February 7, 2024

El Conde cinematographer Ed Lachman, ASC

El Conde is a a dark comedy/horror film that portrays former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a 250 year old vampire. Director Pablo Larraín wanted to play with the idea that a dictatorship is a blood-sucking drain on society with lasting generational impacts. Cinematographer Ed Lachman immediately liked Larraín’s message. “El Conde is his allegory of how we are seduced into yielding to fascism. And it isn’t just in Chile. It’s like the last 50 years, we’re facing that all over the world. That’s why I think the film has something to say- if you can get past the gore.”

Ed had been a long time admirer of Larraín’s work. He found Larraín’s films to be conceptually brilliant with camera placement and movement to tell the story. “They say a cinematographer and a director is a marriage. But I always like to think of it as a dance partner- you hear the same music, but do your steps compliment each other? And I’ve certainly felt I have that relationship with Pablo.” Ed knew he wanted to shoot El Conde in black and white, referencing gothic vampire movies such as Nosferatu and Vampyr (1932). Working with Netflix Latin America, Larraín obtained approval to originate the film in black and white rather than shoot in color and then desaturate it later. For production design, special effects and costumes, all the color choices could be made for the best look in black and white. Ed decided to use the ARRI LF camera, and fortunately, ARRI had just developed a monochromatic sensor for them to use. He enjoys shooting with an actual black and white camera because the exposure latitude and grain structure is different, and he can use monochromatic filters meant for black and white cinematography.

El Conde features some amazingly realistic scenes of vampires flying. The night flying sequences had to be done with a blue screen, which did require a color camera. But all of the day flying sequences and stunts were shot with the black and white camera. The flying sequences were done practically, with no special effects. A 120ft crane suspended the camera operator, who moved through the air with the actors and stunt acrobats on wires.

Ed used the EL Zone System, a method he invented, to figure out the proper exposures for the cameras on El Conde. He’s developed the EL Zone system over the past 10 years, in an effort to measure light values and standardize exposures for digital cameras, and won a technical Emmy in 2023 for the technology. The system uses 18% gray as the standard, which is a universal photography standard. The camera’s sensor data is used as a reference point and filmmakers can view the entire exposure of a shot on a monitor to make lighting adjustments easier.

El Conde is streaming on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/81590652
Find Ed Lachman, and learn more about the EL Zone System: https://www.elzonesystem.com/

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

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

June 22, 2022

Director Jim Archer, actors and writers David Earl and Chris Hayward on the offbeat film, Brian and Charles

Brian and Charles is about an awkward and lonely inventor, Brian, who lives in rural Wales. He rarely makes contraptions that are useful or work right, but one day, he finally creates a robot. Charles Petrescu, built out of an old washing machine and a mannequin, becomes Brian’s friend. But as Charles becomes more and more curious and self-aware, he decides he wants to explore the world on his own.

Actor David Earl is a comedian and came up with the eccentric character of Brian as a bit on the stand up circuit in the UK. One day on an internet radio call in show, a friend called in to interact with David’s character using computer voice simulation software. Fellow actor and comedian Chris Hayward heard it, came up with the idea of Charles as Brian’s robot sidekick, and the two took it on the road as a live show. Chris built the Charles robot character as a costume, and another friend would type in what Charles would say into the voice simulator to interact with the audience. In 2017, the two teamed up with director Jim Archer to make a short film about the characters, and it did well at festivals. After that, the UK production company Film4 backed developing the script into a feature film.

For the feature version of Brian and Charles, director Jim Archer decided to expand on the mockumentary style. He wanted it to look like a real documentary, with a serious dramatic and cinematic look rather than as a wink and a nod to other mockumentaries. The friends were inspired by the documentaries American Movie and Monster Road – true stories about lonely people desperate for their dream to come true.

Brian and Charles premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and is currently playing in theaters. https://www.focusfeatures.com/brian-and-charles/watch/

Jim Archer: Instagram & Twitter: @alrightjim

David Earl: Instagram @davidearlhello

Chris Hayward: https://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/client/chris-hayward

Charles Petrescu has his own twitter account: @CharlesPetrescu

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep173/

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

June 1, 2022

Michael FitzMaurice, aerial cinematographer for Top Gun Maverick, shooting second unit on The Dark Knight, and more

Cinematographer Michael FitzMaurice is known for his aerial and second unit cinematography on huge films such as The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and now Top Gun Maverick. In the film business, second unit and aerial cinematography are involved in all of the action shots, and as a more technically-oriented DP, Michael has been able to combine his two loves- flying and shooting movies.

Michael started out learning about photography in seventh grade, and then got a job out of high school working as a PA for a production company, eventually working his way up shooting music videos and commercials. It was hard to get into aerial cinematography, but with a love of flying and a pilot’s license, he was able to prove he could shoot while flying, and pilots would recommend him for aerial cinematography jobs. Aerial cinematography is a very small and select group of people, requiring a very special skill set. When shooting film in a helicopter or plane, it’s tough for most DPs to focus on composing a shot in a small space that is also moving quickly and unpredictably, and not get airsick.

Top Gun Maverick was hugely dependent on its aerial unit, with most of the action done as a real, practical effect. The aerial unit used two jets, a helicopter and also shot from mountaintops to capture the action as the fighter jets flew past. As a trained pilot himself, Tom Cruise actually flew the jets and did many of his own stunts. Each training jet was outfitted with six cameras to capture the action of the actors in the cockpit. Michael and the aerial crew worked on the movie for over a year, developing new, special gimbal camera systems mounted on the jets. The crew had hours and hours of pre-production meetings, to get a clear idea of the shots needed and how to accomplish them with aircraft and cameras. Michael took a lot of notes and used models to act out aerobatic maneuvers for the planes before shooting them. For Michael, one of the highlights of working on Top Gun Maverick was being allowed to fly very low over a Navy aircraft carrier, although they were not allowed to land on it.

Working on Top Gun Maverick was great, but Michael’s craziest movie experience was working on second unit of The Dark Knight with director Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister. The movie was shot in IMAX, which is a notoriously difficult format to shoot- IMAX cameras at the time had a very faulty video tap for the monitors. For the scene, Heath Ledger as the Joker blows up a hospital and walks away, all in one take. The explosion was done on a real building, rigged up with real explosives, so there were no second takes. They began the take, but as soon as they went outside, the video tap went white and they couldn’t really tell if they were actually getting anything on film at all, but they kept rolling, the building exploded, and hoped the whole thing was actually caught on film- which took about two days to get the film developed and the dailies back. Luckily, it all turned out perfectly.

Top Gun Maverick is currently playing in theaters.

Michael FitzMaurice: Instagram @michaelfitzmaurice

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep170/

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