March 13, 2024

House of Ninjas showrunner and executive producer Dave Boyle

The Netflix series House of Ninjas has become a hit show, rising to #1 in the streaming service’s top 10 list. The story follows the Tawara family, who have been ninjas, or shinobi, for generations. Tragically, the oldest son and brother disappeared six years before in a battle with their rivals, leading the Tawaras to stop being ninjas. But the family must fight together again as the rival clan gets more powerful and threatens the entire country.

Showrunner Dave Boyle was first brought on as showrunner for House of Ninjas by an executive at Netflix Japan, who knew he was familiar with the culture. Dave’s second language is Japanese, which he studied as a Mormon missionary in Australia. He had written and directed a few independent Japanese American and Japanese language films, such as Man from Reno, Daylight Savings and Surrogate Valentine, which all took place in the U.S. This was his first experience with shooting anything in Japan. He was drawn to the tone of House of Ninjas, which combines both drama, action and violence with comedy and warmhearted playfulness. “Tone was the reason why we all wanted to make this project. It’s more than the plot mechanics and the story. It was all about creating this atmosphere, this tone that an audience could sink into and enjoy for many, many episodes. And so I think that tone was something that we were talking about from the very, very get-go and something that we really wanted to nail and get right.”

Once he was on board, Dave began working on the preproduction and show bible for House of Ninjas. The show bible had to be written in three weeks, which is a very fast process, especially since Dave knew the show’s foundation required a deep understanding of shinobi culture and history. He found the preproduction process in Japan to be much different from the U.S., with casting happening even before the show’s scripts were written. The script format in Japan read from right to left, and the top half of the page is left blank for the director to draw storyboards and a shotlist, as a clear way for the director to show what they’re planning to do.

House of Ninjas is available on Netflix.

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by ARRI:

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

January 31, 2024

American Fiction cinematographer Cristina Dunlap

The film American Fiction has been nominated for over two dozen awards, including five Academy Awards. Director Cord Jefferson is a seasoned writer who worked on acclaimed series such as Watchmen, Station Eleven, and The Good Place. He adapted the screenplay and wrote the script for American Fiction himself. Jefferson knew that he would also like to direct the film, although it would be his first time ever directing.

Cinematographer Cristina Dunlap knew immediately after reading the script that she wanted to work on the film. “I think there’s always a concern every time you work with a new director, just learning their style and how they work. But the second I sat down with Cord, I could tell immediately that he was going to be a wonderful person to work with because he is just very joyous and positive and excited, collaborative and open to ideas. And so when we started talking about the script, it was really more excitement. And, you know, he was very honest. He said, ‘I’ve never even directed traffic before. So you’re going to have to maybe hold my hand through some things or answer questions.’ And I was completely willing to do that.”

Fortunately, Cristina and Jefferson had about eight weeks of prep time in Boston, with only about 25 actual shoot days. Cristina likes to break down each scene psychologically, to explore visually what each character is going through. They scouted locations with the rest of the crew, and spent time figuring out the blocking so that they would have a concrete plan when the actors were on set. Cristina relied on the Artemis Pro app to map the location spaces which really helped create photo storyboards, figure out the lighting setup and plan Steadicam moves. She knew it would be challenging to be able to fit everything in on each shoot day, especially when there would be six or seven people in a scene. The beach house was an especially challenging location for lighting- it had dark wood walls and low ceilings. Cristina knew they wanted to able to see the ocean through the windows, but they couldn’t afford to light with a Condor lighting rig every day from the outside. She had to pull out a lot of lighting tricks and build off the practical sources in the space. For one scene, an arborist helped the gaffer by climbing a tree in order to rig several gem ball lights in the branches.

Cristina got her start in photography. She went on to shoot music videos for artists such as Coldplay and Lizzo, and was the DP of the 2022 Sundance Audience Award winning feature, Cha Cha Real Smooth.

American Fiction is in theaters now.

Find Cristina Dunlap: https://www.cristinadunlap.com/
Instagram: @cristina_dunlap

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

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

February 8, 2023

Sundance 2023 films Fancy Dance and King Coal

The dramatic film Fancy Dance follows an indigenous woman named Jax, who hustles to get by on her reservation in Oklahoma. When her sister Tawi disappears, Jax is responsible for taking care of her niece Roki. The two search for Tawi and ask for help from law enforcement who does little to help. Meanwhile, they steal cars and scam people in card games, which leads to Roki being taken out of Jax’s care and placed with her white grandfather. Jax kidnaps Roki, and the two road trip to get to the state powwow to find out more about Tawi’s disappearance and where Roki plans to perform a dance.

Fancy Dance director and writer Erica Tremblay and cinematographer Carolina Costa met when Erica was searching for a DP and Carolina was on a short list. Carolina loved the script, and felt the film was special just from reading the page- she could see all the visuals in her mind, and felt it was important to see these characters come alive on the big screen. She decided to keep the lighting natural and didn’t use a lot of additional lights. They wanted the film to feel specific to the topography of Oklahoma in the summer- a hot, humid time, when the sky is a very washed out blue. Erica and Carolina had a lot of conversations about what the film would look and feel like, including using natural moonlight as a symbol of Tawi, the missing sister and mother. The moon is a symbol of matrilineal kinship which is vital to the Native American community.

One of the biggest challenges facing director Erica Tremblay was finding financing for Fancy Dance. It was hard to convince the right people to fund a film whose main character is an abrasive, lawless, queer indigenous woman. Erica grew up in the Seneca Cayuga nation, and drew upon characters she knew. She wanted her script to reflect the issues faced by Native Americans today, especially the crisis of missing indigenous women who are never found. But she also includes humor, loving family connections and the celebration of joyous culture at the powwow.

Fancy Dance is seeking distribution.
Instagram #fancydancemovie

Director Elaine Sheldon describes her movie King Coal as part documentary and part fable, as she takes a poetic and personal look at the influence of coal in Appalachia. It was once King in the region, but as the economic power of coal wanes, Elaine explores the question of what a future without coal might look like. There is no scripting in the film, and she uses two girls who act as characters to bringing the audience for the movie. People continue to celebrate coal culture in these communities, and the film documents some of the interesting rituals around coal festivals, fun runs, beauty pageants and even a coal themed amusement park.

Elaine and her husband, cinematographer Curren Sheldon, wanted to tell a new story about the region- for so long, West Virginia and the surrounding areas have been seen as just a place to exploit for coal. Both Elaine and Sheldon grew up in the area, and Elaine wanted her personal storytelling and narration to heighten the feeling of what it’s like to be in this place, and imagine what it would be like to exist there without coal. They wanted to show Appalachia as a beautiful, green and forested community, not as a poor, destroyed place. The land itself has meaning, so they shot images of the fog rising, textures of bison, the moss, and sunlight through the trees. Coal came from the earth, and at one time it was just sitting alongside all the other natural elements. Elaine decided to end the film looking ahead to an uncertain future. They held a “funeral” for King Coal and the community turned out, with a casket, music and impromptu eulogies.

King Coal is seeking distribution.

Find Elaine Sheldon: https://www.elainemcmillionsheldon.com/
Find Curren Sheldon: http://currensheldon.com/
Instagram @kingcoalfilm

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Greentree Creative: https://www.growwithgreentree.com/

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

February 1, 2023

Award-winning Sundance films Bad Press and The Persian Version

We kick off our Sundance Film Festival 2023 interviews with the documentary Bad Press and the dramatic comedy, The Persian Version.

Bad Press follows the battle for a free press on the Muscogee Creek Nation reservation in Oklahoma. As a sovereign nation, the Muscogee are not bound by the U.S. Constitution to guarantee freedom of the press. When local journalists for the tribal paper Mvskoke Media discover that the tribe’s “Free Press Act” will be repealed, they begin demanding that freedom of the press be written into the tribe’s constitution, led by Mvskoke Media reporter Angel Ellis. The Free Press Act does get repealed, and immediately the newspaper is in danger and put under the control of the tribal government. The tribal council began censoring the news and preventing the community access to free and fair reporting, which reporter Angel Ellis knew would impact the upcoming tribal elections.

Filmmaker Rebecca Landsberry-Baker is a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation and a journalist, so the people in the film are her people. Co-director and editor Joe Peeler was an acquaintance with a background in documentary filmmaking, so he came on board right away. Cinematographer Tyler Graim was brought on to the project when Joe had had enough of shooting everything himself, allowing him to focus more on what was happening as a director. They wanted the footage in the documentary to give people an accurate feeling of what it’s like to be on the reservation, and the oppressive heat of an Oklahoma summer. Becca, Joe and Tyler agreed that they also wanted Bad Press to have a distinctive look, and were influenced by newspaper movies such as All the President’s Men.

They made a conscious choice for viewers to make the larger connections of what is happening to free press from within the microcosm of the Native American community, to the macrocosm of what’s happening to media in the outside world. A free press supports tribal sovereignty, because it supports an engaged and informed electorate and the movement to ensure a free press by writing it into tribal constitutions is spreading in Indian Country.

Bad Press won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Freedom of Expression at the Sundance Film Festival and is seeking distribution.

Find Bad Press on social media: #BadPressFilm

The Persian Version is a dramatic comedy that follows Leila, a young Iranian American woman who grew up in New York and New Jersey with 8 older brothers. Leila is determined to forge her own path and has a tumultuous relationship with her immigrant mother. When her father is hospitalized for a heart transplant, she must return home to help care for her grandmother and uncovers a secret about her mother’s past.

Director and writer Maryam Keshavarz chose to make The Persian Version semi-autobiographical. While much of the story is true, the film had to take artistic liberties for it to fit within two hours and also stay funny. Maryam wanted the past and present within the film to feel similar, but for all of the storytellers in the movie to have a point of view, so there is a tonal shift within the film when Leila’s mother’s narrative begins. Maryam felt like her cast was family, and as they rehearsed, she rewrote the script as needed.

Maryam’s first feature film, Circumstance, also won the Sundance audience award, and she went on to make a bigger-budget feature, Viper Club in 2018, starring Susan Sarandon. But Maryam found that she wanted to feel more personally connected to the cast and crew during the filmmaking process, so she returned to independently writing and directing with The Persian Version. She feels that films from her standpoint in the world as an Iranian-American hold a large place in her heart. Maryam enjoyed making a film that was both meaningful, funny and reflective of current and past societal and political views.

The Persian Version won the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award & The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award in U.S. Dramatic Competition and is seeking distribution.

Find Maryam Keshavarz: Marakesh Films http://www.maryamkeshavarz.com/
Instagram: @TheTPVFilm

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Greentree Creative: https://www.growwithgreentree.com/

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