July 28, 2021

Cinematographer Adam Bricker on shooting the Emmy-nominated series Hacks, Chef’s Table and more

One of Adam Bricker’s favorite things about being a cinematographer is the opportunity to collaborate with different filmmakers, try something new and make each project the best it can be. His most recent project is the HBO Max comedy series Hacks, which just earned him an Emmy nomination for best cinematography. Adam was given the scripts for the first two episodes, and loved the pilot script, which opens with a long Steadicam single shot following behind the main character, Deborah Vance, played by Jean Smart, for two minutes, until her character is finally revealed in the dressing room vanity mirror. Adam knew it’s a rare thing to find a half-hour comedy with that level of cinema, and he was excited to shoot the show. Hacks takes place in Las Vegas, about a legendary comedian who is losing relevance and fading from the spotlight. Adam and show creator Lucia Aniello used vintage Las Vegas movies and photos as a reference point, as well as films such as Soderberg’s Behind The Candelabra and Judy with Renée Zellweger. Adam likes to set the look based on how the viewer is supposed to feel, and he makes notes in his scripts about what emotions should be felt in each scene. Most of Hacks is filmed on tripods and dollies, but for the verbal duels between characters Deborah Vance and Ava, her young comedy writer/protégé, Adam chose to shoot handheld, which gives those scenes more energy and naturalism. Lighting on the show goes from naturalistic, when Deborah is at home or when Ava is in Los Angeles, contrasted with vintage glamorous stage lighting when Deborah performs her comedy act.

Adam grew up in Chicago and attended film school there before attending the USC summer cinema program, which inspired him to transfer to USC and continue studying cinematography. After college, Adam began taking as many jobs as he could, and planned to work his way up through the camera department, before a DP mentor suggested he buy a camera and take as many cinematography jobs as possible. He and a group of friends invested in a Red One digital camera, and Adam shot dozens of music videos and low-budget films.

The Netflix series Chef’s Table has taken Adam all over the world. As one of the primary DPs of Chef’s Table, Adam and show creator David Gelb have established the artistic look of the modern cuisine documentary, which has since been imitated by countless other food shows. When the show began, Adam had never shot a documentary before, so he had a more cinematic approach to the show, only using prime lenses and no zoom lenses. For him, it’s been a dream job to explore new places, eat amazing food at excellent restaurants and work with good friends on the crew.

Find Adam Bricker: https://adambricker.com
Instagram: @realadambricker

You can see Hacks on HBO Max.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep133/

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

July 14, 2021

Jake Polonsky, BSC on The Sparks Brothers documentary, working with director Edgar Wright, The World’s End, Black Mirror and Billions

Director of photography Jake Polonsky was a fan of the band Sparks for several years, a love he developed after seeing the band perform at a music festival. Jake had frequently worked with director Edgar Wright, shooting commercials and music videos in the early 2000’s, and then as the second unit DP on Wright’s movie, The World’s End. Both Jake and Wright shared a love of music, and in 2018 he saw Wright had posted a photo of himself with Sparks. He congratulated Wright on finally meeting the band. Wright let Jake know he was going to make a documentary on Sparks and asked if he would be the cinematographer.

The Sparks Brothers documentary combines interviews, live and archival concert footage and collage-style animation in an eclectic style that reflects the aesthetic of Ron and Russell Mael, the Sparks Brothers themselves. In spite of putting out 25 albums over the past 50 years, Sparks has remained under the radar for most of the public. The brothers had some success at the beginning of their careers, mainly in the UK, writing and creating an unusual sound admired and imitated by many other bands. Sparks continues to reinvent themselves and has never stopped touring, building an incredibly devoted fan base.

Both Jake and Wright knew that all the interviews for the documentary needed to have a certain look and visual continuity. They settled on a photograph from the cover of the 1976 Sparks album, Big Beat. The photo was taken in black and white with a large format camera, so Jake decided to shoot all of the interviews in black and white, using several large format Red Monstro cameras. Everyone would wear black so that each interview had a consistent look, no matter where it was shot, and each interviewee spoke directly to the lens, using an Eyedirect teleprompter.

When Jake heard Wright was getting ready to make The World’s End in 2013 with DP Bill Pope, he was eager to work on his first feature film, and asked if Wright needed anyone to shoot second unit. Wright was happy to give Jake the opportunity. Jake saw that even with a comedy such as The World’s End, Wright found it important to have even the smallest scenes exactly right for comedic timing. Jake went on to work on several other UK based television shows, such as the Black Mirror episode, The National Anthem, and the interactive Black Mirror special, Bandersnatch. The executive producers of the Showtime series Billions noticed Jake’s work on Black Mirror, and he became the cinematographer for 27 episodes of the show, as well as directing one. Jake was able to learn from many different directors on Billions, and loved working with actors Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti. He thinks that as a DP, it’s much more stimulating to work with a director you like and respect. It becomes easy to deliver what they want to achieve because you know it’s going to be great.

Find Jake Polonsky: http://jakepolonsky.com/
Instagram: @jakepolonsky

You can see The Sparks Brothers in theaters and streaming on VOD. https://www.focusfeatures.com/the-sparks-brothers/

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep132/

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

June 30, 2021

Cinematographer Alice Brooks on shooting In The Heights, Home Before Dark, working with director Jon M. Chu

Alice Brooks grew up on Broadway musical theater and movies as a kid, and loves shooting music and dance oriented films and TV shows. Alice has always been in awe of dancers, and though she isn’t a dancer herself, she is inspired by their work ethic and loves that she can capture dance with her camera.

Working on In The Heights has fulfilled a lifelong dream for Alice. She and director Jon M. Chu have known each other since college at USC. The two bonded over musicals- she shot his she shot his student short, a musical called When The Kids Are Away in 2002 and worked together again on the film Jem and the Holograms. Alice and Jon were shooting the Apple TV+ series Home Before Dark when he asked her to shoot In The Heights. Jon, choreographer Christopher Scott and Alice had also worked together on a Hulu series called The LXD: The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers for three seasons, and they got used to working together and working quickly, figuring out how tell a story and develop characters through dance. Jon, Alice and Chris Scott felt their whole careers came together to make a musical like In The Heights. The characters’ hopes, dreams, fears and anxieties can be played out not only through song and dance but in the environment around them, which sometimes shifts to where they are emotionally.

With just 49 shoot days, preproduction for In The Heights was essential. Alice and Jon Chu would location scout in the mornings and then spend afternoons in the dance rehearsal space with Chris Scott. They would share their input and make suggestions from each location scout on how to face and orient the dance. Alice and Jon thought at first many more locations would be done on a soundstage, but they found that shooting in real places on the streets looked and felt so true- even the theater and the subway station were real locations. During shooting, every Sunday they would meet and go through the coming week because the schedule was so tight and the camerawork so complex, looking at videos from dance rehearsal to discuss the shots and angles to use, deciding if a crane shot was needed, and how many cameras to use for each scene. Jon made animatics detailing each scene from storyboards and dance rehearsal footage. With 17 song and dance scenes in In The Heights, Jon had huge goals for the musical numbers, and Alice, the dancers and the entire film crew were able to pull it off.

Alice grew up in New York and got into acting at a young age. She and her family then moved to Los Angles, and she realized as a teen that she did not want to be an actor. Being on set around the camera crew made her realize that she wanted to shoot movies, and that being a DP was her true dream. After graduating from USC Film School, Alice asked many of the graduate students if she could shoot their projects, knowing that the key to honing her craft was practice, practice, practice. She shot about 20 shorts, including Jon M. Chu’s musical short, When The Kids Are Away. Alice thinks it’s important to find the right people to work with, since you’re spending so much time together, and forming that bond helps everyone. She wants to make movies that inspire her daughter. For anyone with a family, it’s important to pick the projects that are worth it, since filming can take so much time away from loved ones.

Find Alice Brooks: https://www.alicebrooks.com/
Instagram: @_alicebrooks_

You can see In The Heights in theaters, the best place to experience the film’s immersive sound design and visuals. You can also find it streaming on HBO Max.

Alice’s new musical film directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda is tick, tick…Boom! releasing in the fall.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep130/

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/channel/UCNQIhe3yjQJG72EjZJBRI1w
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

May 12, 2021

Seamus McGarvey, ASC on HBO’s The Nevers, Flying Saucer Rock ‘n’ Roll, Bad Times at the El Royale, Harry Dean Stanton, Oliver Stone and more

Seamus McGarvey is drawn to character-driven stories and loves how the camera studies the face in a very particular way. Even when shooting action-packed shows such as The Nevers, Marvel’s The Avengers, or the Oliver Stone film, World Trade Center, Seamus stays focused on the characters and uses a naturalistic approach to his composition.

The Nevers was Seamus’ first extensive experience working on a television series. He had only shot TV episodes here and there, such as “Nosedive,” a favorite episode of Black Mirror, starring Bryce Dallas Howard. For Seamus, shooting a television series was a much faster production schedule and made him think with economy. The Nevers creator Joss Whedon wanted the show to have a contemporary edge, but set in Victorian times, about people known as “The Touched” who suddenly develop supernatural, superhero-like abilities. Fortunately, they had a long preproduction prep time for the action-packed series, which made for a close-knit, collaborative and well-prepared crew. Seamus also worked closely with the second unit, who shot the numerous stunts in The Nevers. He was also able to use some old-school camera tricks for Primrose, a character who’s a giant. Seamus had to double the actor’s actual height with forced perspective, used a slightly slow-motion camera, and the aid of some special effects, making sure that the lighting stayed consistent between the normal-sized shots and the giant shots.

From an early age, cinema as an art form always fascinated Seamus. He was excited to work on a tiny throwback short film in the late 1990’s called Flying Saucer Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is a spoof of black and white sci-fi B movies. It’s still his favorite film, because it’s so full of invention, charm and joy. Seamus went back home to shoot it in Ireland, even after he’d already established his career with several feature films, and they shot it for no money. Steven Spielberg even saw it, loved it, and invited the director, Enda Hughes to meet with him to develop something at Amblin.

Seamus also enjoyed working with director and writer Drew Goddard on Bad Times at the El Royale. The set for the movies was completely built from scratch, which enabled the crew to build in practical light sources and be involved in the design from the beginning. The camera was able to move all over the set and look in all directions. Bad Times is a mystery puzzle movie that all fits together in the end, and Seamus used many visual cues of double images, mirrors and the camera peering through the lattice work to hint at all the character’s hidden secrets.

Because of his love of natural photography, Seamus also enjoys shooting documentaries, such as Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, about the legendary actor Harry Dean Stanton. He occasionally uses documentary sensibilities in narrative film as well. In We Need To Talk About Kevin, director Lynn Ramsay and Seamus went with actor Tilda Swinton’s idea to spontaneously shoot in the rain as part of a flashback scene.

Seamus is currently in post-production on Cyrano, his latest production with director Joe Wright.
You can see The Nevers streaming on HBOMax. https://www.hbo.com/the-nevers

Find Seamus on Instagram @seamiemc & Twitter:@mcseamus

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep124/
Hear our previous interview with Seamus McGarvey: https://www.camnoir.com/ep37/

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 28, 2021

Dana Gonzales, ASC, director and cinematographer of Fargo and Legion, on creatively rich television, moving into directing, and more

Dana Gonzales, ASC loves pushing himself to use creative lighting, lenses and camera moves to transport the audience into the story. While working on the mind-bendingly surreal television series Legion and the cinematic, character-driven crime stories of the series Fargo, Dana found a true creative home with producer and showrunner Noah Hawley. With Hawley, Dana has been able to explore how to create and maintain an image that challenges himself and makes an audience feel differently than they’ve ever felt before. Audiences today are more sophisticated and crave good visuals and storytelling. Dana sees many of today’s television series leading the way in artistic expression, which is why huge actors and directors are getting involved. Writers can tell a 10-hour story, fully developing characters and plot, while the director and camera crew can build a world with a strong visual foundation to hold it up. Dana finds today’s TV is certainly still challenging- shooting on tight schedules requires staying sharp all the time, and strong visionary showrunners and producers keep everyone motivated.

For season four of the FX series Fargo, Dana shot three of the episodes and directed four, including the season finale. Being involved with Fargo since season one helped Dana confidently bring a point of view to the story. He thinks one of the most important aspects of directing is offering an interesting perspective that makes the most of the story, characters and tone. Working with cinematographers Erik Messerschmidt and Pete Konczal, they changed the look of the show to a small degree, using different lenses and framing, and departed from a strict adherence to the visual LUT of the first seasons. They instead decided on a Kodachrome look, which was also the first color film used in season four’s time period. The biggest challenge of season 4 was shooting the tornado sequence- partly shot in black and white as a callback to The Wizard of Oz, the complex storylines leading up to and in the aftermath of the tornado all had to seamlessly weave together.

As a kid, Dana grew up in L.A. He was always naturally attracted to cameras and began taking photos at a young age. He found jobs on film sets as a driver, set PA, loader and camera assistant, and worked his way up while shooting small side projects. Just working on low budget movies, where Dana was able to be bold and experiment, served as his film school. He maintains the philosophy that every single job needs to be an artistic statement better than the last one, with each script informing his approach differently. After several years working on features and television, Dana moved into directing, where he feels you’re even more the author of a show than as a cinematographer. He continues to enjoy working as both a cinematographer and as a director.

Dana loved working on the series Legion, where producer Noah Hawley gave him the freedom to be extremely bold and experimental. For Legion, Hawley wanted surreal, elevated images with beautiful and dramatic lighting, that both embraced and reimagined the comic book/graphic novel look. If they tried something and it didn’t work visually, they would simply reshoot it. Even though they had access to a visual effects team, Dana chose to build most practical effects in camera, such as stacking several filters onto the lens to create a super surreal look for some scenes, knowing he would be satisfied with the results instead of leaving it up to post production or visual effects to create his vision.

You can see season four of Fargo on FX and on Hulu.

Find Dana Gonzales: https://www.danagonzales.com/
Instagram: @dana_gonzales_asc

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep122/

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

Website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNQIhe3yjQJG72EjZJBRI1w
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

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

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

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