March 20, 2024

Masters of the Air cinematographer Richard Rutkowski, ASC

Masters of the Air on AppleTV+ is about the pilots who served in the 100th Bomb Group in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. Cinematographer Richard Rutkowski shot episodes 107 and 108, which included both aerial flying, bombing and imprisoned airmen at a German POW camp. From the beginning, Richard was impressed with how everything was organized on such a massive scale. The props, set design and costumes were extremely exact to the time period. “I really am attracted to stories that have authenticity in them,” says Richard. “And they put the authentic on camera. It is all exactly what it’s meant to be, what it was at the time, as close as they can get.”

Richard worked with director Dee Rees on their block of Masters of the Air. The prison camp scenes involved working with searchlights, mud and absolute darkness at night, with up to 250 people in a scene. He chose to light in a way that would emphasize the dim lighting, gray atmosphere and unhealthy look for the POWs. Some of the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary African-American fighter pilots, are also brought to the POW camp and the prisoners are integrated into the previously racially-segregated fighting force.

Shooting the action inside the planes involved large-scale LED volume screens surrounding the aircraft sections, with an LED roof overhead, which created most of the lighting for the scene. The actors were placed on a gimbal controlled articulated steel deck so they could react to the motion. The cameras tracked with the video system, and had GPS locators that allowed the background to respond to where the camera was so that it knew how much background to put in.

Richard was the sole cinematographer on the FX series The Americans for several seasons. The Americans was about a Russian spy couple posing as Americans in suburban Washington D.C. during the Cold War in the 1980’s. Richard established the look of the show, with the couple’s “normal” DC life leaning into bolder primary colors, in a kind of red, white, and blue cleanliness. By contrast, in their double life as spies, Richard chose a grittier, darker and grainy look. On The Americans, Richard says he learned the value of letting the actors do their work. “(There is) an unspoken connection being made about whether a scene is moving well, whether a take is truly finished. I would learn to stop reaching for that cut button. No matter who said what, if the actor was in it, we don’t cut. You leave the boom up, keep out of the frame. If the actor’s in it, we’re not cutting. We’ll go till they’re ready.”

As a kid, Richard’s father was a fine art painter and he grew up all over the country. He began making 16mm films in college and working with theatrical director Robert Wilson. After college, Richard started working on small budget films, working his way up through the camera department, including being a second assistant camera on School Ties with cinematographer Freddie Francis, a two time Oscar winner. After School Ties, Richard wrote Ed Lachman asking to work with him, and he went on to work with Ed on several movies. He feels that working your way up and learning all the different crafts in the camera department is a great education for a DP.

Masters of the Air is available on AppleTV+.

Find Richard Rutkowski: Instagram @richardrutkowskidp

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March 6, 2024

Jenelle Riley, Variety’s Deputy Awards and Features Editor, discusses the 2024 Academy Awards nominations

Long-time friend and colleague Jenelle Riley of Variety magazine chats with Ben and Illya for our fifth annual Oscar nominations special. With a focus on cinematography, they discuss what they liked, what will win, what should win, and their favorite movies of the year that may have been overlooked. They also talk about the past year in movies, Oscar campaigning and the accusations of film “snubs.”

Here’s a rundown of some of the films and topics discussed in this episode. Listen to our recent interviews with the nominated DPs as well as other films of note!

Spike Lee, who won an ASC Board of Governors award
Hoyte Van Hoytema, Oppenheimer, who also won an ASC award for theatrical feature film
Ed Lachman, El Conde
Matty Libatique, Maestro
Robbie Ryan, Poor Things
Rodrigo Prieto, Martin Scorsese Killers of the Flower Moon
Barbie, Ryan Gosling
Nyad, Anette Bening
The Holdovers (DP Eigil Bryld) , Alexander Payne, Da’Vine Joy Randolph
Past Lives (DP Shabier Kirchner), Greta Lee
American Fiction (DP Cristina Dunlap)
Saltburn (DP Linus Sandgren)
The Killer (DP Eric Messerschmidt)

Find Jenelle Riley on Instagram and X: @jenelleriley
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February 7, 2024

El Conde cinematographer Ed Lachman, ASC

El Conde is a a dark comedy/horror film that portrays former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a 250 year old vampire. Director Pablo Larraín wanted to play with the idea that a dictatorship is a blood-sucking drain on society with lasting generational impacts. Cinematographer Ed Lachman immediately liked Larraín’s message. “El Conde is his allegory of how we are seduced into yielding to fascism. And it isn’t just in Chile. It’s like the last 50 years, we’re facing that all over the world. That’s why I think the film has something to say- if you can get past the gore.”

Ed had been a long time admirer of Larraín’s work. He found Larraín’s films to be conceptually brilliant with camera placement and movement to tell the story. “They say a cinematographer and a director is a marriage. But I always like to think of it as a dance partner- you hear the same music, but do your steps compliment each other? And I’ve certainly felt I have that relationship with Pablo.” Ed knew he wanted to shoot El Conde in black and white, referencing gothic vampire movies such as Nosferatu and Vampyr (1932). Working with Netflix Latin America, Larraín obtained approval to originate the film in black and white rather than shoot in color and then desaturate it later. For production design, special effects and costumes, all the color choices could be made for the best look in black and white. Ed decided to use the ARRI LF camera, and fortunately, ARRI had just developed a monochromatic sensor for them to use. He enjoys shooting with an actual black and white camera because the exposure latitude and grain structure is different, and he can use monochromatic filters meant for black and white cinematography.

El Conde features some amazingly realistic scenes of vampires flying. The night flying sequences had to be done with a blue screen, which did require a color camera. But all of the day flying sequences and stunts were shot with the black and white camera. The flying sequences were done practically, with no special effects. A 120ft crane suspended the camera operator, who moved through the air with the actors and stunt acrobats on wires.

Ed used the EL Zone System, a method he invented, to figure out the proper exposures for the cameras on El Conde. He’s developed the EL Zone system over the past 10 years, in an effort to measure light values and standardize exposures for digital cameras, and won a technical Emmy in 2023 for the technology. The system uses 18% gray as the standard, which is a universal photography standard. The camera’s sensor data is used as a reference point and filmmakers can view the entire exposure of a shot on a monitor to make lighting adjustments easier.

El Conde is streaming on Netflix:
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