May 1, 2024

Hundreds of Beavers director Mike Cheslik and cinematographer Quinn Hester

Hundreds of Beavers is a callback to slapstick comedies like classic WB Looney Tunes cartoons. It’s full of live-action wacky pratfalls, ridiculous situations, and a healthy dose of beaver-related mayhem. Shot on a micro-budget of $150,000, Hundreds of Beavers was made with passion, creativity, and a whole lot of beaver costumes.

Director Mike Cheslik and cinematographer Quinn Hester and most of the cast and crew are all from Wisconsin, where Hundreds of Beavers was shot. Everyone was comfortable with snow, loved physical comedy, and had the desire to make a film that would stand out as a true indie. After first meeting at the Milwaukee Film Festival in 2018, Mike called Quinn in October, 2020 to ask if he’d DP the film during the winter in zero degree weather. “It couldn’t have been anybody but Quinn because he’s just a tough guy and he’s used to the winter,” says Mike. In total, the film took about 8 weeks of shooting with a core crew of about 4-6 people over the course of two winters. The main location was a remote cabin in Northern Wisconsin. “We’re out there in the elements. It’s very rare to be on a production where you are not only making a movie and having to use all your energy, focus and creativity and meditate on how to accomplish certain looks and goals and shots,” says Quinn. “But you’re also trying to not die. All of us almost died at least once.”

To make Hundreds of Beavers, Mike spent years creating extensive storyboards and animatics. “People could watch the animatic on the DIT computer and they could also see the boards in my binders that I was carrying around,” he says.”But it still takes a lot of explaining and there’s a lot to wrap your head around because there’s so much in this movie. It is a lot. I was just thinking about it nonstop for years. And then just doing my best to explain it to the team. I was always surprised how much trust we got.” The film is very effects-heavy and made to look old-timey in grainy black and white. “The freedom of picking a grainy black and white style, it frees you up to tell a bigger story and to have bigger visual ideas. This style gave us permission to work that way in the modern day,” says Mike. Since they were shooting in the winter, they would have to wrap by 4:30 pm. Mike imported everything into Adobe After Effects and edited with Adobe Premiere every night. That way, Quinn and the crew knew exactly what they needed by the next day. Quinn shot on a Panasonic LUMIX GH5 camera that worked well even in extremely cold weather. All the footage could easily be imported into Adobe Premiere and After Effects.

Hundreds of Beavers is still playing in select theaters and is tons of fun to see with a live audience. Go to the Hundreds of Beavers website to find cities where it’s playing. https://www.hundredsofbeavers.com/

Hundreds of Beavers is also available to rent on Amazon and Apple.

Find Mike Cheslik: Instagram @mikeches

Find Quinn Hester: Instagram @quinn.hester

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March 13, 2024

House of Ninjas showrunner and executive producer Dave Boyle

The Netflix series House of Ninjas has become a hit show, rising to #1 in the streaming service’s top 10 list. The story follows the Tawara family, who have been ninjas, or shinobi, for generations. Tragically, the oldest son and brother disappeared six years before in a battle with their rivals, leading the Tawaras to stop being ninjas. But the family must fight together again as the rival clan gets more powerful and threatens the entire country.

Showrunner Dave Boyle was first brought on as showrunner for House of Ninjas by an executive at Netflix Japan, who knew he was familiar with the culture. Dave’s second language is Japanese, which he studied as a Mormon missionary in Australia. He had written and directed a few independent Japanese American and Japanese language films, such as Man from Reno, Daylight Savings and Surrogate Valentine, which all took place in the U.S. This was his first experience with shooting anything in Japan. He was drawn to the tone of House of Ninjas, which combines both drama, action and violence with comedy and warmhearted playfulness. “Tone was the reason why we all wanted to make this project. It’s more than the plot mechanics and the story. It was all about creating this atmosphere, this tone that an audience could sink into and enjoy for many, many episodes. And so I think that tone was something that we were talking about from the very, very get-go and something that we really wanted to nail and get right.”

Once he was on board, Dave began working on the preproduction and show bible for House of Ninjas. The show bible had to be written in three weeks, which is a very fast process, especially since Dave knew the show’s foundation required a deep understanding of shinobi culture and history. He found the preproduction process in Japan to be much different from the U.S., with casting happening even before the show’s scripts were written. The script format in Japan read from right to left, and the top half of the page is left blank for the director to draw storyboards and a shotlist, as a clear way for the director to show what they’re planning to do.

House of Ninjas is available on Netflix.

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February 7, 2024

El Conde cinematographer Ed Lachman, ASC

El Conde is a a dark comedy/horror film that portrays former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a 250 year old vampire. Director Pablo Larraín wanted to play with the idea that a dictatorship is a blood-sucking drain on society with lasting generational impacts. Cinematographer Ed Lachman immediately liked Larraín’s message. “El Conde is his allegory of how we are seduced into yielding to fascism. And it isn’t just in Chile. It’s like the last 50 years, we’re facing that all over the world. That’s why I think the film has something to say- if you can get past the gore.”

Ed had been a long time admirer of Larraín’s work. He found Larraín’s films to be conceptually brilliant with camera placement and movement to tell the story. “They say a cinematographer and a director is a marriage. But I always like to think of it as a dance partner- you hear the same music, but do your steps compliment each other? And I’ve certainly felt I have that relationship with Pablo.” Ed knew he wanted to shoot El Conde in black and white, referencing gothic vampire movies such as Nosferatu and Vampyr (1932). Working with Netflix Latin America, Larraín obtained approval to originate the film in black and white rather than shoot in color and then desaturate it later. For production design, special effects and costumes, all the color choices could be made for the best look in black and white. Ed decided to use the ARRI LF camera, and fortunately, ARRI had just developed a monochromatic sensor for them to use. He enjoys shooting with an actual black and white camera because the exposure latitude and grain structure is different, and he can use monochromatic filters meant for black and white cinematography.

El Conde features some amazingly realistic scenes of vampires flying. The night flying sequences had to be done with a blue screen, which did require a color camera. But all of the day flying sequences and stunts were shot with the black and white camera. The flying sequences were done practically, with no special effects. A 120ft crane suspended the camera operator, who moved through the air with the actors and stunt acrobats on wires.

Ed used the EL Zone System, a method he invented, to figure out the proper exposures for the cameras on El Conde. He’s developed the EL Zone system over the past 10 years, in an effort to measure light values and standardize exposures for digital cameras, and won a technical Emmy in 2023 for the technology. The system uses 18% gray as the standard, which is a universal photography standard. The camera’s sensor data is used as a reference point and filmmakers can view the entire exposure of a shot on a monitor to make lighting adjustments easier.

El Conde is streaming on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/81590652
Find Ed Lachman, and learn more about the EL Zone System: https://www.elzonesystem.com/

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January 31, 2024

American Fiction cinematographer Cristina Dunlap

The film American Fiction has been nominated for over two dozen awards, including five Academy Awards. Director Cord Jefferson is a seasoned writer who worked on acclaimed series such as Watchmen, Station Eleven, and The Good Place. He adapted the screenplay and wrote the script for American Fiction himself. Jefferson knew that he would also like to direct the film, although it would be his first time ever directing.

Cinematographer Cristina Dunlap knew immediately after reading the script that she wanted to work on the film. “I think there’s always a concern every time you work with a new director, just learning their style and how they work. But the second I sat down with Cord, I could tell immediately that he was going to be a wonderful person to work with because he is just very joyous and positive and excited, collaborative and open to ideas. And so when we started talking about the script, it was really more excitement. And, you know, he was very honest. He said, ‘I’ve never even directed traffic before. So you’re going to have to maybe hold my hand through some things or answer questions.’ And I was completely willing to do that.”

Fortunately, Cristina and Jefferson had about eight weeks of prep time in Boston, with only about 25 actual shoot days. Cristina likes to break down each scene psychologically, to explore visually what each character is going through. They scouted locations with the rest of the crew, and spent time figuring out the blocking so that they would have a concrete plan when the actors were on set. Cristina relied on the Artemis Pro app to map the location spaces which really helped create photo storyboards, figure out the lighting setup and plan Steadicam moves. She knew it would be challenging to be able to fit everything in on each shoot day, especially when there would be six or seven people in a scene. The beach house was an especially challenging location for lighting- it had dark wood walls and low ceilings. Cristina knew they wanted to able to see the ocean through the windows, but they couldn’t afford to light with a Condor lighting rig every day from the outside. She had to pull out a lot of lighting tricks and build off the practical sources in the space. For one scene, an arborist helped the gaffer by climbing a tree in order to rig several gem ball lights in the branches.

Cristina got her start in photography. She went on to shoot music videos for artists such as Coldplay and Lizzo, and was the DP of the 2022 Sundance Audience Award winning feature, Cha Cha Real Smooth.

American Fiction is in theaters now.

Find Cristina Dunlap: https://www.cristinadunlap.com/
Instagram: @cristina_dunlap

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December 20, 2023

Flamin’ Hot director Eva Longoria and cinematographer Federico Cantini

Flamin’ Hot is an entertaining biopic about Richard Montañez, a janitor at the Frito Lay chip factory who rose to become a marketing executive after (he claims) he came up with the idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. While Monteñez may be exaggerating his role in the invention of Flamin’ Hot, the movie is based on his real life experience as detailed in his book, “Flamin’ Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man’s Rise from Janitor to Top Executive.” Director Eva Longoria was drawn to telling Montañez’s story for her first feature film debut. She wanted to tell a heroic, positive story about a Mexican American who worked hard to achieve the American dream, with the support of his family and community. Cinematographer Federico Cantini had previously worked with Eva on Unplugging, a small indie movie, where the two of them were the only Spanish speakers on set. Eva admired his energy, passion and collaboration with the female director. When it came time for her to choose her DP for Flamin’ Hot, Federico was Eva’s top choice.

The original script Eva received for Flamin’ Hot was a very straightforward, factual biography film, without any elements of humor. Eva knew she needed to capture the charismatic character and voice of Richard Monteñez, so she watched videos of his TED talks and other public appearances. She worked with writer Linda Yvette Chávez to rework the script during COVID. It was important to keep the film high energy and constantly push the narrative forward. “Ron Howard’s one of my mentors,” says Eva, “and his motto is something should be happening every nine to ten pages. So you should have nine to ten page sequences. It’s a page turner, you know, it’s constantly moving.” She also admires the narrative style of director Adam McKay’s films (The Big Short, Winning Time) and the way he fluidly uses montages and voiceovers to tell stories based on fact. Flamin’ Hot has 11 montages, with tons of information crammed into each shot. The movie also never strays from Montañez’s point of view. Even in scenes where he isn’t there, Eva used the comedic device of Moñtenez narrating what might have happened in certain scenes, such as at Frito Lay executive board meetings.

Once the script was complete, Federico read it and found it extremely relatable. As an immigrant himself, Flamin’ Hot was an opportunity to make his mark, much as Monteñez had. Fortunately, he and Eva had lots of pre-production prep time. They are both big planners, which was important- the shooting schedule was extremely tight, with just 30 days to shoot Flamin’ Hot on 108 sets, during COVID. The film was primarily shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the entire Frito Lay factory was a set. Today’s Frito Lay factories are extremely modern and automated, so they knew it would not have the right look for the 80s and early 1990s. With the set, they had lots of control over where they could shoot and what it would look like with depth and color. The set pieces such as the tumbler and conveyor belt were all on wheels, so they could easily be moved around. Coming from TV, Eva felt confident that they could accomplish all they wanted in the time that they had, and they left all their creative energy on the screen.

Federico and Eva wanted to break up Monteñez’s story into three different decades with three distinct looks to separate them. Federico used Crystal Express lenses for Montañez’s childhood, Canon K-35s for his gang banger days, and then for the 80s and 90s, Panavision Panaspeeds, but modified to look like Super Speeds from the 80s. He also used a probe lens to emphasize the size of the factory and for drama in the tasting scenes.

Eva enjoyed directing a biopic, and she looks forward to telling more stories from her community. She likes directing projects she’s also acting in, and she wants to continue to direct and produce films with purpose. Federico had a great experience working on Flamin’ Hot, and he and Eva plan to work together again soon.

You can watch Flamin’ Hot on Hulu or on Disney+.

Find Eva Longoria: Instagram @evalongoria

Find Federico Cantini: http://www.federicocantini.com/
Instagram @federicocantini

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November 8, 2023

The Holdovers cinematographer Eigil Bryld

The Holdovers is set in the early 1970’s at a New England boarding school where a few students have to stay on campus over the winter holidays. Cranky ancient history teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) has to stay and supervise. Slowly, the curmudgeonly teacher, the school’s head cook Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), and the one remaining student, Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), form a family-like bond.

Eigil Bryld is an accomplished Danish cinematographer, known for his work on In Bruges, House of Cards, Ocean’s 8 and much more. He thinks of cinematography as a kind of performance art. Making a movie means working with different people across departments who have complex and artistic personalities, and interacting with actors who are responsible for playing different characters. All these human elements of a movie must then be orchestrated in the best possible way and captured on film at one single point in time.

Eigil found it a true delight to work with director Alexander Payne on The Holdovers. Payne has a great sense of humor and is genuinely interested in people and their lives, which is always a thread in his movies. Eigil had known Payne for a few years, but this was the first movie they have worked on together. He loved the script and found himself laughing out loud several times, while also finding the characters rich and poignant.

The Holdovers is a 1970s period film, so Eigil and Payne had lengthy discussions of how it should look. Eigil referenced films from the early ’70s, such as the Hal Ashby movies The Last Detail and The Landlord. “The problem was that everyone has an idea or recollection of what the ’70s looked like, but that’s probably very far from what movies ACTUALLY looked like back then,” Eigil says. “One of the things we tend to forget in the ’70s, they would do everything to avoid grain. I mean, it’s ironic nowadays, everybody’s fighting to have grainy images. Back then they would fight to have the best possible lenses and now there’s this gold rush for old lenses with lots of mistakes and half of it is not really in focus.” He and Payne went through a testing process to find the right 1970’s look. At first, Eigil tested period lenses and cameras, but realized it was more about capturing the spirit of the time- early ’70s mid-budget movies had a kind of freedom to them, using lots of handheld shots and mostly available light. He tested 16 and 35mm cameras, but ended up shooting digital on an ARRI Alexa Mini and worked with the colorist to create a LUT with lots of yellow tonality in the highlights. Eigil shot The Holdovers with just one camera, and was also the sole operator. Camera placement was very important, with many of the shots in the movie framed portrait-style.

The Holdovers is currently in theaters.

Find Eigil Bryld: https://www.eigilbryld.com/
Instagram @eigilbryld

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September 6, 2023

Killing It cinematographer Judd Overton

Killing It is a satiric comedy on Peacock starring Craig Robinson as Craig Foster, an aspiring entrepreneur struggling to start his business. The show pokes fun at the absurdities of American capitalism, class, race, health care, and how it’s all stacked against the little guy.

Cinematographer Judd Overton shot all episodes of Killing It for both season one and season two. His approach to shooting the comedy has always been to keep it relatable and naturalistic, even though the characters are going through things that might seem ridiculous. With three cameras, it was also important to create a space for the actors to do their best work- they would often improvise and try to sharpen their jokes on set. Shooting with longer lenses gave them room to move. The composition and lighting also have to play together for the humor to hit. Each of the characters in Killing It have their own episode, and the lighting is influenced by the places they’re in, such as a strip club or a huge mansion. Judd feels that planning is essential, and he had to think on his feet to be able to change blocking or the time of day a scene was shot. One scene in Killing It from season two required a lot of stunt work and fight scene blocking in an automotive chop shop, but the comedy beats weren’t working. Without the comedy beats, the fight scene just wasn’t going to play. They had to stop, reblock and shoot again to work out how to make it feel funny.

Judd grew up in the outback of rural Australia, and his family would buy VHS movies for entertainment and watch them over and over. The kids would then reenact the movies, filming it with a camcorder, and edit them together. Growing up in the driest permanently inhabited place on earth meant that documentary crews would frequently come through, and Judd would go and watch them work. It inspired him to become a cinematographer, so he learned photography in high school and then became a camera assistant through the Australian Cinematography Society. He later attended the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS), won several awards for his student work and started getting offers to DP on larger films.

Judd’s next project is a feature film called Totally Killer, a slasher comedy that will be the closing night film at Fantastic Fest in Austin. It releases October 6th on Amazon Prime.

You can watch Killing It streaming on Peacock.

Find Judd Overton: www.juddoverton.com
Instagram: @juddovertondp
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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: http://julialiufilm.com/about @jucliu

Find Clair Popkin: http://clairpopkin.com/ @clairpopkin

Find C. Kim Miles: https://ckimmiles.com/ @kimiles

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

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June 14, 2023

Abbott Elementary, The Office, Parks and Recreation director, producer and cinematographer Randall Einhorn

Multihyphenate producer-director-cinematographer and all around talented guy Randall Einhorn is currently the executive producer and director of the award-winning ABC show, Abbott Elementary. Randall began his career in series television first as the DP of The Office, then became one of the most frequent directors of the series. He got to know the mockumentary style intimately, and carried it onto many other shows such as Parks and Recreation, The Muppets, and Modern Family.

Quinta Brunson, show creator and star of Abbott Elementary, was a huge fan of The Office and pitched her idea to executive producers Randall Einhorn and Patrick Schumacker. Randall immediately knew that the mockumentary format would work well as they followed the everyday drama of teachers in an underprivileged elementary school in Philadelphia. They began shooting the pilot in August 2021, working with kids who were mostly non-actors and hadn’t been inside a classroom for an entire year due to COVID. Working with kids made everything harder, but also made everything better, and Randall emphasized that they would have a good time every day. The children were so happy and excited to see each other and to be in a classroom, even if it was a set.

On Abbott Elementary, Randall wanted the teachers to be treated like heroes, so they chose to use ARRI cameras and Angenieux Optimo Zoom lenses. The classrooms look inviting, with wood, warm earth tones and bright light coming in from the windows. By contrast, on The Office they would “dirty up” the frame to make it seem more spontaneous, as though something unexpected was actually caught. Randall would pan to someone, purposely defocus, then bring the actor into focus, to make it seem as though it was just caught. For Abbott Elementary, the camera crew keeps everything mostly in focus, but they will make a conscious effort to keep a piece of doorway in the shot, for example, to imply that people are having a private moment with the cameras hanging back. Randall feels that there’s an honesty to using a long lens and backing up so it would look like the actors are having an intimate conversation.

Randall naturally developed his mockumentary shooting style after working on reality and extreme sports shows. Executive producer Ben Silverman saw his work and thought his verite style would work well for The Office. Randall met with executive producer Greg Daniels, and they hit it off. Since he’d never worked on scripted shows before, Randall broke lots of rules that were considered “normal” for series television on The Office, such as operating himself and pulling his own focus. Blocking and planning the camera placement ahead of time was also essential- the camera crew would never put a camera where it couldn’t or wouldn’t be. He also figured out how to add to the improvisational comedy through the camera’s movement and focus. Randall would keep one eye on the eyepiece and another on the actors to see who was going to improv. He’d lean in with the camera on an actor, stepping in closer to make a moment even more awkward. Unlike the British version of The Office, which was always carefully rehearsed, they would just shoot the scenes and reactions, in true documentary style.

Randall’s company, Sad Unicorn, has a multi-year first look deal at Warner Bros. and he will continue executive producing and directing Abbott Elementary.

Abbot Elementary is in its second season on ABC and Hulu, and season three will likely be delayed due to the writers strike.

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June 8, 2023

Jimmy Kimmel Live! cinematographer George Feucht

We finally welcome George Feucht, friend of the Cinepod and frequent collaborator of Ben Rock’s. George has shot many of Ben’s directorial projects, such as the web series, 20 Seconds To Live and the short film, Future Boyfriend.

Cinematographer George Feucht grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, where the closest movie theater was about 20 miles away. Working on high school and local theater productions gave George an education in lighting. He also learned photography, getting a job as a photo journalist for the local newspaper. Once George enrolled in USC film school, he learned about storytelling and set etiquette. He realized that becoming a cinematographer brought all of these skills together.

After college, George began working as an electrician and cameraman for home improvement and reality TV shows. He enjoyed working on reality shows because it’s challenging work- setting up and lighting shots, yet with little to no control over the unscripted action. He then made his first feature, Dance of the Dead with his friend, director Greg Bishop. They worked together again on a horror feature called Siren.

George began working on Jimmy Kimmel Live! shooting comedy bits such as “Mean Tweets” outside the studio for the field department. They often have to shoot the sketches on the same day the show airs. George says the secret to working so fast is to have a great team, with great producers who figure out all the logistics. The writers are also incredible, coming up with something brilliant that can be done in a very limited timeframe, often with very famous A-list actors. It’s an unpredictable and challenging job that changes every day, but George enjoys being a part of making something funny. For the improvised, man on the street comedy bits, he has to pull his own focus and try to get the comedy timing right. Everyone on the crew feels like a family, and George enjoys watching Jimmy working during the rehearsals.

Jimmy Kimmel Live! is dark for now because of the writer’s strike. Fortunately, George has been able to stay employed shooting commercials.

Jimmy Kimmel Live! airs every weeknight on ABC.

Find George Feucht: https://www.georgefeucht.com/
Instagram: @georgefeucht

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Facebook: @cinepod
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