July 14, 2021

Jake Polonsky, BSC on The Sparks Brothers documentary, working with director Edgar Wright, The World’s End, Black Mirror and Billions

Director of photography Jake Polonsky was a fan of the band Sparks for several years, a love he developed after seeing the band perform at a music festival. Jake had frequently worked with director Edgar Wright, shooting commercials and music videos in the early 2000’s, and then as the second unit DP on Wright’s movie, The World’s End. Both Jake and Wright shared a love of music, and in 2018 he saw Wright had posted a photo of himself with Sparks. He congratulated Wright on finally meeting the band. Wright let Jake know he was going to make a documentary on Sparks and asked if he would be the cinematographer.

The Sparks Brothers documentary combines interviews, live and archival concert footage and collage-style animation in an eclectic style that reflects the aesthetic of Ron and Russell Mael, the Sparks Brothers themselves. In spite of putting out 25 albums over the past 50 years, Sparks has remained under the radar for most of the public. The brothers had some success at the beginning of their careers, mainly in the UK, writing and creating an unusual sound admired and imitated by many other bands. Sparks continues to reinvent themselves and has never stopped touring, building an incredibly devoted fan base.

Both Jake and Wright knew that all the interviews for the documentary needed to have a certain look and visual continuity. They settled on a photograph from the cover of the 1976 Sparks album, Big Beat. The photo was taken in black and white with a large format camera, so Jake decided to shoot all of the interviews in black and white, using several large format Red Monstro cameras. Everyone would wear black so that each interview had a consistent look, no matter where it was shot, and each interviewee spoke directly to the lens, using an Eyedirect teleprompter.

When Jake heard Wright was getting ready to make The World’s End in 2013 with DP Bill Pope, he was eager to work on his first feature film, and asked if Wright needed anyone to shoot second unit. Wright was happy to give Jake the opportunity. Jake saw that even with a comedy such as The World’s End, Wright found it important to have even the smallest scenes exactly right for comedic timing. Jake went on to work on several other UK based television shows, such as the Black Mirror episode, The National Anthem, and the interactive Black Mirror special, Bandersnatch. The executive producers of the Showtime series Billions noticed Jake’s work on Black Mirror, and he became the cinematographer for 27 episodes of the show, as well as directing one. Jake was able to learn from many different directors on Billions, and loved working with actors Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti. He thinks that as a DP, it’s much more stimulating to work with a director you like and respect. It becomes easy to deliver what they want to achieve because you know it’s going to be great.

Find Jake Polonsky: http://jakepolonsky.com/
Instagram: @jakepolonsky

You can see The Sparks Brothers in theaters and streaming on VOD. https://www.focusfeatures.com/the-sparks-brothers/

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep132/

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

November 4, 2020

Ross Emery, ACS, on Raised By Wolves, The Matrix movies, Dark City, shooting second unit and more

Cinematographer Ross Emery believes that a director of photography can make beautiful compositions, but if the ideas aren’t transferred to screen, it’s not effective for telling the story. Knowing the intent of the director and the screenwriter is very important for translating the script into images, especially on movies with heavy visual effects.

On his most recent project, Ross shot five episodes of the Ridley Scott sci-fi series, Raised by Wolves for HBO Max. Ross and fellow cinematographers Dariusz Wolski and Erik Messerschmidt each shot episodes of the show. The first third of the series follows the androids “Mother” and “Father” to a new planet. Ross decided to shoot those episodes in the style of an ethnographic documentary, following the inhabitants around in their environment. It seemed a strange way to approach a sci-fi show at first, but Ross felt it aided creator Ridley Scott’s ability to build the world, giving the audience the feeling that they are actually on another planet. Scott wanted the planet to be a harsh and inhospitable landscape, to set it apart from anything Earth-like and chose a location about an hour outside of Cape Town, South Africa.

Ross grew up in Sydney, Australia. His father was a documentary filmmaker, but he wasn’t drawn to filmmaking until he was in his 20’s. He began working in documentaries himself, then transitioned to shooting music videos, where he met director Alex Proyas. Alex then hired Ross to shoot second unit for the film Dark City. Ross found that working second unit was a fantastic place to be- it’s a smaller crew tasked with shooting more action and visual effects sequences, with less oversight and less pressure than being the principal director of photography. After Dark City, Ross was asked to shoot second unit for The Matrix, and met with DP Bill Pope. The storyboards looked amazing, drawn by comic book artist Steve Scroce, and it became a matter of figuring out how to shoot something that hadn’t been done before.  As the second unit DP of The Matrix, Ross was responsible for shooting bullet time, the helicopters, and the fight sequences. In 1998, computer visual effects were not yet advanced enough to truly capture what was shown in the movie. Most of the shots were actually practical effects done with real actors, multiple camera arrays and real bullets. The Matrix was the hardest film he’d ever worked on, and Ross wasn’t even sure if the film would be any good until the crew saw the finished product. Once it was a hit, Ross had a huge budget and every tool at his disposal to shoot sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.

Ross Emery is currently shooting second unit for the upcoming Marvel movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

You can find all episodes of Raised By Wolves on HBO Max.

Find Ross Emery: http://rossemeryacs.com/
Instagram: @rossemeryacs

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep99/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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Twitter: @ShortEndz