March 6, 2024

Jenelle Riley, Variety’s Deputy Awards and Features Editor, discusses the 2024 Academy Awards nominations

Long-time friend and colleague Jenelle Riley of Variety magazine chats with Ben and Illya for our fifth annual Oscar nominations special. With a focus on cinematography, they discuss what they liked, what will win, what should win, and their favorite movies of the year that may have been overlooked. They also talk about the past year in movies, Oscar campaigning and the accusations of film “snubs.”

Here’s a rundown of some of the films and topics discussed in this episode. Listen to our recent interviews with the nominated DPs as well as other films of note!

Spike Lee, who won an ASC Board of Governors award
Hoyte Van Hoytema, Oppenheimer, who also won an ASC award for theatrical feature film
Ed Lachman, El Conde
Matty Libatique, Maestro
Robbie Ryan, Poor Things
Rodrigo Prieto, Martin Scorsese Killers of the Flower Moon
Barbie, Ryan Gosling
Nyad, Anette Bening
The Holdovers (DP Eigil Bryld) , Alexander Payne, Da’Vine Joy Randolph
Past Lives (DP Shabier Kirchner), Greta Lee
American Fiction (DP Cristina Dunlap)
Saltburn (DP Linus Sandgren)
The Killer (DP Eric Messerschmidt)

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February 21, 2024

Maestro cinematographer Matty Libatique, ASC

We have the multi-talented Kays Al-Atrakchi as our special guest host this week!

Shortly after working together on A Star Is Born, director and actor Bradley Cooper told cinematographer Matty Libatique that he’d like their next project to be about conductor Leonard Bernstein. Cooper hadn’t even begun writing the screenplay for Maestro yet, but over the next six years, he and Matty discussed how to evolve the story and shoot the biopic. They spent a lot of time shooting tests in multiple formats. Matty and Cooper decided to shoot on Kodak film, using both black and white and color, and two different aspect ratios (1.33:1 and 1.85:1) for the story. The film takes place over 50 years, and it was important to test the aging makeup and prosthetics Cooper would wear as Bernstein.

Maestro was a complex story to tell, and Cooper wanted to explore Bernstein’s life in as many visually creative ways as possible. Every shot was thought out, including all the montages that deal with the passage of time. For several scenes, much of what Cooper had described on the page was what ended up on screen. “It’s one of those rare cases where the the writing really matched up with what we ended up doing, very early on. There were subsequent drafts, but those moments that he had crafted ahead of time never went away,” says Matty. In order to keep himself organized, Matty created a spreadsheet that mapped out all the shots and equipment for every beat and scene in the script, which could also be altered if Cooper made changes.

At the heart of Maestro is the complicated relationship between Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre. Cooper frequently used the motif of Montealegre waiting in the wings for Bernstein, as she put everything in her life on hold to be with him. Their love grounds the story, and Matty wanted it to look as naturalistic as possible. “Instead of going for the glam, even though it might feel like an old movie at the beginning of the film, I was trying to keep it more candid… I think Bradley and I gravitate towards naturalism because we don’t want anything that smells false or pretentious. It’s just something to stay away from. Bradley has a real sensitivity to it.”

Cooper’s approach as a director is extremely artistic and sensitive to the emotions in the scene, and he doesn’t use a conventional shot list or get traditional coverage. If the scene feels wrong after they’ve shot it, he and Matty will mull it over and then come up with a better way to shoot it. “Bradley is so editorially minded, he keeps in mind whether or not we’re going to end a scene in a wide or start in a wide or ended in tight or start in a tight. So those are conscious decisions, but they aren’t necessarily made ahead of time. We respond to the space and we respond to the light. And then we just react and it’s organic, it’s his process.”

Maestro is available on Netflix.

Matty Libatique is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

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February 14, 2024

Oppenheimer cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, ASC

Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, ASC and director Christopher Nolan have crafted some of the most visually stunning and intellectually stimulating films of the 21st century. The film Oppenheimer marks their fourth collaboration, and they’ve achieved an ease and rapport with each other over time. “In all these years, we’ve spent so many endless hours in scouting vans and on airplanes and on film sets. So we have done a lot of the talking together. Chris is a very meticulous filmmaker, but this process has also allowed us to be very intuitive and we can kind of skim through a lot of bullshit just by knowing each other,” Hoyte says.

Hoyte first began working with Nolan on Interstellar in 2014. At first he found the scale of the film extremely daunting. “I was literally looking up at that crazy, gigantic mountain in front of me and thinking, how am I going to do this and how am I going to even technically wrap my head around this? But (Nolan) was always very calm and very reassuring and he said, ‘Let’s just start’.” Despite it being their first project together, the synergy between Nolan’s bold vision and Hoyte’s keen eye for detail was immediately apparent. They employed a combination of practical effects and cutting-edge visual techniques to bring the vastness of space and the intricacies of theoretical physics to life on the screen. Nolan uses practical effects as much as possible, and he needed creative techniques to get across the idea of atomic energy on Oppenheimer. The second unit crew spent time experimenting with shots to create the effects of atomic particles and atoms interacting for scenes when Robert Oppenheimer envisions harnessing nuclear energy.

To tell a story as big and complex as Oppenheimer, Nolan and Hoyte chose to shoot on IMAX. This required some invention and innovation. Nolan wanted to shoot the congressional hearing scenes in black and white, but black and white film stock for IMAX did not exist. Kodak was happy to manufacture it for the movie, although it was challenging to use. The black and white film didn’t fit into the camera the same way, so they had to re-engineer the camera gates and pressure plates.

Even though they were shooting with an extremely large format camera, Hoyte wanted to get very intimate, close shots. “Chris and I had to decide that our vistas in this film, our scope, is not something that comes from landscapes or wideness or action, but it has to come from faces, you know? I always say the faces kind of became our landscapes. But I also believe that scope is something that comes from what you as an audience project onto something.” They opted for a very simple, naturalistic style to the cinematography to support the unfolding psychological drama. Each frame is not just a visual composition but a narrative device, serving to deepen the emotional resonance of the story and engage the audience on a visceral level.

Oppenheimer is playing in theaters, available on VOD, or streaming on Peacock starting February 16. Hoyte Van Hoytema is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

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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:
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March 15, 2023

Rye Lane director Raine Allen-Miller and DP Olan Collardy

Rye Lane is a charming, energetic and funny romantic film that follows Dom and Yas, both twentysomethings going through bad breakups. They meet at a friend’s art show and roam around South London, helping each other deal with their exes while having crazy adventures and restoring their faith in romance. The movie premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, opened wide in the UK and is set to stream on Hulu March 31.

When she received the script for Rye Lane, direct Raine Allen-Miller knew she wanted to set the film in South London, a very vibrant, colorful place with lots of interesting characters. She loves movies by fellow British director Steve McQueen, and counts him as an influence on her work. Raine wanted her film to be funny and entertaining while still looking beautiful and “juicy” throughout. Rye Lane is Raine’s first feature, and she creates an energetic, colorful and happy world where, once Dom and Yas meet, they simply have fun together. It was important to her that Black people be captured in a way that’s positive, funny and goofy, and that people have a great time watching the film.

Cinematographer Olan Collardy grew up in Nigeria and later moved to South London, where he met Raine while working on commercials. He says that Raine brings a beautiful sandbox to play in, with her love of color and interest in creating a very energetic, stylized, modern look to the film. They worked together to ensure that the camera was always in the right place to play up the humor- if it wasn’t funny, it wasn’t functional. Olan used extremely wide anamorphic lenses to add a touch of the surreal to the shots. They were influenced by the British comedy Peep Show, getting very close on a wide lens while the actor looks slightly above the lens so they don’t break the fourth wall. Olan was influenced by Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, which is also very rich in color and about a very specific place.

Rye Lane is in theaters in the UK and will be streaming on Hulu on March 31.

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