February 21, 2024

Maestro cinematographer Matty Libatique, ASC

We have the multi-talented Kays Al-Atrakchi as our special guest host this week!

Shortly after working together on A Star Is Born, director and actor Bradley Cooper told cinematographer Matty Libatique that he’d like their next project to be about conductor Leonard Bernstein. Cooper hadn’t even begun writing the screenplay for Maestro yet, but over the next six years, he and Matty discussed how to evolve the story and shoot the biopic. They spent a lot of time shooting tests in multiple formats. Matty and Cooper decided to shoot on Kodak film, using both black and white and color, and two different aspect ratios (1.33:1 and 1.85:1) for the story. The film takes place over 50 years, and it was important to test the aging makeup and prosthetics Cooper would wear as Bernstein.

Maestro was a complex story to tell, and Cooper wanted to explore Bernstein’s life in as many visually creative ways as possible. Every shot was thought out, including all the montages that deal with the passage of time. For several scenes, much of what Cooper had described on the page was what ended up on screen. “It’s one of those rare cases where the the writing really matched up with what we ended up doing, very early on. There were subsequent drafts, but those moments that he had crafted ahead of time never went away,” says Matty. In order to keep himself organized, Matty created a spreadsheet that mapped out all the shots and equipment for every beat and scene in the script, which could also be altered if Cooper made changes.

At the heart of Maestro is the complicated relationship between Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre. Cooper frequently used the motif of Montealegre waiting in the wings for Bernstein, as she put everything in her life on hold to be with him. Their love grounds the story, and Matty wanted it to look as naturalistic as possible. “Instead of going for the glam, even though it might feel like an old movie at the beginning of the film, I was trying to keep it more candid… I think Bradley and I gravitate towards naturalism because we don’t want anything that smells false or pretentious. It’s just something to stay away from. Bradley has a real sensitivity to it.”

Cooper’s approach as a director is extremely artistic and sensitive to the emotions in the scene, and he doesn’t use a conventional shot list or get traditional coverage. If the scene feels wrong after they’ve shot it, he and Matty will mull it over and then come up with a better way to shoot it. “Bradley is so editorially minded, he keeps in mind whether or not we’re going to end a scene in a wide or start in a wide or ended in tight or start in a tight. So those are conscious decisions, but they aren’t necessarily made ahead of time. We respond to the space and we respond to the light. And then we just react and it’s organic, it’s his process.”

Maestro is available on Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/title/81171868

Matty Libatique is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

Find Matty Libatique: Instagram @libatique
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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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Twitter: @ShortEndz

February 14, 2024

Oppenheimer cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, ASC

Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, ASC and director Christopher Nolan have crafted some of the most visually stunning and intellectually stimulating films of the 21st century. The film Oppenheimer marks their fourth collaboration, and they’ve achieved an ease and rapport with each other over time. “In all these years, we’ve spent so many endless hours in scouting vans and on airplanes and on film sets. So we have done a lot of the talking together. Chris is a very meticulous filmmaker, but this process has also allowed us to be very intuitive and we can kind of skim through a lot of bullshit just by knowing each other,” Hoyte says.

Hoyte first began working with Nolan on Interstellar in 2014. At first he found the scale of the film extremely daunting. “I was literally looking up at that crazy, gigantic mountain in front of me and thinking, how am I going to do this and how am I going to even technically wrap my head around this? But (Nolan) was always very calm and very reassuring and he said, ‘Let’s just start’.” Despite it being their first project together, the synergy between Nolan’s bold vision and Hoyte’s keen eye for detail was immediately apparent. They employed a combination of practical effects and cutting-edge visual techniques to bring the vastness of space and the intricacies of theoretical physics to life on the screen. Nolan uses practical effects as much as possible, and he needed creative techniques to get across the idea of atomic energy on Oppenheimer. The second unit crew spent time experimenting with shots to create the effects of atomic particles and atoms interacting for scenes when Robert Oppenheimer envisions harnessing nuclear energy.

To tell a story as big and complex as Oppenheimer, Nolan and Hoyte chose to shoot on IMAX. This required some invention and innovation. Nolan wanted to shoot the congressional hearing scenes in black and white, but black and white film stock for IMAX did not exist. Kodak was happy to manufacture it for the movie, although it was challenging to use. The black and white film didn’t fit into the camera the same way, so they had to re-engineer the camera gates and pressure plates.

Even though they were shooting with an extremely large format camera, Hoyte wanted to get very intimate, close shots. “Chris and I had to decide that our vistas in this film, our scope, is not something that comes from landscapes or wideness or action, but it has to come from faces, you know? I always say the faces kind of became our landscapes. But I also believe that scope is something that comes from what you as an audience project onto something.” They opted for a very simple, naturalistic style to the cinematography to support the unfolding psychological drama. Each frame is not just a visual composition but a narrative device, serving to deepen the emotional resonance of the story and engage the audience on a visceral level.

Oppenheimer is playing in theaters, available on VOD, or streaming on Peacock starting February 16. Hoyte Van Hoytema is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com

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

January 12, 2024

Poor Things cinematographer Robbie Ryan, BSC, ISC

Poor Things is a brilliantly imaginative, comedic and visually stunning film about Bella Baxter, a young woman who is brought back to life by mad scientist Godwin Baxter. She experiences a personal and sexual awakening as she travels the world, discovering what it means to be a confident woman free of societal constraints. Director Yorgos Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan had previously worked together on The Favourite. They wanted to push the boundaries of how Poor Things looked in every possible way. “He’s so prolific with ideas that you go, ‘Okay, you want to try that? Okay, let’s try that!’ And, he gives me a lot of challenges that I go off and find a lens that he’s trying to talk about,” says Robbie.

Robbie shot Poor Things in a variety of different formats and with a range of unusual lenses. The film is a period piece, so he and Lanthimos decided to use the 1:6:6 aspect ratio, which is closer in composition to portraiture. They also chose to shoot entirely on film, using KODAK 35mm black and white, color negative and Ektachrome Reversal film stocks. For Bella’s reanimation sequence, Robbie used a Vista Vision camera, which is a special widescreen format from the 1950’s. The 35mm film stock is turned on its side, so that the picture is ultra-widescreen and high resolution. The film is energized with purposefully intrusive cinematography, lenses and zooms. Robbie selected a Petzval lens once used on old projectors. He also placed a 4mm lens, made for 16mm cameras, onto a 35mm camera, to create an extreme fish-eye, vignetted frame. “Yorgos wanted even wider fish eye lenses that created a vignette, with a dreamy focus bokeh on it. We wanted another era feeling to it, with a painterly quality to it, and to have a lot of character. You’re jumping between so many different lens choices that would, they would definitely jar, but that’s what the attempt is- to jar the audience.”

On set, Lanthimos prefers to be able to use all 360 degrees of the entire space. He also didn’t want any lights on the set, so it had to be completely built and lit with every direction shootable. It was more freeing for the actors and for the camera, but it did present a challenge for shooting on film, which needs a lot more light to make images. Robbie had to use many practical lights throughout the set, with sky lighting in the ceiling, especially for the outdoor scenes.

Robbie is very proud of Poor Things, and he thinks it’s funny and more accessible than some of Lanthimos’ other work. “The universe that Yorgos has created is the one you want to enjoy and get into with this film,” he says.

Find Robbie Ryan: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0752811/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

Listen to our previous interview from 2019 with Robbie Ryan on The Favourite and his other work. https://www.camnoir.com/ep32/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by ARRI: https://www.arri.com/en

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

November 29, 2023

Loki season 2 cinematographer Isaac Bauman

For the second season of the Marvel series Loki, cinematographer Isaac Bauman decided to bring his own unique look to the show, especially when it came to the lighting design. Loki Season 1 DP Autumn Durald Arkapaw, ASC brought a lot of herself and her own unique look to the show. But Isaac feels that his approach to cinematography is very different from Autumn’s, and he wanted to creatively stick his neck out to define his own voice for season two. During his initial interview for Loki, Isaac presented a detailed vision to directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead of how he would have shot scenes differently for season one. Once he was hired for season two, Isaac created an extremely detailed bible for the lighting and look of Loki. Season 2 is a mix of 1970’s-inspired lighting and color palette, with warm browns, yellows and oranges within the TVA, shifting to cooler blues and greens with rainbow hues further down in the control room as the timelines begin to collapse.

Loki Season 2 utilizes wide angles, handheld camerawork and monochromatic colors. As with season one, the sets are often full 360-degree builds, so that every possible environment has four walls and a ceiling. The lighting was also achieved with all practicals on set, with a lighting rig built into the ceiling. Isaac had to learn to work with the scenes being lit from overhead, which is not a very flattering look for the actors. He introduced a lot of handheld camera movement into season two, which would have made it challenging to have lights on the set. Instead, for a little extra light on the actors’ faces, they often used a battery powered gem ball LED on the eyeline of the actors. The shoot for season two was more dynamic, as the actors were allowed to move more freely around the set, with the cameras just following and panning between the characters, using wide spherical lenses. Isaac loves shooting on a stage, because he loves being able to control all of the lighting.

Isaac went to USC Film School where he met his friend, director Lee Roy Kunz, who convinced him to drop out and shoot their first feature film, A Beer Tale. He then started shooting low budget rap videos, which led to bigger music videos, which led to commercials and feature films. Growing up, he made his own video projects at home using a camcorder, but it wasn’t until film school that Isaac realized that working with the camera, image and lighting was his true passion.

Find Issac Bauman: https://www.isaacbauman.com/
Instagram: @isaacbauman

Loki Season 2 is currently available on Disney+.

Hear our interview with Loki Season 1 cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw, ASC. https://www.camnoir.com/ep193/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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