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: https://www.camnoir.com/ep120/

Hear our 2019 interview with Matty Libatique: https://www.camnoir.com/ep33/

Find Matty Libatique: Instagram @libatique

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep121/

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

April 6, 2021

Matthew Libatique, ASC, PART 1: The Prom, Pi, working with director Darren Aronofsky and his early career

Cinematographer Matty Libatique’s work ranges from mind-bending features like Pi, Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream to huge Marvel movies such as Iron Man and Birds of Prey. He enjoys balancing his work on both large films and smaller indies in order to feel satisfied and to keep his craft sharp.

For his latest film, The Prom, Matty met with director Ryan Murphy about the project. The star-studded cast and the message about gay acceptance appealed to him. But once Matty saw the Broadway play he was concerned- he had never shot a musical before, and he wasn’t quite sure how to translate a big Broadway musical into a movie. Matty had worked on several music videos and was the cinematographer of 2018’s A Star is Born, which featured musical performances, but it was incredibly gritty and grounded in reality compared to The Prom’s bubbly feel-good fantasy world. He and director Ryan Murphy met and knew they wanted to keep it big and colorful while not going too over the top. Murphy loves working with color, and the two decided The Prom had to feature two distinct palettes of colors- the yellow/browns of normal Indiana contrasted with the bright pastels of “the prom” and the theater people who descend on the town. For the final scene in the movie where all the characters go to the all-inclusive prom, Matty and his team utilized a full array of lights on stage that they programmed on the fly.

Growing up, Matty was always attracted to light, camera and composition in movies, but he didn’t understand what anybody did on a film set until he saw Do The Right Thing. The Spike Lee film made him realize he wanted to make movies. He went to AFI film school along with director Darren Aronofsky and the two bonded right away. They began making movies together in a partnership that continues today. Matty says of his long relationship with Darren Aronofsky that when you keep working with the same directors, it’s a sign you’re doing the right thing and dedicating your craft to the right ideas. Their first feature together, Pi, had to be created within the parameters of an incredibly low budget. Aronofsky couldn’t afford to shoot color film, only Super 16mm black and white reversal, so Pi had a grainy, gritty look and style immediately. A few scenes in Pi use a body-mounted rig to give it a first-person perspective. Matty and Aranofsky first saw the rig used by Icelandic cinematographers Eidur and Einar Snorri, now known as a Snorricam, and knew they wanted to use it in Pi- but the key was to use it sparingly.

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

Hear our 2019 interview with Matty Libatique: https://www.camnoir.com/ep33/

Listen for Matty Libatique, Part 2, coming next week! He talks about Tigerland, The Fountain, working with Spike Lee, Iron Man and more.

Find Matty Libatique: Instagram @libatique

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep120/

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

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

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