June 21, 2024

Bringing 3 Body Problem to life: DP Jonathan Freeman, ASC

Jonathan Freeman, ASC faced a unique challenge on Netflix’s sci-fi series 3 Body Problem. The books, written by Cixin Liu, are extremely intellectually dense novels. Translating them into visually compelling television seemed like a daunting task. Show creators DB Weiss and David Benioff had worked with Jonathan previously on Game of Thrones, and they leaned into filmmaking that was motivated by impactful storytelling rather than just “cool shots.” A key reveal moment in particular was achieved simply by pushing in on a photo of one of the characters in the first episode, revealing how the stories were interconnected.

Together, they decided on the look of the show and chose three distinct visual styles for 1960s China, modern London, and the virtual world of a videogame. The 2:3:5 aspect ratio and ARRI ALFA lenses helped differentiate these environments. The lenses were prototypes that Greig Fraser was developing on The Batman. “They had exactly all that beautiful bokeh that you would expect, but the center was optically pure,” says Jonathan. “They also had these chromatic aberrations to them. These distorted, stretchy little bits in the edges of the frame just looked funky and kind of otherworldly. I just like the idea that it could be interpreted as sort of an alien’s point of view.”

Filming the virtual world within a limited physical space required innovation. Jonathan’s “low-res volume” stage concept used a massive wall of SkyPanels and strategically placed lighting to create a realistic, immersive environment for actors. “Each (panel) was almost like a pixel, so we created an array of 110 feet by 45 wide wrapped around 180 degrees.” says Jonathan. “It was a very complex system, but overall the intent was to recreate these live environments the way you might be able to do in a regular volume. Then, there was the lighting on top, similar to the skylight, where we programmed animated lights to recreate sunrise, sunset, dusk, and dawn. It was quite complicated, but we were able to use a real space and transition in camera. It took a lot of minds to put it together, but I thought it was really successful.”

Find Jonathan Freeman: http://freemandp.com/

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
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June 19, 2024

Tokyo Vice producer/director Alan Poul

The acclaimed crime drama Tokyo Vice on Max follows American journalist, Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort.) As a reporter for a large Japanese newspaper in the 1990’s, he dives into the dangerous world of the Yakuza, the Japanese organized crime syndicate. The series is based on the book and real life experiences of Jake Adelstein, who named his memoir Tokyo Vice as a wink to the 1980’s show, Miami Vice. Michael Mann, creator of Miami Vice, was interested in the show and came on board to executive produce the series and to shoot the pilot.

Producer and director Alan Poul joined the Tokyo Vice team later into the development process. “I was aware of Tokyo Vice because of course I had read Jake’s book when it came out,” says Alan. With a college degree in Japanese literature and a background in Japanese cinema and theater, Alan began his film career in Japan when director Paul Schrader hired him as an associate producer on Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. The movie Black Rain, directed by Ridley Scott, quickly followed for him, but Alan didn’t want to become known as “the Japan guy” in Hollywood. He built his career producing episodic television for shows like Tales of the City, My So-Called Life, Six Feet Under, and The Newsroom. But Tokyo Vice creator J.T. Rogers knew they needed someone with experience in Japanese production, language and episodic television, so Alan was asked to join the project. “It represented a kind of full circle closure/homecoming,” says Alan, about going back to produce in Japan. “It doesn’t happen very often in one’s career and so it became an extraordinarily fulfilling experience for me.”

The first season of Tokyo Vice began location scouting in 2019 and shooting began in March 2020- for only 6 days before the pandemic shut everything down. Production resumed in October 2020, and the team had to shoot the entire first season under strict Japanese quarantine and COVID testing rules. As a result, Season One uses tighter shots and fewer locations, with more closeups on Jake and the other characters who shape the story. By Season Two, Alan was excited that they were able to expand the visual range of the show, shooting more of Tokyo and the surrounding area. Alan had the opportunity to direct episodes one and two of the second season. “When I am directing, it is always an incredible joy. At least during those 12 hours I try to let go of all the other hats that I have to wear and just wear the hat that allows me to focus 100% on what is taking place in front of the camera.”

Though Tokyo Vice has completed its series run on Max, Alan and creator J.T. Rogers are optimistic about the show’s future on another platform.

Find Alan Poul: Instagram @alanpoul

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June 5, 2024

Shogun director Jonathan van Tulleken and cinematographer Christopher Ross, BSC

The FX miniseries Shōgun takes viewers on a journey filled with action and adventure through historically accurate 1600’s Edo-era Japan. Englishman John Blackthorne arrives on a Dutch trading ship after a rough voyage, interested in beginning trade with the Japanese. The country is governed by five regents locked in a power struggle, and the ruler Toranaga thinks the Englishman might be useful to him.

Director Jonathan van Tulleken and cinematographer Christopher Ross worked on episodes one and two together, establishing the look of the series. They have a deep understanding of each other’s creative vision, collaborating on several TV shows over the years. For Shōgun, Jonathan and Chris created a visual experience that honors both the grandeur of feudal Japan and the disorientation of a foreign visitor like the “anjin,” John Blackthorne. The two met and created a look book and sizzle reel to present to FX. Jonathan drew inspiration from movies such as The Revenant and Apocalypse Now. Chris was influenced by classic Japanese films Ran, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and Akira Kirosawa’s jidaigeki (historical drama) films. Most importantly, they wanted the show to be bold and stand out with a cinematic look and genuine artistic intention behind it. Chris chose anamorphic lenses and wider aspect ratios for the first two episodes, playing with the point of view of the outsider’s subjectivity and disorientation. The choice of anamorphic lenses, which create a lot of background blur but keeps the character in crisp focus, may have seemed controversial, but has become more widely used on today’s television shows. (Read this article from The Ringer to learn more.)

Shōgun was shot in British Columbia during the winter, with the wild ocean shores of Canada and carefully designed soundstages standing in for Japan. Jonathan, Chris and the production team chose a lighting and color palette of browns and greens for the warring factions. Opulent costumes, warmer lights and colors represented palace life in Osaka, while in the village, the use of blues and grays reflected the harsh realities of the time period.

The dialog is almost entirely in Japanese, and Jonathan actually enjoyed directing in a language he didn’t speak. “It meant that you were not giving line readings, you couldn’t give line readings. You had to direct in a much more pure way, dealing with the bigger arcs of the scene, the character development, without getting into very macro stuff that isn’t helpful. I think you could just feel the emotion.” Chris agrees. “What you’re hoping to achieve is some sort of emotional resonance with a character that is in tune with what they’re saying and synchronous with what they’re saying.”

Find Jonathan Van Tulleken: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1743387/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

Find Chris Ross: Instagram @edjibevel

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May 30, 2024

VFX pioneer Scott Ross, founder of Digital Domain

As a pioneer in digital visual effects, Scott Ross was instrumental in the advancement of VFX in Hollywood. He led groundbreaking work at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and co-founded Digital Domain with James Cameron and Stan Winston. Scott looks back on his career, discusses systemic problems within the VFX industry, and possible ways to fix them.

Scott began his career in sound recording for television and film in the San Francisco Bay Area for a video production company, becoming president of the San Francisco office. The success of Star Wars ignited a space race for studios, and ILM became the holy grail for VFX artists. “I get a phone call from a headhunter who says, ‘Hey, Lucasfilm is looking for somebody to head up production operations at Industrial Light and Magic.’ And my head exploded,” says Scott. “If you’re going to live in San Francisco, you want to work at Lucasfilm. That’s how I got hired.” At the time, ILM was creating visual effects for Who Framed Roger Rabbit. His experience in the nascent digital video industry sped up the process, and by 1989, ILM developed a technique to work in a digital medium for making special effects. While Scott was at ILM, the company won five Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects.

However, ILM’s creative spirit began to wane under corporate pressure. “It turned into cubicles and whatnot,” says Ross, favoring a “work hard, play hard” environment. This philosophy fueled his decision to leave and co-found Digital Domain in 1993. “When I started Digital Domain, we’re going to play hard, work hard and party hard. And that’s the culture that I wanted to create. I think generally we did a pretty good job of it.” Digital Domain became a leading VFX company, creating visual effects for films such as Cameron’s Titanic.

The VFX industry is notoriously troubled, with visual effects houses underbidding on projects to stay competitive and creating dismal working conditions for employees. “There are certain companies that the only way that they could stay alive is by taking advantage of their employees, not paying them overtime, not having health care,” says Scott. “That really comes as a result of the way the clients, studios and the directors deal with the visual effects companies.” He blames a producer mentality that prioritizes squeezing VFX houses rather than fostering a sustainable industry. “The visual effects industry workers need advocates for themselves. Currently, they have no one fighting for them. They need an international trade association that changes the business model.” Today, effects workers continue to voice their need to form a union. The rise of AI further complicates the picture, with some fearing job replacement.

Find Scott Ross: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottross/
Instagram: @scott_ross

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May 22, 2024

Griselda cinematographer Armando Salas, ASC

Netflix’s gripping new series, Griselda, takes viewers deep into the world of Colombian drug lord Griselda Blanco. But behind the drugs and violence is a masterfully crafted world, built by cinematographer Armando Salas, ASC. Armando, known for his work on Ozark, brings a unique perspective to Griselda. His approach to color throughout the series tells a story that’s more about character than it is about the drug trade. “In the end, we’re making a work of fiction, and we really want to connect with the audience,” says Armando. “And the things you know and hear about Griselda Blanco is, you know, she’s a killer, a psychopath. There’s not a lot of redeeming qualities when you’re looking into the drug wars in Miami at that time.” Even through all the death and destruction in the series, director Andrés Baiz didn’t want Griselda to be too dark. He still wanted to find some joy and absurdity within the story.

Armando met with director Andrés Baiz, who wanted to hire a local Los Angeles DP who also spoke Spanish, since a majority of Griselda’s script is in Spanish. Growing up in Miami, Armando happened to know the story of Griselda Blanco very well. He also worked on a 2006 documentary called Cocaine Cowboys, about how Miami became the cocaine capital of the US. They did careful location scouting around LA for places that looked like Miami in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Armando and Baiz wanted the show to have the right period look. “We didn’t take an intellectual conceit, I wasn’t only using lenses or camera technology that existed at that time. We were really more interested in finding the right feeling,” Armando explains. “And so, we looked at a lot of photography from the period, we looked at a lot of films from the period, we looked at modern films that were doing a good job of recreating the period, but we kind of landed our our own version. Again, it’s really just like capturing the vibe and building the world. And so we had a very aggressive and unique approach to the LUT and the color characteristics of our negative.” The Polaroid pictures Baiz took during location scouting became a big inspiration for the color palette of the show.

Throughout the six episode series, Armando used color to help tell a compelling character story. Griselda’s world is full of deep, rich colors as she’s living the high life. In contrast, Armando chose a bluer, more desaturated color for scenes with June Hawkins (Juliana Aidén Martinez), the Miami PD intelligence analyst. As she breaks the case and convinces law enforcement officers to go after Griselda, she enters a world of color. “And on top of that, we unleash the camera. We go flying down the sidewalk with her from multiple angles. It’s the fastest camera movements in the series. And over the course of the series, her storyline and Griselda’s storyline meet, and the color, the glitz and glamour of Griselda’s world has been mostly stripped out at that point. June has come into her own, and they meet in that world. The two arcs have now connected, and it’s one story.”

Griselda is available on Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/title/81133447

Hear our previous interview with Armando discussing his work on Ozark and more. https://www.camnoir.com/ep91/

Find Armando Salas: https://www.salasfilm.com/
Instagram: @cinesalas

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May 15, 2024

True Detective: Night Country cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, BSC

HBO’s True Detective: Night Country has captivated audiences with its chilling atmosphere and compelling narrative. Cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, BSC worked with director Issa López to craft the haunting visuals for the supernatural whodunit. “The detective procedural is part of the brand and it’s part of the show, but it should not affect the cinematography,” says Florian. “The cinematography is never motivated just in terms of solving the mystery. We must be sure to show every important fact or clue, to understand the mystery or to build up a bigger mystery. But it’s important to follow the characters and their internal struggles and secrets, the relationships, the darkness, the supernatural as the case unfolds.”

When he first met with Lopez to discuss shooting True Detective: Night Country, Florian liked the feeling of eerie isolation and darkness of the location. The influence of nature adds to the supernatural and to the characters’ fragmentation from each other. Florian found inspirational images by photographer Alexander Gronsky, who took photos of Russian workers in mines near the Arctic Circle. John Carpenter’s The Thing and the movie Sicario were also influences for the look of the series.

True Detective: Night Country takes place in Alaska near the Arctic Circle, with Iceland as the filming location. Most of the show was shot outside during the winter months, although it happened to be the coldest winter in Iceland in a hundred years. They used a soundstage only for the scenes where characters had to be outside in the snow naked or barefoot. Florian enjoys shooting in extreme climates, noting that proper clothing for the temperature is what matters the most. Even with the extreme cold, the ARRI Alexa 35 cameras all functioned just fine. The filming was over a period of 112 days, starting in October on the soundstage. Once winter really hit after Christmas, they began shooting in the snow and darkness. Each day provided about four hours of light, with just about five minutes of sunlight, then a few blue hours of sunrise and sunset.

True Detective: Night Country is available on Max.

Hear our previous interview with Florian Hoffmeister discussing his work on TÁR. https://www.camnoir.com/ep194/

Find Florian Hoffmeister: http://florianhoffmeister.de/
Instagram: @florian.hoffmeister

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
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May 8, 2024

Late Night with the Devil cinematographer Matthew Temple, ACS

The critically acclaimed horror movie Late Night With the Devil blends found-footage, mockumentary and 1970s late-night television into a movie with genuine scares. Cinematographer Matthew Temple, ACS used shaky camerawork, close-ups, and multiple video sources to add to the feeling of watching “behind the scenes” documentary found footage. Though they didn’t use vintage tube cameras for the 1970’s TV look, Matt and the camera operators used studio pedestal bases or a crane for the cameras. “Right from the get-go, (directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes) came at me with this word, ‘verisimilitude,’ which means to make something feel real.” says Matt. “And that was kind of the seed for the television show.”

During the preproduction period on Late Night with the Devil, the Cairnes brothers gave Matt a lookbook that they’d created referencing documentaries from the time. Matt had honed his craft on Australian TV shows like Comedy Inc., a sketch comedy show that spoofed movies and TV shows. He learned how to deconstruct a movie and replicate a specific look. Matt used the same approach for the film and watched several late night talk shows from the 1970’s to get the visual aesthetic right. As he learned and took notes, Matt made an extensive document setting out rules for the camera crew to follow to keep the look authentic. Using the studio pedestal bases and cranes were key, with Sony Venice cameras in 4K mode with Fujinon zooms. “We had three pedestal cameras. They were new Venices, but nonetheless they were on pedestals. Each operator had to do their own focus and zoom and trucking up the pedestals in shot. I was careful to hire two camera operators who really knew what they were doing with studio cameras because the last time I did that was 35 years ago.” Matt himself acted as the third camera operator. He would brief the other camera operators in preproduction, break down the scene, and map out how all the cameras would work together. It was critical that the cameras always have a logic and placement and appear to be moving together.

Growing up in Australia, Matt was impressed with the Australian movie Mad Max as a teenager. After studying some photography and stage production, he got a trainee job at ABC Television in Sydney. He slowly worked his way up as an assistant, operator, Steadicam operator and DP in Australian television. Late Night with the Devil is Matt’s first feature film as a cinematographer. He previously worked with directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes as a Steadicam operator on their first feature, 100 Bloody Acres. Matt thinks Australia is its own independent film and TV powerhouse because of their ability to innovate and work with very small budgets.

Find Matthew Temple: https://www.matthewtemple.com.au/
Instagram @dpwolfie

Late Night with the Devil is still playing in some theaters and is available on Shudder and VOD. https://www.latenightwiththedevil.movie/

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May 1, 2024

Hundreds of Beavers director Mike Cheslik and cinematographer Quinn Hester

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

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

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

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

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

Find Mike Cheslik: Instagram @mikeches

Find Quinn Hester: Instagram @quinn.hester

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Facebook: @cinepod
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April 24, 2024

Working in small markets: DP Kyle Roberts

Kyle Roberts is a DP working in Birmingham, Alabama. One of the important aspects of working in a smaller market is to be skilled enough to function in multiple roles depending on what each project demands. “I’m a big problem solver,” says Kyle. “I feel like my career has taken off mainly because I’m the guy that can not just do multiple jobs, but it’s using my creative mind, doing the problem solving, that’s taken me far. That’s what still brings me to the job every day.”

After working in LA at Radiant Images, Kyle relocated back home to Birmingham to work for a local ad agency. He began shooting corporate video and regional commercials. Though he loves shooting narratives, commercials in this market are what pays the bills. Fortunately, production in the area has grown enough to support more work. Alabama is a pretty good central location for Kyle to work in Atlanta, Nashville and New Orleans, so he’s able to work as a local in any of those markets. He also finds and trains those who are eager to learn, so there’s more experienced crew available and work can be shared. With his partners, Kyle opened Next Level Productions, a rental house, and Moonmen DJS, a production studio with an LED video wall.

Find Kyle Roberts: Instagram @nextlevelfilm

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April 19, 2024

Amy Vincent ASC on A Nice Indian Boy, Hustle & Flow, Eve’s Bayou

Amy Vincent, ASC did not originally set out to become a cinematographer. While studying veterinary medicine at UC Santa Cruz, she got a work study job hanging lights for the theater department. She fell in love with the creative art of lighting, and soon transitioned to the theater arts department. Amy found her natural affinity for math and science matched the skill set needed for technical theater production. She began making short films at UCSC, moving to Los Angeles after college to pursue a career in film. Amy’s first job was as an assistant editor, but she really wanted to work in the camera department. So she began working her way up from camera intern to camera assistant, working with notable DPs such as Bill Pope on Clueless and Robert Richardson on Natural Born Killers.

A few years into her career as a camera assistant, Amy decided to go to grad school at AFI. She shot many student short films for free before meeting writer and director Kasi Lemmons. Amy could tell from page one that the script for Eve’s Bayou was something personal and special. They made the short film together, then over the course of three years, Lemmons raised enough money and interest to turn Eve’s Bayou into a feature. It was Amy’s first movie as a cinematographer and it became her first big breakout.

One of Amy’s frequent collaborators was director Craig Brewer. She was given a copy of his first film on VHS, then the two met to discuss making 2005’s Hustle & Flow. “I think the beauty of where my collaboration with Craig and the process of making the movie was what the movie was about. The two folded over on each other. I mean, it’s the idea of making music or making a movie by whatever means necessary. And there was something that became so apparent in the process. For example, we tried on a whole bunch of different formats, like, what are we going to shoot? At one point we were going to shoot Mini DV, because that’s what Craig knew and then we settled into Super 16.” She and Brewer went on to work together on Black Snake Moan and the 2011 Footloose remake.

Throughout her career, Amy has enjoyed collaborating with directors on smaller movies. Her most recent project, A Nice Indian Boy, had a very low budget and it had to be shot quickly before the actors strike. “It is so cool to have a really funny rom com that’s gay and Indian. It would have been great to have more time and more money to make that movie, but I love all of the things that came together to make this simple little movie. It’s really important to me to be able to make a movie that means something to a slightly different community.”

Amy recently received the ASC Presidents Award, which recognizes her long career as a cinematographer and a mentor to new cinematographers. She’s also an artist in residence at Loyola Marymount University, where she teaches film classes and mentors students making short films.

You can see Amy’s recent work on the show Parish with Giancarlo Esposito on AMC+.

A Nice Indian Boy premiered at the SXSW Film Festival to critical acclaim, and is seeking distribution.

Find Amy Vincent: https://www.amyvincentasc.com/
Instagram: @amyvvincent

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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