January 26, 2021

Cinematographer Quyen Tran on Palm Springs, Unbelievable, A Teacher, baking for charity, shooting during the pandemic, and more

With a background in photojournalism and documentary, cinematographer Quyen Tran is drawn to emotional stories and giving voice to victims. But she also has a talent for shooting comedies, such as The Little Hours, the series Camping, and most recently the hit movie Palm Springs. Palm Springs is a comedy about two people trying to escape a time loop, reliving the same day over and over, like Groundhog Day. The film became hugely popular and critically acclaimed during the pandemic, probably because it resonated with everyone locked down and feeling like each day was the same. Palm Springs was shot on a relatively small budget and a pretty fast schedule, so Q was able to call in a few favors to help stretch the budget. She enjoyed working with Cristin Milioti, Andy Samberg and JK Simmons, who was a great foil for Andy Samberg’s character. A great deal of the movie was actually improvised- while it was definitely scripted, there were many alternate takes that made it into the movie. Since the film is about a constantly repeating day, the actors improvising different takes kept the story fresh and each take could be a bit different each time.

Q also shot a few episodes of the Netflix series Unbelievable, a true story about a young woman who is raped and then recants her story. Years later, two female detectives track the serial rapist and prove her story true. The series won a Peabody Award for showing a humanized exploration of rape survival. Q and director Lisa Cholodenko knew they wanted very literal and subjective camerawork, making the camera seem like it was always from the character Marie’s point of view of being sexually assaulted. They had the actress Kaitlyn Dever block scenes in pre-production so that she could help contribute and feel comfortable in the environment. Q chose to place a camera under a table in the interrogation scene so that it could still get a close up on her face, and give a feeling of disembodiment and detachment from her body.

The FX/Hulu series A Teacher explores grooming and sexual abuse, but this time with a male victim. Quyen shot the show in a naturalistic way as she did with Unbelievable. She wanted to stay true to the material and help the viewer emphasize with the victim.

One of Q’s passions in life is cooking and baking, and during the pandemic in her down time, Q and her friend and fellow DP, Jeanne Tyson, decided to start Doughrectors of Photography. In exchange for a donation to the LA Food Bank or other charity such as Vote Blue, patrons receive a loaf of homemade sourdough and/or cookies. Doughrectors has now donated over 100,000 meals to the L.A. Food Bank, and they continue to bake and raise money.

Most recently, Quyen was shooting Maid with director John Wells in Victoria, BC. They had to follow strict COVID protocols, including quarantining for two weeks before shooting. She was able to have a lot of prep time over Zoom with the director. The crew had to have masks on at all times of course, and were tested 3 times per week, taking their time and limiting the amount of people in the space.

You can check out Doughrectors of Photography and find out how you can donate and get some delicious baked goods on Instagram at @doughrectorsofphotography

You can hear our previous interview with Quyen Tran: https://www.camnoir.com/ep26/

Find Quyen Tran: https://www.qtranfilms.com/
Instagram: @qgar

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep110/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Sponsored by Aputure: https://www.aputure.com/

Website: www.camnoir.com
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