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. https://www.netflix.com/title/81171868

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

Find Matty Libatique: Instagram @libatique
Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com

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

December 20, 2023

Flamin’ Hot director Eva Longoria and cinematographer Federico Cantini

Flamin’ Hot is an entertaining biopic about Richard Montañez, a janitor at the Frito Lay chip factory who rose to become a marketing executive after (he claims) he came up with the idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. While Monteñez may be exaggerating his role in the invention of Flamin’ Hot, the movie is based on his real life experience as detailed in his book, “Flamin’ Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man’s Rise from Janitor to Top Executive.” Director Eva Longoria was drawn to telling Montañez’s story for her first feature film debut. She wanted to tell a heroic, positive story about a Mexican American who worked hard to achieve the American dream, with the support of his family and community. Cinematographer Federico Cantini had previously worked with Eva on Unplugging, a small indie movie, where the two of them were the only Spanish speakers on set. Eva admired his energy, passion and collaboration with the female director. When it came time for her to choose her DP for Flamin’ Hot, Federico was Eva’s top choice.

The original script Eva received for Flamin’ Hot was a very straightforward, factual biography film, without any elements of humor. Eva knew she needed to capture the charismatic character and voice of Richard Monteñez, so she watched videos of his TED talks and other public appearances. She worked with writer Linda Yvette Chávez to rework the script during COVID. It was important to keep the film high energy and constantly push the narrative forward. “Ron Howard’s one of my mentors,” says Eva, “and his motto is something should be happening every nine to ten pages. So you should have nine to ten page sequences. It’s a page turner, you know, it’s constantly moving.” She also admires the narrative style of director Adam McKay’s films (The Big Short, Winning Time) and the way he fluidly uses montages and voiceovers to tell stories based on fact. Flamin’ Hot has 11 montages, with tons of information crammed into each shot. The movie also never strays from Montañez’s point of view. Even in scenes where he isn’t there, Eva used the comedic device of Moñtenez narrating what might have happened in certain scenes, such as at Frito Lay executive board meetings.

Once the script was complete, Federico read it and found it extremely relatable. As an immigrant himself, Flamin’ Hot was an opportunity to make his mark, much as Monteñez had. Fortunately, he and Eva had lots of pre-production prep time. They are both big planners, which was important- the shooting schedule was extremely tight, with just 30 days to shoot Flamin’ Hot on 108 sets, during COVID. The film was primarily shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the entire Frito Lay factory was a set. Today’s Frito Lay factories are extremely modern and automated, so they knew it would not have the right look for the 80s and early 1990s. With the set, they had lots of control over where they could shoot and what it would look like with depth and color. The set pieces such as the tumbler and conveyor belt were all on wheels, so they could easily be moved around. Coming from TV, Eva felt confident that they could accomplish all they wanted in the time that they had, and they left all their creative energy on the screen.

Federico and Eva wanted to break up Monteñez’s story into three different decades with three distinct looks to separate them. Federico used Crystal Express lenses for Montañez’s childhood, Canon K-35s for his gang banger days, and then for the 80s and 90s, Panavision Panaspeeds, but modified to look like Super Speeds from the 80s. He also used a probe lens to emphasize the size of the factory and for drama in the tasting scenes.

Eva enjoyed directing a biopic, and she looks forward to telling more stories from her community. She likes directing projects she’s also acting in, and she wants to continue to direct and produce films with purpose. Federico had a great experience working on Flamin’ Hot, and he and Eva plan to work together again soon.

You can watch Flamin’ Hot on Hulu or on Disney+.

Find Eva Longoria: Instagram @evalongoria

Find Federico Cantini: http://www.federicocantini.com/
Instagram @federicocantini

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

October 25, 2023

Wildcat cinematographer Steve Cosens, CSC

Cinematographer Steve Cosens, CSC first met actor and director Ethan Hawke on the movie Born to Be Blue, a biographical re-imagining of the life of Chet Baker. Ethan played Chet Baker, and he and Steve connected over their similar film tastes. A few years later, Hawke called Steve to shoot Blaze, a film he was directing. Blaze is a semi-biographical imagining of the life of Texas songwriting legend Blaze Foley.

While Ethan Hawke is drawn to directing films based on real people, the idea to make Wildcat came from his daughter, actor Maya Hawke, who is a huge fan of Flannery O’Connor’s work. Though Wildcat is based on writer Flannery O’Connor’s life, it also interweaves her short stories into the plot as she goes through the process of publishing her first novel, Wise Blood in 1952. Steve was unfamiliar with the writer, so he read her short stories and was blown away. For that time, it was unusual for a woman to write darkly humorous and disturbing stories. Hawke proposed they shoot in Kentucky, and sent Steve videos of a few location scouts. They both liked the idea of O’Connor’s fictional short stories overlapping into the story of her real life, weaving together fact and fiction. Both Maya Hawke and Laura Linney play multiple roles and characters, adding to the layers of story within story. Steve decided to keep the camera locked off and more controlled for the sections dealing with O’Connor’s real life. He contrasted that by shooting the fictional stories handheld. In post, he played a little bit with the contrast and color of the stories, but the color palette remains a consistent cool blue and green.

Wildcat is a small independent film with a tight budget, so shooting for the 1950’s presented a bit of a challenge. On location in Kentucky, the production crew needed to find the right period buildings and houses, and Steve was limited by what direction he could shoot to keep anything modern out of frame. They had a script and extensively location scouted, so that they knew what the shot and light limitations would be. But once shooting began, Hawke could keep it loose so that the actors were able to explore more with their characters within the scene. Steve really enjoys working with Hawke because he’s a confident director who is not afraid to take chances or change the plan if necessary. As a DP, he finds it freeing, since many directors get locked into the script or the shotlist, and they can’t see that there might be another way to be creative.

Once he graduated art school in Vancouver, Canada, Steve got his start shooting the music video backgrounds for karaoke songs that were then sent to Hong Kong. The job required him to shoot two videos per day, without being able to scout locations ahead of time. It taught him to be flexible and adapt to the different locations that they would go. It also taught him to light quickly and in many different situations.

Wildcat recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and is seeking distribution.

Find Steve Cosens: https://www.stevecosens.com/
Instagram: @cosenssteve

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