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: https://www.netflix.com/title/81590652
Find Ed Lachman, and learn more about the EL Zone System: https://www.elzonesystem.com/

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August 9, 2023

Cabinet of Curiosities cinematographer Anastas Michos, ASC, GSC

Cinematographer Anastas Michos ASC, GSC humbly calls himself a journeyman cinematographer. However, after 25 years and multiple awards, Anastas possesses expert skill and versatility that can be seen across all genres. Most recently, Anastas was nominated for an Emmy for “The Autopsy,” an episode of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities anthology TV series on Netflix.

Del Toro selected the directors for each episode of Cabinet of Curiosities, and he chose idiosyncratic directors who brought their own sensibilities to each piece. Anastas had worked with “The Autopsy” director David Prior before on a horror film called The Empty Man, and they enjoyed collaborating together again. Anastas enjoyed working on Cabinet of Curiosities because it felt like making a short film rather than a TV show, with each piece a crafted short story rather than a serialization. For a consistent look, each episode used the same production designer, Tamara Deverell,  who also did the production design for del Toro’s Nightmare Alley. While shooting the episode, Anastas was always conscious that “The Autopsy” should fall under the look of del Toro’s brand.

Anastas has always enjoyed shooting horror films because they explore the human condition in a very specific way. The cinematographer can creatively stretch the imagination and the image in a way that can’t be done as much in dramas, comedies or romances, since they’re usually based in our day to day reality. But Anastas likes to switch around among genres- after working on an intense horror film such as Texas Chainsaw 3D, a light rom com might sound really good. He’s interested in any project that has a great story, script, director and crew.

Before finding his way behind a camera, Anastas thought he’d go into the music business since he grew up in a musical family. Instead, he became a news cameraperson, learning visual storytelling on the job. He’s found that his music background has actually served him well as a cinematographer- he feels musicality is very much a part of camera movement. One memorable time early in his career, Anastas was working Steadicam for Born on the Fourth of July. Director Oliver Stone pulled him aside and had Anastas put on a walkman so that he could move the camera to the pace of the music Stone wanted.

After working as a camera and Steadicam operator for several years, Anastas got to shoot his first feature as a DP for Man on the Moon. Anastas found director Milos Forman to be simultaneously generous and demanding, with the capability of recognizing someone’s potential and holding them to it.

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities anthology TV series is on Netflix.

Find Anastas Michos: http://anastasmichos.com/
Instagram: @anastasmichos_asc_gsc

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May 24, 2023

Evil Dead Rise cinematographer David Garbett

New Zealand cinematographer David Garbett has shot more versions of the Evil Dead franchise than any other cinematographer. These include the series Ash vs. Evil Dead and the latest movie, Evil Dead Rise. Dave has enjoyed working on Evil Dead because it’s been a fun, creative, and over-the-top experience.

Evil Dead Rise director Lee Cronin felt that after 10 years, the movie needed a different setting. The action takes place on the top floor of a Los Angeles apartment building. Dave felt a responsibility to get the tone just right since Evil Dead is loved around the world. Evil Dead Rise is witty, but it is more of a straight up horror movie compared to the other Evil Dead films, starring Bruce Campbell. It definitely doesn’t skimp on the blood and gore.

Dave thinks that the essential comedic aspect of Evil Dead is a huge part of the dynamic between director Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. He had the amazing experience of working with both of them on the series, Ash vs Evil Dead. The show is like a gory cartoon, with lots of humor and a huge performance by Bruce Campbell as Ash. One of the aspects of shooting Ash vs Evil Dead that Dave loved was getting the script every week and thinking, what the hell kind of bizarre situation am I going to find myself in this week? For the series, Dave got to use many of the low-angle, fast moving “evil force” POV shots. Every time they needed an “evil force” shot, it required a lot of thought and logistics preparation to figure out how to maneuver the camera. They would use many different techniques to get the right look and speed- the evil force has a fast-moving energy and intensity. Dave captured the “force” with the camera mounted on a variety of tools: a gimbal, a pipe, a remote controlled car, a techno crane and also just physically running handheld to give an organic nature to the movement.

When Dave began going to film school in Auckland, he realized that he was drawn to a career as a director of photography, because you can be both technical and artistic. Dave’s timing was good, because the film industry in New Zealand was just ramping up. The movies Once Were Warriors and The Piano were being made there, followed by Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners. Soon after, Peter Jackson put New Zealand on the map with The Lord of the Rings movies, which brought an incredible amount of work and visibility to the film scene in New Zealand.

Dave also shot several episodes of the Netflix series, Sweet Tooth. Season two of Sweet Tooth is currently streaming.

Evil Dead Rise is currently playing in theaters.

Find Dave Garbett: http://www.davidgarbett.com/
Instagram: @jarbaye

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April 27, 2023

David “Gribs” Gribble, ACS on his long career and films Cadillac Man, The World’s Fastest Indian, The Quest, Jesse Stone

David “Gribs” Gribble grew up in Brisbane, AU and began studying photography at night school. He became a photo assistant, moved to Sydney, and found a job at a local film studio making commercials and low-budget movies. At the time, in the 1970’s and ’80’s, Australia was experiencing a resurgence of its cinema, known as the Australian New Wave. The government provided tax incentives for ordinary people to invest in movies, and established the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. The country’s film industry was jump started, and the genre known as Ozploitation was born.

Gribs learned camera operating on the job. His first feature film was The Man From Hong Kong, followed by the Aussie cult classic race movie, Running On Empty. The film Monkey Grip won some awards, and Gribs was asked to shoot his first American movie, Off Limits, starring Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines. He thinks that working with American actors was different than working with Australian actors- the Americans seemed to be more prone to distraction and sensitive about their appearance. Gribs learned to “light faces, not places” since that’s where the dialog comes from, and flattering actors by telling them how great they look in a particular spot, to give them tools to make themselves look better on screen. He also learned that in lighting, it’s better to work with a broad brush and shoot before you’re ready- as a cinematographer, don’t indulge yourself too much.

The movie Cadillac Man was challenging to shoot for a few reasons. The movie takes place almost entirely in one location- at the car dealership. Gribs had to combat flat lighting up against the walls of the office, as well as dealing with reflections from shiny cars and large windows. Director Roger Donaldson shot take after take, because actor Robin Williams was constantly improvising off script. Gribs found him extremely funny, and says there was so much extra footage of Williams that was cut out, it could probably make another movie.

Gribs also discusses working with Anthony Hopkins on The World’s Fastest Indian, Jean-Claude Van Damme on The Quest and shooting the Jesse Stone movies starring Tom Selleck.

Find David Gribble: Instagram @gribshott

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April 19, 2023

Mark H. Harris, film critic and author of The Black Guy Dies First: Black Horror Cinema from Fodder to Oscar

Mark Harris has enjoyed watching horror movies since the age of about 10 or 12. Growing up in the 1980’s with so few Black characters on TV or in movies, he always noticed when there was a person of color onscreen. It stood out even more in horror, and the Black character would inevitably end up dead since they were never the main character. As an African American horror movie fan, he decided to start keeping track of the countless ways in which Black characters were killed. In 2005, Mark started the website Black Horror Movies, where he reviews the portrayal of Black characters in genre movies all the way back to the beginnings of cinema. Mark’s website provided a lot of the background information he and co-author Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman needed for their book, The Black Guy Dies First: Black Horror Cinema from Fodder to Oscar. While the subject matter is serious, The Black Guy Dies First is a fun read, written with humor and insight. It includes lots of pop culture references, timelines, photos and concrete examples of Black representation in horror.

Mark and Ben discuss many of the topics and issues raised in The Black Guy Dies First. Horror movies have always been seen as the ugly stepchild of Hollywood, and many people still think of horror as inconsequential. But this also allows horror movies to be transgressive, and push boundaries because the expectations for it to perform with mainstream audiences are low. Scary movies have a tendency to explore different avenues and reflect society’s fears and anxieties. Race in America is one of the biggest touchstones as far as fear and anxiety, so it’s valuable to analyze it as part of the horror genre. The trope of “the black guy dies first” is a history of how Black characters have been marginalized in movies. Since they are never the lead character, they are disposable. One of the exceptions, Night of The Living Dead, was ahead of its time, because it had a Black character in the lead. This made it an outlier in the history of black characters dying.

Other cliches and stereotypes Mark sees that marginalize African Americans in horror are: The Best Friend, The Voice of Reason, The Authority Figure (such as a Black cop), The Sacrificial Negro (the character who somehow decides not to save themselves, even if they could), and The Magical Negro (who is just there to help the white main character, such as in The Shining.) Mark does see the horror genre finally changing for the better- Jordan Peele’s Get Out was a runaway smash, which has allowed for more Black leads in horror movies and across all film genres. And he was genuinely surprised that Peele’s NOPE got any kind of Oscar buzz in 2023 (though it did not receive any nominations.) Other recent films such as His House, Master, and Nanny actively explore the social issues and history of Black trauma.

Mark agrees that the best way to increase diversity in front of the camera is to increase diversity behind the camera. When people of color are writing and directing, it empowers the development of strong characters and provides opportunities for diverse points of view. In Hollywood, there has always been the excuse that too many Black leads in a movie would make it a “Black movie” and therefore not appeal to all audiences or do well internationally. But now, a lot of blockbusters have people of color as the lead, which seems to prove that this attitude is changing. At the same time, it’s important for filmmakers to not necessarily try to make the next Get Out- often, social commentary can feel wedged into the storytelling, when it didn’t need to be. Mark feels that the key to Black horror is to show range in the storytelling, but it doesn’t always have to be so serious. As a genre, horror is the most self-aware of its tropes and tendencies, so it is constantly challenging itself to change things up and find better ways to scare you.

Find Mark Harris: https://www.blackhorrormovies.com/
Twitter @blacula

The Black Guy Dies First: Black Horror Cinema from Fodder to Oscar is available on Amazon, Audible and in bookstores everywhere.

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October 26, 2022

Cinematographer Eric Branco on the new Showtime series, Let The Right One In

The new Showtime series Let the Right One In expands on the ideas introduced in the now-classic 2008 Swedish horror movie and the American remake. A man, Mark Kane (Demián Bichir) and his tween daughter, Ellie (Madison Taylor Baez) move in to a New York City apartment, where she befriends the lonely, bullied boy down the hall. But she has a huge secret that her father helps her keep- she is a child vampire who must survive on blood and can’t go outside in the daytime. The series Let The Right One In explores the relationships and conflicts within families, the horror of vampires, and brings in new characters, crimes and mysteries to add layers to the story.

Cinematographer Eric Branco had seen the original Let The Right One In, shot by legendary DP Hoyte van Hoytema, as well as the American version, Let Me In, lensed by none other than Greig Fraser, and it remains one of Eric’s favorite movies. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to bring his own look and feel to the story and make it his own. Eric focused on the idea that for the young vampire girl, the indoors is safe and the outdoors is not, so the home features very warm light with lots of yellows, while outside is a shadowy, cool blue and green. He also played with the natural contrast of light between night and day. At night, it was important to play up the danger and horror elements with action taking place in shadows and tunnels, with yellow streetlights selectively showing bits and pieces, building suspense.

Let The Right One In is much wider in scope than the movies, featuring many other storylines and locations, which created its own challenges. Eric and the crew had to work within the time constraints for the child actors, especially at night. Planning, blocking and rehearsal became an essential part of some shoot days. When they were shooting the pilot, they had to wait until dark, during the summer solstice- the longest day of the year. That left them with about 2 ½ hours to shoot with the lead actress, Madison Taylor Baez. The most challenging day for Eric was when they did a night shoot at Coney Island with very limited time on the Wonder Wheel with the actors. He and the camera department planned extensively and strategically placed cameras all over to cover all of the action, after several scouts and extensive rehearsals before dark. Eric says that when you have to work with that many cameras and with so much riding on timing and coordination, it becomes more like a team sport and it feels amazing to pull it all off. Eric also likes to have an open, trusting relationship with the actors and let them have more freedom of movement within the frame to explore their characters and enhance their performances. Eric thinks the trust is built on the DP’s end, especially when you’re shooting something in an unconventional way like on Let The Right One In.

Let The Right One In is currently on Showtime. https://www.sho.com/let-the-right-one-in

Find Eric Branco- Instagram: @ericbranco
Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep189/
Hear Eric’s previous interview on The Cinepod: https://www.camnoir.com/ep95/

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October 12, 2022

Charlie Sarroff, cinematographer of the horror films Smile and Relic

Cinematographer Charlie Sarroff loves to shoot horror movies, and he knew when he read the script for the horror film, Smile, that it would be fun, gory and dark. This week (10/12/2022) Smile is still the number one movie in America, with the biggest opening of September and the highest box office take overall for its second straight week. Charlie and Smile director Parker Finn first met at a SXSW event, where each had movies showing at the festival. They found they had similar tastes and sensibilities. Finn loved Charlie’s previous work on the horror film Relic and asked Charlie to be Smile’s cinematographer. Movies such as The Ring, It Follows and Rosemary’s Baby were big influences on their approach to Smile. Charlie chose to build a sense of suspense with camera movement, so the audience feels as though a lurking presence was there at all times. They almost exclusively used wide lenses and no over the shoulder shots so that the character of Rose would always feel isolated. Every scene Rose is in, she is meant to feel disconnected from other people. Smiles were also a big motif in the film, of course, and served as a metaphor for the masks everyone wears.

As a kid, Charlie really loved skateboarding and video production became a big part of it. He had a camcorder and recorded skate videos of his friends. Charlie knew early on that he enjoyed shooting and editing more than directing, and he decided to go to film school in Melbourne. Friends in film school asked him to shoot their movies and he worked his way up, filming music videos and commercials. Charlie’s biggest break came when director Natalie Erika James asked him to shoot her short film Creswick which she expanded into the feature film Relic and was picked up by IFC. At first, the film’s backers wanted to go with someone more experienced to shoot Relic, but Charlie prevailed and the film ended up going to Sundance and SXSW.

Find Charlie Sarroff: https://charliesarroff.com/
Instagram: @charlie_sarroff

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep187/

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August 24, 2022

Cinematographer Cybel Martin on A League of Their Own, Black As Night, horror movies and more

Cinematographer Cybel Martin believes that great cinematography comes from a place of trust between the director, DP and crew. Great art can be created when someone says: this is my vision and I trust you to make it happen. Cybel especially loves horror movies, because it’s the best genre for cinematographers to try out visuals that are not based in reality. The opening scene always establishes the visual rules, no matter how weird. You start from scratch and play with how you see the story, and with a good script you can naturally visualize the world. Horror films underscore symbolism and dramatize emotions even more than dramas, and good horror movies still have solid character development even without a supernatural element.

Cybel had the opportunity to work in the horror genre on the show American Horror Stories (Season 1) and most recently on the Amazon Prime movie, Black As Night. Black As Night is about an African American teenage girl who battles a band of vampires who prey on the homeless and drug addicted in New Orleans. Cybel wanted to lean into the richness, color and texture of New Orleans and was inspired by the thematic colors of purple, green, and gold.

The new Amazon Prime series, A League of Their Own, is an historic drama and comedy about the first women’s professional baseball league in the 1940’s. Though the series has the same name as the 1992 movie, the production team never wanted to replicate the film. Their reference material was all of the historical research, photographs, and real stories from the time. Cybel is interested in 1940’s films, sports, and female athletes so there were many elements in the show that she was excited to explore. She shot three of the episodes and her favorite one, “Over the Rainbow” features one of the characters going to an underground speakeasy. Cybel loves the idea of speakeasies and house parties- a place that is secret, where you can be bold, naughty and intimate, but also have a place for community. They shot the speakeasy scenes in just a day and a half, with two steadicam operators, and played with shutter angles and color palette in the dance sequences, with In The Mood For Love as an inspiration for the colors. As a painter and photographer, Cybel was also grateful she could bring her own aesthetic to the project.

Cybel’s latest project is Beacon 23, a new futuristic sci-fi series set to air in 2023.

Find Cybel Martin: https://www.cybeldp.com/
Instagram & Twitter: @cybeldp

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep180/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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June 15, 2022

Director Chloe Okuno and DP Benjamin Kirk Nielsen, DFF on directing and shooting the film Watcher

Watcher is a psychological thriller about a young actress, Julia, who has just moved to Romania from the U.S. with her boyfriend. A serial killer is on the loose in the city, and Julia begins to feel like she is being followed and watched from the apartment across the street. She has trouble convincing her boyfriend and the police that she’s being stalked, and the film builds on her increasing sense of dread.

Director Chloe Okuno and DP Benjamin Kirk Nielsen first met at American Film Institute, and collaborated on their thesis film, a short horror movie called Slut. They both believe in extensive organization, preparation, shotlisting and planning for their projects. Chloe was hired to direct Watcher in 2017, and it took some time to get the movie off the ground. They ended up shooting in Romania during the summer of 2021 under strict COVID protocols. Chloe liked that the script was a simple thriller that could be told from one character’s point of view. Chloe and Benjamin looked at Rosemary’s Baby, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and David Fincher films Seven and Gone Girl as references to impart the sense of terror Julia feels. Benjamin wanted to find a simple, straightforward way to portray Julia’s isolation in a foreign city as her fear escalates. He chose to start with longer camera focal lengths and longer shots, then progressively move closer and closer as the Watcher creeps closer and closer to Julia.

Watcher premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and is currently playing in theaters. https://www.watchermovie.com/

Chloe Okuno: Twitter @cokuno_san

Benjamin Kirk Nielsen: http://benjaminkirk.dk/
Instagram: @b_kirk

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep172/

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April 27, 2022

Cinematographer Eliot Rockett on the period horror film X, working with director Ti West, techniques of shooting horror

Cinematographer Eliot Rockett is a frequent collaborator with Ti West, who is a well known director/writer/editor for horror fans. West and Eliot’s latest film, X, is a classic slasher/horror movie set in 1979, at the time when the popularity of porn movies and slasher films were at their height. With X, West decided to write an erotic horror film that combines elements of both genres. The film is about a group of aspiring filmmakers who head to a remote farm to shoot a porno, but aren’t completely transparent with the elderly couple who owns the property what kind of movie they’re making. Then the bloodbath begins.

Interestingly, Eliot is actually not a big horror fan- he dislikes feeling anxious and tense. But after shooting so many films in this genre, he genuinely appreciates how important the cinematographer is to making a horror movie. In horror, the camera is the instrument that takes the audience through the experience. The camera setups, angles, and lighting choices are incredibly important to setting the tone- more than any other genre. The characters and dialog are usually secondary, unlike dramas or romantic comedies. Eliot first learned some tips about how to shoot a horror film on the movie Crocodile with director Toby Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Hooper explained some of the finer points to creating “seat jumper” moments, based on keeping the camera static and not cutting away.

Eliot and director Ti West also worked together on The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. West is known for creating a suspenseful slow burn, starting off at a normal pace, then progressively building into a manic frenzy of blood and guts to the end. Eliot has always been involved in the filmmaking process early on, and the two share similar ideas about aesthetics and cinema. They discuss far in advance how the drama is going to unfold and figure out how to achieve those goals. Once shooting begins, Eliot and West work smoothly together because the movie is well understood.

Eliot shot Pearl, the prequel to X, directly after they wrapped X. The production was based in New Zealand in early 2021, still during the height of the COVID pandemic, and it made sense to roll right into pre-production on Pearl and stay longer to shoot the movie, using production crews in New Zealand for both films. Pearl is a completely different sort of horror movie and is almost a musical, with dance numbers and lots of color saturation. Eliot calls it “the best feel bad movie you’ll ever see.”

Eliot Rockett is currently shooting Season 2 of Perry Mason for HBO.

Find Eliot Rockett: https://www.eliotrockett.com/
Instagram: @elrockett and @eliotrockett

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep166/

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Facebook: @cinepod
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