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

March 24, 2021

Dariusz Wolski, ASC on News of the World, working with Paul Greengrass, music videos, The Crow, Dark City, Pirates of the Caribbean, and more

Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski prefers to take a realistic, documentary approach to most of the movies he shoots. His latest film, the western News of the World, is primarily shot outside using natural light, in a style Dariusz likes to call “well-observed” documentary. As with many of director Paul Greengrass’s films, News of the World relies on a Steadicam and hand-held cameras to give it a more realistic and intimate feel. Daruisz watched a few Westerns to get ideas for his approach to News of the World, such as The Searchers and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Dariusz got his start after film school shooting music videos back in the 1980’s and 90’s, such as Suzanne Vega’s “My Name is Luka.”  One of his influences was the late cinematographer Harris Sevides, whose approach to music videos for Madonna and R.E.M. was softer and more cinematic. Daruisz and several future icons of cinema were all working on music videos at the time, and he worked with directors David Fincher, Alex Proyas and Gore Verbinski. They all wanted to make movies and were just making music videos to stay employed. As trained filmmakers, Dariusz feels they elevated the music video to an art, bringing a film sensibility to it with longer shots and cinematic lighting.

Though Daruisz found it hard to break into film at first, his work on music videos and commercials eventually got him there. Director Alex Proyas hired Dariusz as director of photography for the films Romeo is Bleeding, The Crow, and Dark City. The two used a dark and gritty music video aesthetic for shooting 1994’s The Crow. Tragically, star Brandon Lee was killed by a faulty blank bullet during filming and the movie was finished without him, using early face replacement digital technology. For Dark City, Dariusz’s next film with Proyas, he was influenced by films such as Metropolis and German expressionist art. He used sodium vapor lights on the set, which created a very orange and surreal glow. To add to the sickly green colors in the film, they decided not to use the correct fluorescent tubes in the automat scenes, or color correct the result.

Dariusz went on to work with director Gore Verbinski on The Mexican and Pirates of the Caribbean. At the time, Pirates was anything but a sure thing. It was up against the biggest stigma in Hollywood- every pirate movie that had been made up until that point was a huge flop. Plus, the character Captain Jack Sparrow was a complete antihero, and though Johnny Depp was a known actor, he wasn’t yet a huge movie star. After shooting several Pirates movies, Dariusz went on to work with Tim Burton on Sweeney Todd and Alice in Wonderland, then with Ridley Scott on Prometheus , The Martian, and Raised By Wolves, all science fiction movies or series that are heavy on special effects. For Dariusz, even if a film is science fiction, it needs to feel as though it is grounded in its own reality, so it was important to be in constant communication with the VFX supervisor to figure out how they would collaborate on set.

News of the World is playing in some theaters and is available to stream on VOD.

Find Dariusz Wolski: @dariusz_wolski_official

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep118/

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 17, 2021

Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC on Snowfall, working with the late John Singleton, Spike Lee, Straight Outta Compton, Tales, Kalushi and more

Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC uses light and color to help emphasize the drama and power of each scene on the FX series Snowfall. He enjoys putting opposing colors in the scenes to subtly suggest any underlying subtext and shifts in power between the characters. Tommy knows that understanding light and knowing how to photograph dark skin is important in a series revolving around primarily African American and Latino characters. Snowfall, created by the late John Singleton, is a period drama that takes place in 1980’s Los Angeles during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. For Tommy, Snowfall feels personal after growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s in the inner city neighborhood of Mattapan in Boston. Mattapan got the nickname of “Murderpan,” and crack addiction personally affected his own family.

As the lead cinematographer on season four of Snowfall, Tommy reads each script, meets with the showrunners, and even goes into the writer’s room to talk to them about the subtext in certain scenes to devise a color schematic for each storyline. He develops an idea of his approach and watching the blocking on set allows him to try different things. Snowfall is pretty collaborative- John Singleton helped develop an African American cultural understanding on set, often taking suggestions from people’s lived experiences. Tommy says many cultural nuances come from behind the lens, and Black actors, crew members, and people from the neighborhood make the show.

Tommy first got into the business as a production assistant in New York, moving up to grip/electric while going to college in Massachusetts. He started working with Spike Lee on commercials as a gaffer and as an operator on Lee’s miniseries, When the Levees Broke. After attending AFI (American Film Institute), Tommy met fellow cinematographer and mentor Matty Libatique, who brought him on to Iron Man 2 and Straight Outta Compton. Tommy went on to shoot Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu in South Africa, and television series such as Tales, On My Block and Empire. Several years ago, Spike Lee had introduced Tommy to John Singleton at Singleton’s birthday party. Singleton stayed in touch and later saw Tommy’s work on the BET anthology series Tales, and approached him to shoot Snowfall.

You can see Snowfall on FX on Hulu. https://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/snowfall

Find Tommy Maddox-Upshaw: http://www.maddoxdp.com/
Instagram: @themaddoxdp

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep117/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz