August 23, 2023

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie cinematographers C. Kim Miles, Clair Popkin and Julia Liu

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie explores the life of actor Michael J. Fox in his own words. It’s a moving and heartfelt documentary as he talks about his rise to fame in the 1980’s with the TV show Family Ties, the Back to the Future movies, and what his life is like living with Parkinson’s Disease. Fox’s story is told with personal interviews, archival footage and reenactments.

Cinematographers C. Kim Miles, Julia Liu and Clair Popkin all worked separately on different portions of Still, and all three are Emmy-nominated for their work on the documentary. Julia served as the primary DP for the interviews with Fox, discussing the look with director Davis Guggenheim. They storyboarded the interviews, including shots and lighting, with ideas for moods to evoke different parts of Michael’s life. Guggenheim wanted most of the interviews to feel like they were locked off, just like the title. It provided a contrast to the archival footage, where Fox is incredibly acrobatic and frenetic.The interview and b-roll of present-day portions of Fox’s life were not completely verite- Julia would approach each action with a plan, and do a few takes.

DP Clair Popkin joined the team when Still already had edited raw assemblies of scenes with archival footage cut in. It provided him with a clear idea of how to match and transition interview scenes in and out of the archival video clips. Clair had worked with Guggenheim on several documentary projects in the past, and he was able to step in and shoot the interview portions Julia wasn’t available for.

Finally, cinematographer C. Kim Miles shot all of the reenactment portions of Still. He met with Guggenheim, who he considers to be the king of planning, but also flexible enough to shoot off the cuff on the day. Since the reenactments came in at the end of the process, Kim found it tremendously helpful to see the rough cut and match the look. He was able to create a softer, more idyllic look for Fox’s past memories. Kim and the crew spent 20 days shooting the reenactments, and Fox personally thanked everyone for their part in telling his story.

For both Julia and Clair, it was very exciting to work with Fox. It was not just a job- everyone was also a fan, and Julia was thrilled to meet him. Clair felt so much joy and positivity from Michael J. Fox, who was also a consummate professional.

Find Julia Liu: @jucliu

Find Clair Popkin: @clairpopkin

Find C. Kim Miles: @kimiles

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie is currently on AppleTV+

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April 14, 2021

Matthew Libatique, ASC, PART 2: Tigerland, The Fountain, working with Spike Lee, Straight Outta Compton, Iron Man, A Star is Born

In Part 2 of our interview, we continue our conversation with cinematographer Matty Libatique.

After Pi, Matty couldn’t believe that such a small movie shot on 16mm black and white film opened so many doors for him. He began to get calls for large Hollywood movies, such as Tigerland with director Joel Schumacher. Schumacher, known for big-budget, glossy films like Batman and Robin, was looking for a new look for the gritty Vietnam training camp film, starring an up and coming Colin Farrell. Matty and Schumacher decided to shoot hand-held 16 mm for Tigerland so that it would amplify the anger, stress and pain of preparing for war.

Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing influenced Matty’s path to a career in cinema, and he had the honor to work with Lee on four films, including Inside Man. Matty found Lee’s approach to film to be incredibly unique. Lee would decide scenes with multiple cameras could become one camera done in one shot, or plan that a single camera scene should be done with multiple cameras and angles. Matty thinks that as a DP you are a collaborator and need to be present as a fellow filmmaker and not as a fanboy, so he resisted telling Lee that Do The Right Thing was the reason why he went into film. Matty also got the chance to work with another hero of his, director and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, who shot Do The Right Thing, on the film Never Die Alone.

Matty teamed up again with director Darren Aronofsky on The Fountain, an incredibly surreal sci-fi love story that takes place across space and time. It was a big challenge for Matty to bring Aronofsky’s vision of The Fountain to life, bouncing ideas off Aronofsky’s astrophysicist collaborator, who described what other universes might look like. By contrast, their next movie together, Black Swan, was a stripped down thriller, focused on taught performances and choreography. Black Swan earned Matty his first Academy Award nomination for cinematography.

Surprisingly, working on the first Iron Man movie felt to Matty just like working on a giant independent film. With a comedic star like Robert Downey Jr. and an experienced comedic director like Jon Favereau, the two often reworked the script before shooting scenes. Matty had never worked on a project with such a large budget, and he helped create the look of the Marvel cinematic universe.

When Matty heard Straight Outta Compton was in developement, he immediately asked his agent for a meeting with director F. Gary Gray, because he was such a big fan of the hip-hop group NWA. The film is about the origins of NWA’s generation-defining album and the story of the band, but it was not a straightforward biopic, and Matty wanted to make sure the movie had the right look and feel for the era.

For 2018’s A Star is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, Matty and Cooper, who also directed the film, wanted to pay homage to the other two versions but Cooper’s take on the story was definitely different. They decided to feature more musical performance in their version, and early into shooting, Cooper changed the ending so that the main character, Jackson Maine, doesn’t die in a motorcycle accident. Matty found that Bradley Cooper has the ability to clearly explain what he sees in his imagination, and his acting experience enabled him to be aware of where the camera was positioned so he didn’t have to watch playback of his scenes.

Matty’s film, The Prom, can be streamed on Netflix. He is currently shooting the film, Don’t Worry Darling, directed by Olivia Wilde.

Hear Part 1 of our interview with Matty Libatique:

Hear our 2019 interview with Matty Libatique:

Find Matty Libatique: Instagram @libatique

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links:

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March 7, 2019

Ep 33 – Matthew Libatique, ASC – Two time Academy Award nominated Cinematographer talks A Star is Born, craft, philosophy, collaborating with Bradley Cooper, Darren Aronofsky, Spike Lee and Jon Favreau

The Cinematography Podcast Episode 33 – Matthew Libatique, ASC The filmography of two time Academy Award nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique, ASC is filled with fantastic looking movies.  Including films such as the recent smash hit, A Star is Born, indie festival darling, Pi, Marvel franchise films like Iron Man, as well as commercial and critically