March 31, 2021

Cinematographer Maryse Alberti on Hillbilly Elegy, working with Ron Howard, Velvet Goldmine, Happiness, The Wrestler, Creed, documentaries, Michael Apted

Maryse Alberti is a very eclectic and prolific cinematographer, shooting documentaries, indie films, television shows, commercials and large films over the course of her career. She prefers films that deal with something real- they don’t have to revolutionize the world, but the characters have to be interesting and grounded in reality.

On her latest film, Hillbilly Elegy, Maryse and director Ron Howard discussed how to treat the different time periods and places in the film. They wanted to juxtapose the character of J.D. at Yale against rural Kentucky and Ohio, while also making the flashbacks to his childhood stand out. The early childhood scenes are color rich and shot handheld, while Maryse used a Steadicam and normal color saturation for the more sedate and polite atmosphere at Yale. Hillbilly Elegy is about strong characters, requiring committed performances from actors Glenn Close and Amy Adams. Maryse made sure to give the actors and director the space to immerse themselves by devising unobtrusive lighting, coming in from windows outside and using lamps on the inside. Her  documentary experience of keeping it simple and natural also translates to her narrative work, and she’s discovered that it is now second nature to find the best camera placement for a scene.

Growing up in the South of France, Maryse didn’t see many movies or television shows until she moved to New York as an au pair in the 1970’s. She also worked in the art world, and had jobs as a performance trapeze artist, musician, assistant on small film sets, and took photos as a hobby. In 1990, she shot her first feature length documentary, H2 Worker, an expose of working conditions in the Florida sugar cane industry, which won Best Cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival. The documentary launched her career as a cinematographer.

Maryse next worked with director Todd Haynes on several films including Poison and Velvet Goldmine. She jumped at the chance to work on the visually rich Velvet Goldmine, loosely based on David Bowie’s early career of the 70’s. At the time, Maryse had just finished working with Bowie on a Michael Apted documentary called Inspirations, and was a huge fan of the glam rock era. She and Haynes spent a great deal of time in pre-production and Maryse found his storyboards to be amazing works of art.

Maryse continued to work on indie films in the 1990’s, never shying away from difficult subject matter, such as the controversial Todd Solondz movie Happiness, which includes a storyline with a character who is a pedophile. Maryse found Happiness to be a tough movie since it was so out of the mainstream, dealing with volatile and sexual subject matter that would be almost impossible to find today. But in spite of it all, the crew found ways to have fun with some of the absurd special effects props for the film.

Director Darren Aronofsky wanted his film The Wrestler to be entirely hand-held. As a shorter woman, Maryse knew it would be difficult and physically demanding to shoot entirely herself, so they hired camera operator Peter Nolan. Maryse and Aronofsky decided to shoot the entire movie on a single 12mm lens. They committed to a naturalistic approach for shooting it and stuck to it. They used a real location for the wrestling ring, including the real wrestling crowd and real wrestlers.

After The Wrestler, Maryse was able to use some of what she learned to shoot Creed, with the exception of the crowd. Maryse kept the camera on the action the entire time, to emphasize that a boxer is truly alone in the ring, rather than relying on any reaction shots from the audience.

In her documentary career, Maryse has worked with director Alex Gibney on several films, such as The Armstong Lie, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Taxi to the Dark Side. She also had the good fortune to work with the late documentarian Michael Apted on several films, such as Incident at Ogala and Moving the Mountain, about the student protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The two grew to be good friends after working together for several years, and she found him incredibly smart, sharp and funny.

Maryse Alberti’s latest film, Hillbilly Elegy is streaming on Netflix.

Find Maryse Alberti: https://ddatalent.com/client/maryse-alberti-narrative
Instagram: @marysealberti

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep119/

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

January 26, 2021

Cinematographer Quyen Tran on Palm Springs, Unbelievable, A Teacher, baking for charity, shooting during the pandemic, and more

With a background in photojournalism and documentary, cinematographer Quyen Tran is drawn to emotional stories and giving voice to victims. But she also has a talent for shooting comedies, such as The Little Hours, the series Camping, and most recently the hit movie Palm Springs. Palm Springs is a comedy about two people trying to escape a time loop, reliving the same day over and over, like Groundhog Day. The film became hugely popular and critically acclaimed during the pandemic, probably because it resonated with everyone locked down and feeling like each day was the same. Palm Springs was shot on a relatively small budget and a pretty fast schedule, so Q was able to call in a few favors to help stretch the budget. She enjoyed working with Cristin Milioti, Andy Samberg and JK Simmons, who was a great foil for Andy Samberg’s character. A great deal of the movie was actually improvised- while it was definitely scripted, there were many alternate takes that made it into the movie. Since the film is about a constantly repeating day, the actors improvising different takes kept the story fresh and each take could be a bit different each time.

Q also shot a few episodes of the Netflix series Unbelievable, a true story about a young woman who is raped and then recants her story. Years later, two female detectives track the serial rapist and prove her story true. The series won a Peabody Award for showing a humanized exploration of rape survival. Q and director Lisa Cholodenko knew they wanted very literal and subjective camerawork, making the camera seem like it was always from the character Marie’s point of view of being sexually assaulted. They had the actress Kaitlyn Dever block scenes in pre-production so that she could help contribute and feel comfortable in the environment. Q chose to place a camera under a table in the interrogation scene so that it could still get a close up on her face, and give a feeling of disembodiment and detachment from her body.

The FX/Hulu series A Teacher explores grooming and sexual abuse, but this time with a male victim. Quyen shot the show in a naturalistic way as she did with Unbelievable. She wanted to stay true to the material and help the viewer emphasize with the victim.

One of Q’s passions in life is cooking and baking, and during the pandemic in her down time, Q and her friend and fellow DP, Jeanne Tyson, decided to start Doughrectors of Photography. In exchange for a donation to the LA Food Bank or other charity such as Vote Blue, patrons receive a loaf of homemade sourdough and/or cookies. Doughrectors has now donated over 100,000 meals to the L.A. Food Bank, and they continue to bake and raise money.

Most recently, Quyen was shooting Maid with director John Wells in Victoria, BC. They had to follow strict COVID protocols, including quarantining for two weeks before shooting. She was able to have a lot of prep time over Zoom with the director. The crew had to have masks on at all times of course, and were tested 3 times per week, taking their time and limiting the amount of people in the space.

You can check out Doughrectors of Photography and find out how you can donate and get some delicious baked goods on Instagram at @doughrectorsofphotography

You can hear our previous interview with Quyen Tran: https://www.camnoir.com/ep26/

Find Quyen Tran: https://www.qtranfilms.com/
Instagram: @qgar

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep110/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Sponsored by Aputure: https://www.aputure.com/

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

January 12, 2021

Tami Reiker, ASC on One Night in Miami, working with director Regina King, The Old Guard, early career on High Art, Pieces of April

Tami Reiker, ASC focuses on how to make beautiful, authentic performances while maintaining the director’s vision. Her most recent film, One Night in Miami, is full of amazing performances. Directed by Academy Award winning actress Regina King, One Night in Miami is based on real events, when Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown met in a hotel room to celebrate Ali’s fight victory over Sonny Liston. The film is based on a play by Kemp Powers, which presented a challenge for Tami since most of it takes place in one hotel room and it’s almost entirely dialog. All the actors had very busy schedules, so she and Regina King had only four days for rehearsal. King had very specific ideas about the type of film she wanted to make, and they planned the blocking and the shots together. It was also important for King for Tami to reproduce some of the scenes from historic reference photos, such as the original Hampton House hotel, Cassius Clay working out in the swimming pool, the diner, and the fight scenes. To give One Night in Miami a less static feel, Tami kept the camera moving, hiding some in walls on the set and using a jib arm, keeping her shots fluid so that the camera feels like a fly on the wall during the men’s conversations. Tami chose an Alexa 65 and used Prime DNA lenses with Bronze Glimmerglass to give the movie a vintage look.

Growing up, Tami was always interested in photography. She attended NYU film school, where she worked on several student films and met director Lisa Cholodenko, with whom she later shot the film High Art. The 1990’s to the early 2000’s was the heyday of indie filmmaking and with the advent of digital cinema, Tami was excited to be involved with independent production companies such as InDigEnt, which produced Pieces of April in 2003 starring Katie Holmes. InDigEnt’s business model allowed each person on the crew to own a percentage of the movie. Tami shot the film on a mini DV camera, and she still gets a residual check for Pieces of April today.

One Night in Miami can be seen at drive in theaters in Los Angeles and is available to stream on Friday, January 15 on Amazon Prime.

Find Tami Reiker: http://www.ddatalent.com/client/tami-reiker-asc
Instagram: @tamireiker123

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep109/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

November 11, 2020

Iris Ng, documentary cinematographer of Stories We Tell, Shirkers, Making a Murderer, and more

As primarily a documentary cinematographer, Iris Ng always asks where the camera should be at a given moment and how is it supposed to behave. She approaches a project asking about the perspective- is it supposed to be deeply personal, from within the lived experience of the person it’s about, or more observational and objective, from the outside looking in?

Quite a few of the documentaries Iris has worked on are deeply personal stories. Her first big feature was on fellow Canadian Sarah Polley’s film, Stories We Tell. The film integrated Sarah’s family home movies, shot on Super 8, into contemporary interviews with Sarah’s family members, and reenactments shot on Super 8 with actors in 70’s and 80’s era costumes. Iris ended up using several Super 8 cameras to shoot with, since the film cartridges are so short and the cameras had to be constantly swapped out and reloaded. Stories We Tell required a great deal of sensitivity as each person told their story of Sarah’s mother, Diane, a charismatic actor with many secrets who passed away in 1990. The documentary was critically acclaimed and received an Oscar nomination.

Iris took a similar approach to the documentary Shirkers. Like Stories We Tell, Shirkers uses personal excavations and film material from the past to examine it for answers. As a teen, writer/director Sandi Tan and her friends had made an indie film in Singapore called Shirkers. Their film teacher disappeared with all the footage once shooting had wrapped, and Sandi wanted to tell the story about tracking down what happened to the film through interviews with friends while going back to retrace the experience. They chose interesting setups and locations for interviews, and Iris would often turn the camera on Sandi to capture her reactions as she was reliving her past.

For the Netflix documentary series Making A Murderer, Iris had a different challenge. Iris came to the project on year nine of filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos’ ten year process of shooting the series, and used her artistic eye to help elevate and add to the the previously shot footage. Each of the two seasons was 10 episodes long, so it was a matter of ensuring that there was enough coverage and angles, such as the exteriors of the Manitowoc County Courthouse for the filmmakers to work with.

Iris Ng is currently shooting more narrative projects, such as the web series Hey Lady for CBC Gem.

Find Iris Ng: http://iriscinematography.com/
Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep100/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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