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

May 12, 2021

Seamus McGarvey, ASC on HBO’s The Nevers, Flying Saucer Rock ‘n’ Roll, Bad Times at the El Royale, Harry Dean Stanton, Oliver Stone and more

Seamus McGarvey is drawn to character-driven stories and loves how the camera studies the face in a very particular way. Even when shooting action-packed shows such as The Nevers, Marvel’s The Avengers, or the Oliver Stone film, World Trade Center, Seamus stays focused on the characters and uses a naturalistic approach to his composition.

The Nevers was Seamus’ first extensive experience working on a television series. He had only shot TV episodes here and there, such as “Nosedive,” a favorite episode of Black Mirror, starring Bryce Dallas Howard. For Seamus, shooting a television series was a much faster production schedule and made him think with economy. The Nevers creator Joss Whedon wanted the show to have a contemporary edge, but set in Victorian times, about people known as “The Touched” who suddenly develop supernatural, superhero-like abilities. Fortunately, they had a long preproduction prep time for the action-packed series, which made for a close-knit, collaborative and well-prepared crew. Seamus also worked closely with the second unit, who shot the numerous stunts in The Nevers. He was also able to use some old-school camera tricks for Primrose, a character who’s a giant. Seamus had to double the actor’s actual height with forced perspective, used a slightly slow-motion camera, and the aid of some special effects, making sure that the lighting stayed consistent between the normal-sized shots and the giant shots.

From an early age, cinema as an art form always fascinated Seamus. He was excited to work on a tiny throwback short film in the late 1990’s called Flying Saucer Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is a spoof of black and white sci-fi B movies. It’s still his favorite film, because it’s so full of invention, charm and joy. Seamus went back home to shoot it in Ireland, even after he’d already established his career with several feature films, and they shot it for no money. Steven Spielberg even saw it, loved it, and invited the director, Enda Hughes to meet with him to develop something at Amblin.

Seamus also enjoyed working with director and writer Drew Goddard on Bad Times at the El Royale. The set for the movies was completely built from scratch, which enabled the crew to build in practical light sources and be involved in the design from the beginning. The camera was able to move all over the set and look in all directions. Bad Times is a mystery puzzle movie that all fits together in the end, and Seamus used many visual cues of double images, mirrors and the camera peering through the lattice work to hint at all the character’s hidden secrets.

Because of his love of natural photography, Seamus also enjoys shooting documentaries, such as Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, about the legendary actor Harry Dean Stanton. He occasionally uses documentary sensibilities in narrative film as well. In We Need To Talk About Kevin, director Lynn Ramsay and Seamus went with actor Tilda Swinton’s idea to spontaneously shoot in the rain as part of a flashback scene.

Seamus is currently in post-production on Cyrano, his latest production with director Joe Wright.
You can see The Nevers streaming on HBOMax. https://www.hbo.com/the-nevers

Find Seamus on Instagram @seamiemc & Twitter:@mcseamus

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep124/
Hear our previous interview with Seamus McGarvey: https://www.camnoir.com/ep37/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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