap.com/
Instagram: @cristina_dunlap

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

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

May 19, 2021

Adam Somner, first assistant director, on Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alejandro González Iñárritu, movies Black Hawk Down, War of the Worlds, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Revenant, and more

The job of the assistant director is to work in concert with the director and the DP to get everything done on a movie set. As a 1st AD, Adam Somner is trusted by the industry’s top directors to anticipate their needs, motivate the crew, figure out the schedule, and drive the entire production forward to finish each day on time. He finds the best way to keep everything moving smoothly on set is though humor, high energy and uniting everyone as a group, persuading people to do things on the schedule and timeline needed to complete the job.

Adam’s father, Basil Somner, worked for MGM Studios in England, and through him, Adam got a job as a runner/production assistant at age 17. He began working on movies in the late ’80’s, like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Superman IV, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? He worked under many assistant directors, observed how they took charge on set, and decided he was really interested in becoming an AD.

Adam has worked on eight Ridley Scott films to date, as well as several of the late Tony Scott’s films. He was first hired on a Ridley Scott film as a third assistant director on 1492: Conquest of Paradise and White Squall, then moved up to second assistant director on Gladiator, where he learned how to manage a huge crew of extras and background action from the 1st AD, Terry Needham. On Black Hawk Down, Adam was promoted to first assistant director for the second unit. Black Hawk Down was shooting in Morocco, and the second unit was responsible for most of the helicopter sequences, with lots of moving parts and extras, involving real Black Hawk helicopters and real U.S. military soldiers. After Black Hawk Down, Adam got the call to begin working with Steven Spielberg on War of the Worlds, where he quickly learned to read Spielberg’s mind and keep an eye on the details. He’s worked with Spielberg on ten films now, including Munich, Lincoln, and Ready Player One.

A 1st AD is responsible for coordinating most of the background action. Adam’s ability to work on big sets with lots of action, extras and special effects led director Paul Thomas Anderson to hire him for There Will Be Blood, and Anderson has since become a personal friend. Adam finds Anderson’s on-set approach to be very thoughtful and measured. Unlike the action-heavy films Adam has worked on, he knew it was important to keep the crew and background actors quiet and subdued on Anderson’s films with heavy dialog, such as The Master and Phantom Thread.

For The Wolf of Wall Street, Adam was thrilled to work with director Martin Scorsese. Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto had Adam sit in during their preproduction shotlisting process, so they were all thoroughly prepared. Scorsese loves shooting scenes with complex background action, and Adam delivered. He carefully rehearsed all the extras in different stages of panic as the brokers watched the stock market crash. For the famous in-flight orgy scene, Adam wasn’t totally sure how he wanted to deal with not just one sex scene, which is hard enough, but several at once. So he decided to hire a choreographer to help rehearse and plan all the action, making sure each background player knew exactly what they were doing and taking care that everyone was comfortable with their role in front of the camera.

Adam was excited to work with Alejandro González Iñárritu on some of Birdman, and as the 1st AD on one of the may units shooting The Revenant, where Iñárritu and the DP Emmanuel Lubezki “Chivo” wanted everything shot and rehearsed during magic hour. Rehearsals were incredibly important on both Birdman and The Revenant, since Iñárritu and Chivo shot many scenes in one single shot.

Adam is currently working on Killers of the Flower Moon with director Martin Scorsese.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep125/

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

Website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNQIhe3yjQJG72EjZJBRI1w
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz