May 25, 2022

Filmmakers James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte on their new documentary series, The Big Conn

James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte are Emmy-nominated documentary directors and producers for the HBO documentary series, McMillion$. Brian and James return to Cinepod to talk about their latest documentary, The Big Conn, now airing on Apple TV+.

The Big Conn is a four-part documentary series that tells the unbelievable true story of larger-than-life attorney, Eric C. Conn. Conn stole over half a billion dollars from the government and taxpayers in the largest Social Security fraud case in United States history. Conn got away with it for more than 10 years before two whistleblowers told the FBI what he was doing and Conn went on the run.

Documentary filmmaking has grown and elevated as an art over the years, and James and Brian take a cinematic approach to the form. Their previous documentary series, McMillion$ had a thread of comedy throughout, with such interesting characters that it reminded them of a Coen brothers movie. For The Big Conn, Brian and James took a similar approach. They dive deep into Eric Conn’s life, using comedy to hold the audience’s interest, but underneath it’s a very serious exposé about the broken American Social Security system.

To put together such sprawling stories, James and Brian create a story outline, determine who the interviewees should be, interview the characters, write a script and then decide where they need to put in animated graphics, archival footage and recreations during the editing process. Talented cinematographer Jeff Dolan has worked with the team for years, shooting both interviews and recreations on The Big Conn and McMillion$. Brian and James planned out and put together a guide for lighting and shot composition for the look of the interviews, based on shots from scripted movies they love.

The Big Conn is a 4-part documentary series currently airing on Apple TV+.

James and Brian have a podcast to accompany The Big Conn, diving deeper into the story and subject matter. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-big-conn-the-official-podcast/id1621583098

Fun Meter, James and Brian’s production company: https://www.funmetermedia.com/
Instagram: @funmeterofficial

James Lee Hernandez: @iamthejlh
Brian Lazarte: @bdlazarte

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep169/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Aputure: https://www.aputure.com/

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

May 4, 2022

Special Episode: Directors of festival docs To The End, TikTok, Boom. TV pilot Chiqui and short film Daddy’s Girl

It’s been a busy few months and we finally bring you our interviews with four directors of documentaries and shorts from Sundance 2022.

To The End is director and cinematographer Rachel Lears’ follow up to her 2019 documentary, Knock Down the House. It once again follows representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three women environmental activists pushing hard for climate change legislation- first with the Green New Deal, then with President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. Rachel wants people to watch the film and become inspired to engage in politics in the United States in order to build a better world.
To The End is currently playing at the Hot Docs film festival in Canada and is seeking distribution.
Find Rachel Lears: https://www.jubileefilms.com/rachel-lears
Twitter: @jubileefilms Instagram: @racheliplears

As the title suggests, TikTok, Boom. is about how the social media app TikTok has exploded for both viewers and content makers. Shalini Kantayya’s documentary explores the phenomenon, from the young people who consume it to the influencers who are now themselves a brand. But the Chinese company behind TikTok, Bytedance, uses the app for data mining, restricts certain content deemed too political, and could pose security risks for anyone watching or using TikTok. Shalini researched, found the TikTok influencers and shot the documentary very quickly.
TikTok, Boom. also played at SXSW this year and has yet to be released. Shalini’s previous film, 2020’s Coded Bias is critically acclaimed and won several awards.
Find Shalini Kantayya: https://www.shalinikantayya.net/
Instagram @shalinikantayya

Chiqui was inspired by director and writer Carlos Cardona’s parents’ immigration story. The television pilot takes place in 1980’s New Jersey as the vivacious Chiqui and her husband Carlos have just arrived from Colombia and are looking for work. Carlos set out to make it as a feature film, but decided to develop the story into a television series instead. To keep it true to the look of the 1980’s he decided to shoot it on super 16mm and used Zeiss super speed lenses.
Carlos is currently developing Chiqui into a television series.
Find Carlos Cardona: https://www.carloscardonafilms.com/
Instagram @carlos.cardona

The comedic short film Daddy’s Girl is writer and director Lena Hudson’s third short film. Alison is a young woman in her 20’s who is a bit aimless, and her father comes to help her move out of her wealthy older boyfriend’s apartment. Lena had been playing around with the idea of a father/daughter movie that would be short and filmable, especially during COVID.
Daddy’s Girl also screened at SXSW this year and Lena is developing it into a longer feature film.
Find Lena Hudson: http://www.lenahudson.com/daddys-girl-1
Instagram @lenahudson

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/sundancedocshorts/
All web and social media content written by Alana Kode

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

February 19, 2022

Special Episode: Sundance 2022- Sirens director Rita Baghdadi

The Cinematography Podcast Sundance 2022 Special: Sirens

Sirens is an intimate coming of age documentary focused on Lilas Mayassi and Shery Bechara, guitarists and co-founders of Slave to Sirens, the Middle East’s first all-female thrash metal band. The documentary follows the band as they rehearse and play concerts, rebelling against the country’s criticisms and stereotypes about women and heavy metal music. The relationships between bandmates is complicated, but they find an outlet in their music amid violent protests, fires and bombings in Beirut, Lebanon.

Documentarian Rita Baghdadi had set out to find a story based in the Middle East or North Africa because her family background is Morrocan. In 2018 she found Slave to Sirens’ EP online, saw photos of the band, and felt drawn to tell a story about the five women. The band was looking for press opportunities, and they welcomed Rita and her camera. None of them, including Rita, were sure Sirens would become a feature length documentary. Rita made several trips to Beirut from the U.S. to shoot and direct the documentary on her own, with just one camera, over a period of three years. She enjoys making intimate verite films, and unobtrusively focuses on the emotions in each scene. Rita was able to spend enough time with the band to weave a compelling documentary about independent women in the agony and ecstasy of their 20’s, creating their own world to escape the chaos of their reality.

Sirens premiered at the Sundance 2022 Film Festival and is seeking sales and distribution.

Find director Rita Baghdadi http://www.ritabaghdadi.com/
Instagram: @ritaamal
Instagram: @sirensdocumentary

Find the band, Slave to Sirens: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9EMD9pTtjJ4P1p7b2V4j2w

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

January 31, 2022

Special Episode: Sundance 2022- My Old School documentary director Jono McLeod

Director Jono McLeod’s stranger-than-fiction documentary My Old School tells the story of his former classmate, Brandon Lee. In 1993, a new kid joined Jono McLeod’s high school class at Bearsden Academy in Glasgow, Scotland. 16-year-old Brandon claimed to have been privately tutored in Canada and was incredibly smart, getting great grades and setting his sights on going to medical school. He befriended several of his classmates and became quite popular, even starring in the school play. But two years later, it was discovered that Brandon was not everything he appeared to be, and his secret identity became a national scandal in Scotland.

Jono had regaled friends with the tale of Brandon Lee and his old school for years before he decided it would make a good documentary subject. Brandon consented to being interviewed for the movie, but on the condition that he was not shown. Jono decided to use an actor to stand in for the real Brandon Lee and have the actor lip synch Brandon’s actual words. Years before, Alan Cumming was slated to star in a fictionalized film about Brandon Lee, but the movie had fallen through. Fortunately, Jono is also friends with Cumming, so he asked him if he would like to be in the documentary, albeit without using his own voice. Cumming was happy to accept the challenge and they used a method of reverse-ADR to record his lip synch of Brandon’s words with perfect accuracy. For My Old School, Jono re-built his old classroom as a set for the interviews and invited his former high school classmates to participate. He knew he wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the people who were there and for My Old School to have a sense of humor and lightness to it, so Jono decided to use animation sequences for depicting any flashback scenes. He wanted to evoke the look of popular animation styles from high school shows of the 1990’s and he used the popular MTV series Daria as an inspiration.

My Old School premiered at the Sundance 2022 Film Festival and is seeking sales and distribution.

Find director Jono McLeod: #jonomcleod

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

September 28, 2021

DP Panel Discussion: Ana Amortegui, Byron Kopman, Bryant Fisher and Julia Swain discuss their creative processes, challenges and careers

In our first ever panel series, Ben and Illya speak to cinematographers Ana Amortegui (Resident Alien), Byron Kopman (Demonic), Bryant Fisher (Lenox Hill), and Julia Swain (Lucky) as they discuss their current work, career journeys, creative processes, challenges and career goals.

Be sure to check out the video panel on YouTube! Produced in partnership with Impact24 Public Relations.

Find our guests:

Byron Kopman https://www.byronkopman.com/
Instagram: @bryonkopman
Twitter: @ByronKopman

Bryant Fisher https://www.bryantfisher.com/
Instagram: @bryantfisherdp
Twitter: @bryantfisher

Ana Amortegui http://www.anamamortegui.com/
Instagram: @mile9

Julia Swain https://www.juliaswain.net/
Instagram: @juliaswain

Impact24 PR https://www.impact24pr.com/
Instagram: @impact24pr
Twitter: @impact24pr
Facebook: @impact24pr

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/panel1/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

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
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

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