February 14, 2024

Oppenheimer cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, ASC

Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, ASC and director Christopher Nolan have crafted some of the most visually stunning and intellectually stimulating films of the 21st century. The film Oppenheimer marks their fourth collaboration, and they’ve achieved an ease and rapport with each other over time. “In all these years, we’ve spent so many endless hours in scouting vans and on airplanes and on film sets. So we have done a lot of the talking together. Chris is a very meticulous filmmaker, but this process has also allowed us to be very intuitive and we can kind of skim through a lot of bullshit just by knowing each other,” Hoyte says.

Hoyte first began working with Nolan on Interstellar in 2014. At first he found the scale of the film extremely daunting. “I was literally looking up at that crazy, gigantic mountain in front of me and thinking, how am I going to do this and how am I going to even technically wrap my head around this? But (Nolan) was always very calm and very reassuring and he said, ‘Let’s just start’.” Despite it being their first project together, the synergy between Nolan’s bold vision and Hoyte’s keen eye for detail was immediately apparent. They employed a combination of practical effects and cutting-edge visual techniques to bring the vastness of space and the intricacies of theoretical physics to life on the screen. Nolan uses practical effects as much as possible, and he needed creative techniques to get across the idea of atomic energy on Oppenheimer. The second unit crew spent time experimenting with shots to create the effects of atomic particles and atoms interacting for scenes when Robert Oppenheimer envisions harnessing nuclear energy.

To tell a story as big and complex as Oppenheimer, Nolan and Hoyte chose to shoot on IMAX. This required some invention and innovation. Nolan wanted to shoot the congressional hearing scenes in black and white, but black and white film stock for IMAX did not exist. Kodak was happy to manufacture it for the movie, although it was challenging to use. The black and white film didn’t fit into the camera the same way, so they had to re-engineer the camera gates and pressure plates.

Even though they were shooting with an extremely large format camera, Hoyte wanted to get very intimate, close shots. “Chris and I had to decide that our vistas in this film, our scope, is not something that comes from landscapes or wideness or action, but it has to come from faces, you know? I always say the faces kind of became our landscapes. But I also believe that scope is something that comes from what you as an audience project onto something.” They opted for a very simple, naturalistic style to the cinematography to support the unfolding psychological drama. Each frame is not just a visual composition but a narrative device, serving to deepen the emotional resonance of the story and engage the audience on a visceral level.

Oppenheimer is playing in theaters, available on VOD, or streaming on Peacock starting February 16. Hoyte Van Hoytema is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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November 16, 2023

Asteroid City, Roald Dahl shorts cinematographer Robert Yeoman, ASC

Cinematographer Robert Yeoman has been a consistent collaborator with director Wes Anderson since the 1990’s. Together, Bob and Anderson have crafted a signature visual style that combines meticulous set design, vibrant color palettes, and symmetrical framing. Each frame feels like a carefully composed painting, with every detail thoughtfully arranged to enhance the overall narrative.

Bob’s latest collaboration with Anderson is the film Asteroid City and a series of short films adapted from the writings of Roald Dahl. Bob was the DP for The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, The Rat Catcher and Poison. Both the film Asteroid City and the Roald Dahl shorts feature the actors speaking directly to the camera as in a stage play, and props and sets pieces are obviously moved in and out of frame. For the Dahl short films, most of the script is taken directly from Dahl’s writing, with the actors reciting the story to the audience. They shot all of the short films in England on two stages right next to each other. While the crew was shooting on one stage, the art department designed and built the stage next to it. Anderson’s pre-production process includes the creation of animatics to plan and visualize scenes before shooting begins. An animatic is a series of storyboard images edited together to give a rough preview of the film’s pacing and visual composition. Once the animatic is complete, everyone on the creative team is on the same page regarding the visual and narrative direction of the film. The art department then takes the animatic and turns it into a physical space. Since Anderson is so specific about how he wants his compositions to look, Bob usually uses a camera on a dolly track- a steadicam or a technocrane can’t get the same level of precision. They imported a special dolly track from Paris for shooting the Roald Dahl shorts. Because of the size of the track, some of the sets that had to slide open and closed were built so that they were slightly elevated from the floor. To accommodate the dolly, all of the lights had to be placed in the ceiling and were operated from a main control board. There were many rehearsals with the art and props department to get the set and prop movements right. The actors knew exactly where to position themselves in the scene just from the detailed animatics.

The film Asteroid City explores themes of grief, melancholy and disconnection. It melds together two very distinctive looks- the format of a black and white 1950’s era TV documentary in 4:3 aspect ratio about a play, “Asteriod City,” which is then intercut with the staging of “Asteroid City” in a sunny desert town, shot in widescreen with bright pastel colors and lighting. The town set was built from scratch, in a desert in Spain. To create the look, they chose to shoot on film, and Bob tested several different film stocks. He embraced the harsh, high contrast desert light as a character in the movie, even though it went against his instincts as a cinematographer. They made the pastel colors pop in the DI (digital intermediate), and gave it more of a low-contrast look. Though it was shot on a set, Anderson didn’t want to use any movie lights on Asteroid City. Instead, skylights were built into each of the buildings such as the diner and the motel office. The skylights were then covered with very thick diffusion so that the light was very soft and even. Under the desert sun, bounce cards and the occasional silk was used to throw more light on the actor’s faces. By contrast, they used a very complex theatrical lighting setup when shooting the black and white sequences. They used a lot of harder lights on dimmers, and shot on black and white film.

Bob finds that the less gear you have on a set coming between the actors and the director, the more intimate the experience. There’s always a huge crew for making Anderson’s films, but while shooting a scene, there are only about 10 people present. Bob enjoys that closeness and the team spirit of working with a small group on set.

Asteroid City is currently on Netflix.

Wes Anderson’s short Roald Dahl films, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, The Rat Catcher, Poison and The Swan are also available on Netflix.

Find Robert Yeoman: Instagram @robertyeomanasc

Hear our past episode with Robert Yeoman: https://www.camnoir.com/ep144/

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Sponsored by ARRI: https://www.arri.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

April 12, 2023

Michael Zink, President, UHD Alliance discusses Filmmaker Mode for television sets

Michael Zink is president of the UHD Alliance, an industry group founded in 2015. He is also the Vice President of Emerging and Creative Technologies at WarnerMedia. The Alliance was founded to bring together consumer electronics manufacturers, film and television studios, content distributors and technology companies to have unified technical specifications for what Ultra High Definition should be.

Michael has been instrumental in helping set the standards for Filmmaker Mode, an option now available on most new TVs. Most electronics manufacturers have automatic factory pre-sets on their HDTVs that include post-processing of the image, known as “motion smoothing” or “smooth motion” which makes every image onscreen look like the evening news or a videogame. It can be very difficult to figure out how to disable it or turn it off. Starting around 2014, actors, directors and cinematographers like Tom Cruise, Rian Johnson, Christopher Nolan and Reed Morano loudly decried the smooth motion default settings and were very upset that their films were not being seen at home as they had intended. Tom Cruise even went so far as to make a PSA he posted to Twitter in 2018, asking viewers to turn off motion smoothing.

UHD Alliance met with industry groups such as the ASC and the DGA, and determined that preserving filmmakers’ creative intent on home televisions was very important. UHD Alliance then came up with the specifications for Filmmaker Mode, which most manufacturers have adopted. Filmmaker Mode is designed to help you watch movies and TV shows at home the way that filmmakers intended AND make it very easy for consumers to use. Most people just use their electronics directly out of the box, without any special calibrations. By disabling all post-processing such as motion smoothing, and preserving the correct aspect ratios, colors and frame rates, Filmmaker Mode enables your TV to display the movie or television show’s content precisely as it was intended by the filmmaker. Today, even streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video have automatic switching in the data stream that will communicate with certain brands of televisions to switch it to Filmmaker Mode.

Find Michael Zink: Twitter @_MichaelZink

UHD Alliance: https://www.experienceuhd.com
@experienceUHD

Filmmaker Mode: https://filmmakermode.com

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Greentree Creative: www.growwithgreentree.com

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

June 1, 2022

Michael FitzMaurice, aerial cinematographer for Top Gun Maverick, shooting second unit on The Dark Knight, and more

Cinematographer Michael FitzMaurice is known for his aerial and second unit cinematography on huge films such as The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and now Top Gun Maverick. In the film business, second unit and aerial cinematography are involved in all of the action shots, and as a more technically-oriented DP, Michael has been able to combine his two loves- flying and shooting movies.

Michael started out learning about photography in seventh grade, and then got a job out of high school working as a PA for a production company, eventually working his way up shooting music videos and commercials. It was hard to get into aerial cinematography, but with a love of flying and a pilot’s license, he was able to prove he could shoot while flying, and pilots would recommend him for aerial cinematography jobs. Aerial cinematography is a very small and select group of people, requiring a very special skill set. When shooting film in a helicopter or plane, it’s tough for most DPs to focus on composing a shot in a small space that is also moving quickly and unpredictably, and not get airsick.

Top Gun Maverick was hugely dependent on its aerial unit, with most of the action done as a real, practical effect. The aerial unit used two jets, a helicopter and also shot from mountaintops to capture the action as the fighter jets flew past. As a trained pilot himself, Tom Cruise actually flew the jets and did many of his own stunts. Each training jet was outfitted with six cameras to capture the action of the actors in the cockpit. Michael and the aerial crew worked on the movie for over a year, developing new, special gimbal camera systems mounted on the jets. The crew had hours and hours of pre-production meetings, to get a clear idea of the shots needed and how to accomplish them with aircraft and cameras. Michael took a lot of notes and used models to act out aerobatic maneuvers for the planes before shooting them. For Michael, one of the highlights of working on Top Gun Maverick was being allowed to fly very low over a Navy aircraft carrier, although they were not allowed to land on it.

Working on Top Gun Maverick was great, but Michael’s craziest movie experience was working on second unit of The Dark Knight with director Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister. The movie was shot in IMAX, which is a notoriously difficult format to shoot- IMAX cameras at the time had a very faulty video tap for the monitors. For the scene, Heath Ledger as the Joker blows up a hospital and walks away, all in one take. The explosion was done on a real building, rigged up with real explosives, so there were no second takes. They began the take, but as soon as they went outside, the video tap went white and they couldn’t really tell if they were actually getting anything on film at all, but they kept rolling, the building exploded, and hoped the whole thing was actually caught on film- which took about two days to get the film developed and the dailies back. Luckily, it all turned out perfectly.

Top Gun Maverick is currently playing in theaters.

Michael FitzMaurice: Instagram @michaelfitzmaurice

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep170/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by ARRI: https://www.arri.com/en

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

November 24, 2020

Wally Pfister, director/cinematographer PART 2: Inception, Moneyball, The Dark Knight Rises, winning an Oscar, moving into directing, and listener questions

We continue our conversation with Oscar winning cinematographer Wally Pfister- don’t miss Part 1.

When much of the film world was going digital, Christopher Nolan and Wally began to experiment with large-format IMAX cameras. They had used the IMAX format for some of the visual tricks on The Prestige, and Wally was excited to try shooting more on The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Wally did lots of tests with lighting and specially created IMAX lenses, which have a massive frame and shallow depth of field.

Just after The Dark Knight, Wally was hired to DP Moneyball with director Bennett Miller. He decided to take a more dramatic and moody approach for lighting the baseball games, rather than using conventional, flat stadium lighting. After doing some tests, he was able to convince Miller that the scenes still looked like a baseball stadium, only better.

Once Wally saw the script for Inception, he knew there would be several logistical challenges: shooting hand-held chase scenes in the snow, and of course, the rotating hallway scene. Christopher Nolan still preferred to do most of what was seen on-screen in camera, as a practical effect rather than with computer generated VFX added later. Nolan wanted a James Bond aesthetic for the film, with naturalistic lighting and a loose, hand-held feel. It was Wally and Nolan’s sixth film as a team, so it was easy to work together during pre-production, even while working out the most technical scenes. A huge rotating rig was built for the famous gravity-defying hallway scene. Wally installed practical lighting into the rotating cylindrical set, with one camera affixed to the floor, so it does not appear to rotate, and a second camera that rotated with the set.

Wally won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Inception, after being nominated four times. It was a huge honor, and he was very proud of his work on the film. Once he’d won, it changed his life- so much so, he decided to move into directing. He directed his first feature film, Trancendence, starring Johnny Depp and executive produced by Nolan. It was a huge challenge for him to let go of being in control of the photography and to find the right DP and a good camera operator. Since directing Trancendence, Wally has enjoyed directing commercials. But on set, he’ll still act as director of photography, lighting the sets, and directing the actors and the camera operator while watching on the monitors.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep102/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

November 18, 2020

Wally Pfister, director/cinematographer PART 1: working with Christopher Nolan, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige and more

Wally Pfister grew up loving movies, and couldn’t wait to become a filmmaker. The son of an ABC news journalist, Wally got his start as a news production assistant in Los Angeles, and he worked his way up to become a news cameraman. He attended American Film Institute, where he met fellow filmmakers Janusz Kaminski and Phedon Papamichael. Together they began working for Roger Corman’s Concorde/New Horizons production company based in Venice, CA, cranking out as many as twelve B-movies per year. Wally would leave the studio literally splattered in fake blood, but he knew low-budget filmmaking work was essential for having the freedom to learn lighting and shooting while on the job. Even with his prestigious degree from AFI, Wally knew it didn’t make him a filmmaker- he still needed to learn and hone his craft before moving on to bigger projects. Those opportunities came once Phedon Papamichael brought him on as a camera operator for Phenomenon and While You Were Sleeping.

Wally loved the independent films of the 1990’s, and was happy to work as director of photography for The Hi-Line, a well-received indie feature that won awards at several film festivals. Director Christopher Nolan saw the film, and approached Wally to shoot Memento. Memento blends black and white with color cinematography, to show the main character’s broken memory as he tries to piece together who killed his wife. Nolan had purposefully scripted it so that the color sequences shown in the film are in reverse order while the black and white scenes are chronological. Wally and Chris Nolan both preferred taking a naturalistic approach to lighting and camerawork, and Wally’s experience of working fast enabled them to shoot in just 25 days.

Insomnia was a big jump for Wally and Christopher Nolan into a bigger budget movie, especially with stars such as Al Pacino and Robin Williams attached. This time, Wally had the budget, the time and the ability to make a great movie. Insomnia uses light rather than darkness as a way to build tension- it takes place in midsummer Alaska, when the sun never sets. Wally used key lighting in certain scenes to enhance the performance of Pacino, whose detective character is quite literally hiding from the light, as his guilt and exhaustion spirals down into madness.

The next project Christopher Nolan and Wally collaborated on was a huge Hollywood movie: Batman Begins, which relaunched the Batman franchise after nearly ten years. Even though Batman is a superhero/comic book movie, Nolan still wanted to take a gritty and naturalistic approach- he never wanted the cinematography to get in the way. Wally kept the movie dark and rough, rather than glossy and stylized in contrast to the previous Batman movies. Very little of Batman Begins used computer generated visual effects- Chris Nolan prefers to do all effects in-camera when possible and used models and miniatures, as in the train derailment sequence.

For The Prestige, the production crew scouted locations in Los Angeles, and found old theaters and the Universal backlot to make it seem like Europe at the turn of the century. Again, Nolan wanted The Prestige to look natural and loose, with much of the film hand-held, even when Wally was on a crane. Wally used lanterns and natural light to illuminate most scenes, and every magic trick was done in-camera, with no special effects. The Prestige earned Wally his first Academy Award nomination.

Listen for Wally Pfister, Part 2, coming next week! He talks about Inception, Moneyball, The Dark Knight Rises, Trancendence and more!

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep101/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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