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/
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