May 26, 2021

War Stories Vol. 6: Tales from the Set featuring Jim Frohna, Bruce Van Dusen, Randy Thom, Adam Somner, Paul Cameron, Xavier Grobet, Eric Branco, Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, Maryse Alberti, John Benam, Roberto Schaefer and Ben Rock

Special: The Cinematography Podcast- War Stories Vol. 6

In our sixth War Stories Special, we feature twelve guest’s harrowing, hilarious, heartbreaking or heartwarming stories they had while on set, or a formative career experience that led them to the film industry.

Find full interviews with each of our featured guests in our archives!

Cinematographer Jim Frohna was thrown into the DP position at the last minute on a commercial; director Bruce Van Dusen on getting his first big Crazy Eddie commercial; sound designer Randy Thom on gathering sound in the field for The Right Stuff; 1st AD Adam Somner’s story about his footrace with Russell Crowe while horsing around on the Gladiator set; cinematographer Paul Cameron on shooting the ending of Tony Scott’s Man on Fire; Xavier Grobet talks about one of his first film experiences working on Total Recall; DP Eric Branco’s crazy job working on a music video in Tanzania; cinematographer Tommy Maddox-Upshaw and the American crew get deported from Canada; Maryse Alberti on shooting the documentary Me & Isaac Newton with director Michael Apted and their emotional experience at an AIDS clinic in Africa; John Benam on his harrowing adventures in Sudan as a National Geographic wildlife cinematographer; one of Roberto Schaefer’s shoot days on Quantum of Solace got spectacularly interrupted; and finally, Ben Rock talks about an early experience as an art department production assistant.

Do you have a War Story you’d like to share? Send us an email or reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/warstories6/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

April 23, 2021

Bonus Episode: The Truffle Hunters documentary filmmakers Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw

In case you missed it, we are re-releasing our interview with filmmakers Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw on their documentary, The Truffle Hunters from 2020’s Sundance Film Festival. The film recently received the ASC Documentary Award.

Filmmakers Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw ventured deep in the forests near Alba, Italy for their documentary, The Truffle Hunters. This region is known for its rare white truffles, fetching thousands of dollars for the acclaimed delicacy. The methods of where and how to find truffles is a closely guarded secret. This small group of elderly men seek them in darkness, hiking for miles with their dogs and covering their tracks so no one knows where they go. The film is beautifully composed and uses mostly natural light. The filmmakers chose to keep the camera on a tripod and to observe the subjects at a distance, except for special leather harness rigs for POV doggy-cams that Dweck and Kershaw had specially made.

You can find The Truffle Hunters in select theaters and available to rent on video on demand in the coming weeks. https://www.sonyclassics.com/film/thetrufflehunters/
Instagram: @thetrufflehuntersfilm
Find Michael Dweck: Twitter @michaeldweck Instagram @michaeldweckstudio
Find Gregory Kershaw: Instagram @gregorykershaw

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

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Website: www.camnoir.com
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February 3, 2021

Director Ryan White and cinematographer John Benam on the documentary Assassins

When filmmaker Ryan White first heard about the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in early 2017, he paid little attention to the story until a reporter called to let him know that it might make an interesting documentary. Kim Jong-nam was poisoned in the middle of a crowded Malaysian airport by two young women who smeared a highly poisonous nerve agent on his face. On the surface, these women seemed like bold, cold-blooded killers. But once Ryan and cinematographer John Benam flew to Malaysia to find out more about the story, they soon realized that the political assassination plot went deep, the women might be innocent, and were likely duped by North Korean operatives. The two women, Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong, were put on trial for murder in Malaysia. Ryan was able to speak with their lawyers and eventually interview Siti and Doan. With help from the women’s defense lawyers, the Assassins editorial team painstakingly pieced together all the security footage from the airport and put together the entire sequence of events during the assassination. They were also able to see and use within the film many of the text messages the women exchanged with their handlers, which clearly pointed to their complete ignorance of what they were getting into.

Ryan feels Assassins became controversial and had trouble finding distribution not because of the political content, but because big online companies feared retribution, as occurred with Sony Pictures getting hacked by North Korea when they released the film The Interview.

Cinematographer John Benam has worked on several documentaries with director Ryan White, beginning with the the Netflix series The Keepers, about the murder of a nun and the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Baltimore Catholic Church. When John first decided to make a career out of filmmaking, he knew he wanted to stay in Baltimore, and started working in a camera shop during the switch from film to video. Luckily, Baltimore has a bit of a film industry and he was able to work locally on several TV shows, then got a job working for National Geographic shooting nature documentaries.

For Assassins, John and Ryan dove deep into Siti and Doan’s story, exploring where they came from and what brought them to Malaysia. They felt it was important to have the women tell their own story, and it required patience and sensitivity. John is a mission-oriented, emotional cinematographer, and shooting nature documentaries taught him the skill to sit still, keep a low profile, and watch a story unfold. John had to travel light and nimble, taking dozens of trips to Malaysia for the story over the course of two years while the trial was going on. He used two Canon EOS C300 Mark II cameras for shooting, because of its lightness and small size, staying under the radar from the general public. As he learned about the intricacies of the Malaysian legal system and shot the trial, John felt very emotional about the outcome of a guilty verdict for the women, which would mean execution by hanging.

You can watch Assassins streaming now in virtual cinemas: https://www.assassinsdoc.com

Find Ryan White: http://www.tripod-media.com/

Find John Benam: https://www.benamfilms.com/

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep111/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

January 10, 2021

Jake Swantko, DP and producer of The Dissident, on working with director Bryan Fogel and shooting the controversial documentary

Cinematographer Jake Swantko spoke with us last year at the Sundance Film Festival after the premiere of The Dissident, the documentary he shot with director Bryan Fogel. Jake and Bryan had previously collaborated on the Oscar-winning film, Icarus. The Dissident explores the assassination and international coverup of outspoken Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Once director Bryan Fogel learned more about the circumstances surrounding the death of Khashoggi, he knew this was another important- and dangerous- subject to film for his next documentary. Bryan took the idea to Jake, who also worked as a producer on the film, and they began the grueling process, traveling to Canada and Turkey multiple times to interview Khashoggi’s close friend and Saudi insurgent Omar Abdulaziz, speaking to Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz, spending a year digging into the case and meeting with the Turkish government. The Dissident team knew they had to have the cooperation of Turkey to shoot the story, since Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and they eventually scored an interview with Irfan Fidan, the chief prosecutor in Istanbul who investigated the murder. Since The Dissident was so huge in scope, Jake knew he wanted to elevate the production value of the film and shot it like a dark thriller. He set up most interviews formally instead of run-and-gun style, with three cameras and one on dolly track to push in on the subject’s face.

Despite being well received at Sundance, The Dissident struggled to find a distributor, even from Netflix, who had championed Icarus. Amazon Prime also would not buy the film, despite Jeff Bezos briefly being in The Dissident- Jamal Kashoggi wrote for his newspaper, The Washington Post and Bezos’ phone was hacked by Saudi Arabian government hackers. It seems the streaming services feared retaliation by the Saudi government and didn’t want to risk losing viewers in that market. Briarcliff Entertainment finally championed The Dissident, and it is currently available on VOD.

The Dissident is available to stream now on video on demand services. https://thedissident.com/

You can hear our past interview with Jake Swantko in 2018 talking to us about the Oscar winning documentary, Icarus. https://www.camnoir.com/special-swantko/

Find Jake Swantko: https://www.jakeswantko.com/
Instagram @swantko

IT’S A GIVEAWAY! Last week to enter to win Bruce Van Dusen’s book, 60 Stories about 30 Seconds: How I Got Away with Becoming a Pretty Big Commercial Director Without Losing My Soul (or Maybe Just Part of It). Like and comment on our Bruce Van Dusen post on Facebook and we’ll choose a winner from the comments. https://www.facebook.com/cinepod

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep108/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

December 16, 2020

Frederick Wiseman, acclaimed documentary filmmaker of City Hall, Titticut Follies, High School, Hospital, and more

Frederick Wiseman has proven that, in his words, “if you hang around long enough, you can collect enough material and cut a dramatic narrative film out of real life.” A Frederick Wiseman documentary has a very specific style- there is no narration, no identifying lower-third captions, no interviews and no camera movement. The viewer simply watches the story unfold, as a slice of life, and the subject he chooses is usually an institution many might consider mundane and everyday. Frederick feels his films are not merely observational, because he makes decisions on how to sculpt them into a narrative during the editing process. He enjoys making documentary films because he’s seen that there is enough comedy and drama in ordinary life to match anything you’d find in fiction. Frederick shies away from the terms “documentary” and “cinema verité”- he thinks the term movie is good enough because “documentary” is something that sounds like it’s supposed to be good for you.

For Frederick’s latest film, City Hall, he had the idea that what happens in a city hall might make an interesting movie and to see inside the machinery of how a city runs. Boston City Hall happened to be the only one that gave him permission. A staffer of the mayor had seen his films and liked the idea. Unlike some of Frederick’s other movies, Boston mayor Marty Walsh was a central character- mainly because he is the leader of the city and he is very involved in seeing that it runs smoothly.

Before he became a director, Frederick was a lawyer and taught at law school. He always wanted to be a director, but had no experience with movies. He saw an opportunity to become a producer when he optioned a novel called The Cool World and asked director Shirley Clark to helm it, which helped demystify the process for him. For his first documentary, Titticut Follies, Frederick had the idea for shooting the documentary on the Bridgewater Prison for the Criminally Insane because he knew the warden from his years as a lawyer and was able to get access and permission. The next logical progression to him after shooting in a prison for the insane seemed to be a high school, so his next film was High School. Part of Frederick’s process is to find the film as he shoots, and he goes into it purposefully blind and with little preparation. For him, it all emerges in the editing process. Frederick always does his own editing and watches each piece of footage-generally about 150 hours of it- and decides how to structure each sequence.

Find Frederick Wiseman: http://www.zipporah.com/

See Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary, City Hall. It’s available streaming through virtual cinemas, and comes to PBS on December 22. Find a screening near you. Paying to stream it through your local arthouse cinema helps support them!

You can see almost all of Wiseman’s documentaries on Kanopy for free with your library card.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep105/

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

August 10, 2020

Director Ron Howard and DP Lincoln Else on the documentary Rebuilding Paradise

Oscar-winning director Ron Howard talks about directing his first documentary, Rebuilding Paradise, about the devastating Camp fire that completely wiped out the town of Paradise, California on November 8, 2018. The film follows the people in community over time as they deal with the tragedy and begin rebuilding. Directing a documentary was a new experience for Ron, and he felt a personal connection to the town- his mother-in-law had lived in Paradise. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s production company, Imagine, had wanted to start producing documentaries and they sent out a crew to begin shooting just one week after the fire. Ron picked up some new skills while working on the unscripted project. He had to learn how to let the cameras follow the flow of the conversation, and to be minimalist in covering every possible angle. The experience has led him to make directorial choices in his scripted work that are more verité. Director of photography Lincoln Else worked closely with Ron and the Imagine production team, and developed a unified visual language for Rebuilding Paradise that he communicated with the other shooters. Lincoln learned documentary filmmaking at an early age, loading 16mm mags and assisting his father, documentarian and professor Jon Else. He likes a very simple hand-held style, opting to just put a camera on his shoulder in order to be as reactive as possible. Though footage from many different news sources and people’s personal videos was used, the bulk of the interview content in Rebuilding Paradise was “fly on the wall” style.

See Rebuilding Paradise online and support your local theater! https://films.nationalgeographic.com/rebuilding-paradise#screenings

Find Ron Howard: https://imagine-entertainment.com/
Instagram @realronhoward
Twitter: @realronhoward

Find Lincoln Else: http://www.novusselect.com/
https://lincolnelse.com/
Instagram: @lincolnelse

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep86/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

July 27, 2020

War Stories Vol. 3: Tales from the Set featuring Laura Merians Gonçalves, Seamus McGarvey, Charles Papert, Charlotte Bruus Christensen, Mike Dallatorre, James Laxton, Jaron Presant, Don Morgan, Roman Vas’yanov, Benoît Delhomme, and Thorsten Thielow

Special: The Cinematography Podcast- War Stories Vol. 3

In this super-sized War Stories Special, we feature eleven of our guest’s harrowing, hilarious or heartwarming stories of an experience they had while on set or when starting out in the film industry. Find full interviews with each of our featured cinematographers in our archives at www.camnoir.com or wherever you get your podcasts.

Cinematographer Laura Merians Gonçalves tells of a scary experience while shooting Pacified in the gritty favelas of Brazil, Seamus McGarvey on his first time using a Super 8 movie camera in film school, Charles Papert talks about working with Eddie Izzard on a grueling TV pilot, Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s story of shooting The Hunt with director Thomas Vinterberg almost entirely handheld while pregnant, Mike Dallatorre on dealing with the Mexican federales while working on Quantum of Solace, James Laxton’s early experience as a loader for an Errol Morris-directed commercial, Jaron Presant tells a funny story about making a huge error as a set PA, Don Morgan on getting hired because of a mistaken film credit, Roman Vas’yanov tells about his entirely too-real experience while shooting in the hood for End of Watch, Benoît Delhomme talks about crew issues while shooting The Proposition in the Australian outback, and documentary filmmaker Thorsten Thielow’s experience of shooting during an actual war.

Do you have a War Story you’d like to share? Send us an email or reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/warstories3/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

July 19, 2020

Alex Winter on his HBO documentary Showbiz Kids, experience as a child actor, moving from acting to directing, The Lost Boys, The Idiot Box, Freaked, Bill & Ted Face the Music, Zappa, and more

The Cinematography Podcast Episode 84: Alex Winter

Many people know Alex Winter as the iconic character Bill S. Preston, Esq. from the hit Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and its sequels, but over the past few decades, Alex has become a prolific director of several TV, film and documentary projects. Alex was a child actor, with roles on Broadway, film and television, shooting his own projects on a wind-up 16 mm Bolex camera in his spare time. As a young actor, he followed cinematographer Michael Chapman (Jaws, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver) around on the set of The Lost Boys whenever he had downtime. After graduating from NYU film school, Alex and creative partners Tom Stern and Tim Burns created The Idiot Box, a sketch comedy show for MTV. They had creative control but not much money, so Alex, Stern and Burns moved on, making their own comedic film, Freaked, which has become a cult favorite. Alex went on to shoot and direct several music videos for bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Helmet. For his most recent documentary film, Showbiz Kids, Alex found his personal experience and sensitivity as a fellow child actor immensely helpful for interviewing his subjects. The film profiles actors Evan Rachel Wood, Wil Wheaton, Henry Thomas, Mara Wilson, Todd Bridges, Milla Jovovich, Jada Pinkett Smith, the late Cameron Boyce and Diana Serra Cary (“Baby Peggy”) who tell their own stories and Hollywood experiences, bad and good, of growing up as child actors. The doc also follows two aspiring child stars as they try to break into the business or further their careers. For his upcoming documentary Zappa, Alex wanted to tell the definitive story of Frank Zappa’s life and work. With the cooperation of the Zappa family, he had unprecedented access to Frank Zappa’s home movies and recordings. Alex will also be seen acting once again as Bill with buddy Keanu Reeves in Bill & Ted Face The Music, as soon as a release date is set.

Find Alex Winter: http://alexwinter.com/
Instagram: @alxwinter
Twitter: @Winter
See Showbiz Kids on HBO: https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/showbiz-kids
Zappa, coming soon: http://www.zappamovie.com/about

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep84/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

July 2, 2020

Serengeti director/producer John Downer and DP Richard Jones on the Discovery Channel series, the challenges and new technologies for shooting wildlife documentaries

The Cinematography Podcast Episode 81: John Downer and Richard Jones

Director John Downer and cinematographer Richard Jones have always had a love of animals. John went to work for the BBC after film school and quickly moved into the BBC Natural History division. Richard grew up in Kenya and started out in the film industry, then went to work with a wildlife filmmaker in Botswana, soon picking up a camera and teaching himself. They both agree that to be a good wildlife documentarian, it’s important to spend a great deal of time around the animals, in order to understand and anticipate what they are going to do and capture it on camera. For the Discovery Channel/BBC series Serengeti, John and Richard felt for the first time that all the camera technology was finally advanced enough to capture the true nature of the animal’s lives. They were able to use small, high quality hidden remote cameras that are durable and “lion proof,” as well as a special array of cameras with long lenses on a stabilization system attached to their vehicles, so Richard could shoot while the jeep was driving. While wild animals are definitely not directable, John and Richard knew what wildlife they wanted to follow as characters with the script following the changing seasons as an overarching story plotline. Serengeti follows the interconnected stories of a cast of savannah animals over one year, capturing the drama of the wildlife up close. It was important for John and producer Simon Fuller to show that animals are a lot like us and we are all in this world together.

See Serengeti on Discovery GO: https://go.discovery.com/tv-shows/serengeti/
Find John Downer: http://jdp.co.uk/
Find Richard Jones: http://rmjfilming.com/

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep81/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com

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