January 19, 2022

Quyen Tran, ASC, on directing and shooting episodes of the Netflix limited series Maid

Cinematographer Quyen Tran, ASC enjoys telling stories that are compelling and have impact and meaning. Q’s previous work on the show Unbelievable led showrunner Molly Smith Metzler and executive producer John Wells to ask her to shoot Maid, a limited series for Netflix. Maid deals with the complex issues of poverty, domestic abuse, the working poor, addiction, single parenthood and mental health. With amazing performances by Margaret Qualley, Andi McDowell and young actor Rylea Nevaeh Whittet, the series handles all of these heavy and heartbreaking issues with sensitivity, peppered with moments of levity and joy.

For Q, shooting Maid was incredible, and incredibly challenging. It was her first job during the pandemic, beginning in August of 2020, and the crew had to quarantine for two weeks in Victoria, British Columbia, wear masks, get frequent COVID tests and follow strict COVID protocols. Quyen thought she would only do the pre-production and shoot the pilot because she didn’t want to leave her family for very long.

Quyen shot extensive tests for the look of Maid. She knew it would be primarily handheld, which creates intimacy and forces a personal perspective on the viewer. Q decided she wanted to use the Alexa Mini and Panaspeed lenses because of the vintage, soft look, and they allow for close camera to subject distance. As part of the pre-production process, Q created a look book for the whole series that the other DPs could pick up and reference.

After shooting the pilot, Q returned to Los Angeles. Then, right after the holidays, director/executive producer John Wells asked Quyen to come back and direct episode eight of Maid. Although Q had a little bit of experience directing, it was very scary for her to even think about directing in a narrative format. She never went into filmmaking to become a director, and never had the desire to be one. But she knew she could do it because she was so familiar with the characters and the story. As both DP and operator on the show, Q already had a rapport with the actors, but now as a director, it was about discussing the motivation of why their characters were doing certain actions. She also had to keep three year old actor Rylea Whittet engaged with the action. As Maddy, single mom Alex’s daughter, Rylea is in nearly every scene and Q often entertained her with piggyback rides and games. For her directorial episode, Quyen camera prepped everything and storyboarded the entire episode. One of the most visually interesting and challenging elements in the episode Q directed is the couch that literally pulls Alex in and swallows her. Q and the production designer worked together for about three weeks to create the couch that Alex could sink right into and disappear.

During the pandemic and in their down time, Quyen and her friend and fellow DP, Jeanne Tyson, found a passion for making sourdough bread. They started Doughrectors of Photography and in exchange for a donation to the LA Food Bank or other charity, patrons receive bread, cookies or other goodies. You can check out Doughrectors of Photography and find out how you can donate and get some delicious baked goods on Instagram at @doughrectorsofphotography

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

You can see Maid on Netflix

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep155/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Sponsored by Assemble: Assemble has amazing production management software. Use the code cinepod to try a month for free! https://www.assemble.tv/
Be sure to watch our YouTube video of Nate Watkin showing how Assemble works! https://youtu.be/IlpismVjab8

Sponsored by DZOFilm: https://www.dzofilm.com/

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

January 13, 2022

Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS on Dune, using digital technology, working with director Denis Villeneuve and director Kathryn Bigelow

Director of photography Greig Fraser says that cinematographers always strive to create images with dimension, so that audiences are able to experience almost feeling and touching what they are seeing. Film has always had the dimensional and realistic feel that filmmakers appreciate, such as grain and color. But with today’s advances in digital filmmaking technology, Greig understands and embraces using the tools that are appropriate to the project he’s working on, and the technology just keeps improving. For Greig, no matter what he’s shooting or how technical it can be, what draws him to every film project is the characters in the movie.

On Dune, Greig and director Denis Villeneuve tested on film and also on digital, but they didn’t like either look that much. They decided to take a hybrid approach: the film was shot on digital, then output to film, and then back out to digital, which gave it the look they wanted. Villeneuve was a huge fan of Dune the novel, and had a clear vision of what his version of the Dune story should be. He extensively storyboarded the film in pre-production, and they did not reference the previous Dune movie at all. During the shoot, Greig and the VFX supervisor Paul Lambert championed getting the lighting exactly correct with the blue or green screen background so that the shots and perspective would look the most realistic and there would be very little adjustments needed in post production.

Greig also talks about using the iPhone 13 ProMax to shoot a demo film with director Kathryn Bigelow. The phone has several camera options that make it cinematic, and he finds that phones are getting better and better to shoot with.

Greig’s next film is The Batman which will be released in March.

Find Greig Fraser: Instagram @greigfraser_dp
Twitter: @GreigFraser_dp

You can see Dune in theaters now, on Blu-ray, or soon returning to HBOMax.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep154/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Sponsored by Assemble: Assemble has amazing production management software. Use the code cinepod to try a month for free! https://www.assemble.tv/
Be sure to watch our YouTube video of Nate Watkin showing how Assemble works! https://youtu.be/IlpismVjab8

Sponsored by Arri: https://www.arri.com/en

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

December 29, 2021

Seamus McGarvey ASC, BSC on the musical adaptation of Cyrano, shooting in Sicily during the pandemic and on an active volcano

Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey is very happy about being a DP, and his love of the job always takes him through the difficult times. When he sees a movie that actually works beautifully on screen, it makes everything worthwhile.

The new musical Cyrano is based on the stage play by Erica Schmidt, which caught the attention of director Joe Wright, who knew he wanted to adapt it into a film. Stars Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett also reprise their roles in the movie as Cyrano de Bergerac and Roxanne. Wright used the stage play as a guide for what the film should look like, and hired his frequent collaborator, Seamus McGarvey as the cinematographer. The two have now worked on five films together. Seamus wanted the film to feel more intimate than a play, so he chose close up portraiture of the actor’s faces, capturing sensitive performances. Because of the pandemic, Wright felt even more strongly about the story of Cyrano being an outsider, craving love and human connection. They began shooting in the fall of 2020, creating a bubble of performers in the town of Noto, Sicily, with many background actors playing a few different parts. Since Sicily was still locked down for COVID with no tourism and few people out and about, most of the town became the entire set- the locations were all real houses and buildings. The crew was able to shoot with little distraction or interference, and with no bars or restaurants open, they became a tight-knit group.

In his adaptation of Cyrano, Wright was guided by the musical and wanted the dialog to roll naturally into song, which were recorded live during the shoot. Playback had to be done through earpieces for all of the performers so they knew when to sing and dance. Fortunately, all of the actors were such good singers that they didn’t have to do a lot of takes, and they had time to focus on rehearsals and blocking first. Seamus had previously shot the musical The Greatest Showman, and he enjoyed the experience on Cyrano of playing with the rhythm of photography with song, creating a beat to the pictures themselves. The “Every Letter” song sequence in Cyrano reminded him of working on music videos in his early career, and he and the crew had fun creating lens flares with flashlights throughout the scene. They worked with lots of candles and torches, with some LED torches with CGI flames for a nighttime staircase fight scene in the film.

The filming of Cyrano literally ended with a bang. Mount Etna is an active volcano, and Wright chose to film the final battle sequences up the side of it. The weather had turned unseasonably cold and it started snowing, creating a real problem for the set which had to be relocated. The snow would start to melt because the earth beneath was hot with molten lava. Finally, within days of completing shooting and beginning to wrap out of the location, Mt. Etna erupted and the sets were covered in ash. The entire crew quickly evacuated.

Find Seamus McGarvey: Instagram @seamiemc
Twitter: @mcseamus

You can see Cyrano opening in theaters December 31.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep153/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Sponsored by Assemble: Assemble has amazing production management software. Use the code cinepod to try a month for free! https://www.assemble.tv/
Be sure to watch our YouTube video of Nate Watkin showing how Assemble works! https://youtu.be/IlpismVjab8

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

December 21, 2021

Dan Laustsen, ASC, DFF on Nightmare Alley, working with director Guillermo del Toro

Cinematographer Dan Laustsen’s latest movie with director Guillermo del Toro is the film noir psychological thriller, Nightmare Alley. Unlike many of del Toro’s previous films, Nightmare Alley features no monsters or creatures, exploring instead the drama of the monsters within humans. Dan and del Toro had extensive prep and discussion about how to tell the story in a classic film noir way, except with lush vibrant colors instead of in black and white. Part of the movie takes place in the carnival world, so del Toro and Dan had extensive discussions about the color palette. Del Toro had a very precise idea of what colors he wanted and he uses very little color correction in post. Dan decided to paint with light, and draw attention to the beautiful sets as much as possible. The movie was shot mainly at night and indoors so they were able to carefully control the lighting. They chose to light using mainly a single source, and lit the character of Lilith Ritter, played by Cate Blanchett, like a classic movie star. Her lighting was important to the storytelling so the audience sees her as a powerful force in the film. In fact, the lights would also move on a dolly track with Blanchett, or Dan would use a small 1K as a follow spot. For the camerawork, Dan and del Toro wanted all of the shots in Nightmare Alley to be on the move-everything is shot either on a dolly, with a Steadicam or from a crane.

Del Toro & Dan first began working together on Mimic, and they found what Dan considers a similar European sensibility of lighting with a single source, keeping things very dark and having the courage to not show everything. The two didn’t work together again until Crimson Peak but del Toro and Dan have a great rapport, and Dan found that they could pick right back up again.

Find Dan Laustsen: Instagram @dan.laustsen

You can see Nightmare Alley in theaters.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep152/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Sponsored by Assemble: Assemble has amazing production management software. Use the code cinepod to try a month for free! https://www.assemble.tv/
Be sure to watch our YouTube video of Nate Watkin showing how Assemble works! https://youtu.be/IlpismVjab8

Sponsored by DZOFilm: https://www.dzofilm.com/

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

September 8, 2021

Emmy-nominated cinematographer Donald A. Morgan, ASC on The Upshaws, The Conners, Last Man Standing, shooting multi-camera television shows

Cinematographer Donald A. Morgan, ASC has won 10 Emmys and is nominated this year for three more for his work on Netflix’s The Upshaws, Fox’s Last Man Standing, and ABC’s The Conners. Like a few cinematographers, Donald had some experience studying architecture in college, which enabled him to take two dimensional drawings and visualize them in three dimensions. He also thought he’d be a professional baseball player or a musician- his father was a musician who played in Cab Calloway’s band, so Donald grew up around musicians and stages. By his mid-20’s he had a job working at KTTV in Los Angeles in the mailroom while trying to make it with his own band in the 1970’s, and was soon offered a position in the lighting department. He found his experience reading architectural plans made it easy to understand electrical schematics. Donald worked on the lighting crews for several different shows produced by the legendary Norman Lear, such as Good Times, The Jeffersons, and Diff’rent Strokes, plus many other shows. Donald knew working on shows produced by Lear were progressive and groundbreaking for the time, telling stories about people of color like himself, and Lear made it a point to hire a diverse workforce for his shows. Soon, Donald was offered a union job as a DP on two shows on the Universal lot- Silver Spoons and Gloria. Donald was able to learn more about cinematography while working on the Universal lot by visiting several different film stages and making notes on how different DPs worked.

Working on three camera shows, the whole set can be lit before there’s any blocking, because typically, comedies use very high-key lighting. Donald notes where the walls and doors are, and then most sets can be lit with standard three point lighting.  For The Conners, as the show becomes a bit darker, Donald subtly shades the room for more drama, and brightens the room as the mood lightens. Most multi-camera shows use three to four fixed cameras, and dolly in for shots rather than just panning. Donald also uses a jib arm camera on the show Last Man Standing, a technique he began using back on Home Improvement. The jib arm came into use on Home Improvement because the character Mr. Wilson, Tim Allen’s neighbor, was never seen over the fence, and the camera crew had to get creative with how to shoot those scenes.

Donald enjoys working on multi-camera studio shows because it keeps him local, and he’s been able to spend more time with his family with three weeks on and one week off, with the longest days about 10-12 hours. He tries to keep the work as creative as possible, always watching and learning about new techniques he can bring to the shows he shoots. Though Donald is very experienced with shooting multi-camera shows, he will often shoot single-camera short films to keep his skills fresh.

You can see Donald A. Morgan’s work: https://vimeo.com/12993063

You can watch The Upshaws on Netflix and find episodes of The Conners and Last Man Standing on Hulu.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep139/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

September 1, 2021

Director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino and DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom discuss the Netflix film, Beckett and their close collaboration

Director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom have worked together on Call Me By Your Name and Suspira. Ferdinando served as the second unit director on both films. Beckett is the second feature Ferdinando has written and directed. Sayombhu also shot Ferdinando’s first feature, Antonia, and was Oscar-nominated for his cinematography on Call Me By Your Name. Prior to his experience working with Ferdinando and director Luca Guadagnino, Sayombhu built his cinematography career in Thailand, shooting films such as the Cannes festival winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Beckett is a thriller, reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock films, starring John David Washington as an American vacationing in Greece with his girlfriend, played by Alicia Vikander. After a tragic accident, Beckett is pursued by the police and drawn into a political conspiracy while being chased across the country. Ferdinando intended to have the film nod at Hitchcock, but he wanted to stay away from the heightened, perfectly choreographed elements of Hitchcock movies such as North By Northwest, where every scene is a spectacle, with amazing set pieces following one after the other. For Beckett, Ferdinando liked the idea of shooting everything with very natural light, keeping the movie grounded and not quite so heightened. As a hero, Beckett is relatable and believable- when he fights or runs, he sweats, gets out of breath and becomes seriously injured, and all of the action sequences are grounded in reality.

Sayombhu enjoys shooting films using natural light, preferring to reshape or bounce sunlight. If he has to use lights, he uses as few as possible, and in a way that’s almost invisible. He also prefers to light the environment rather than the actor, to give them space to move around, so that they can live in the moment and he can capture it as it happens. When Sayombhu scouts locations, he uses his eyes and his gut feeling to explore the place and memorizes the kind of natural light available, noticing potential issues before figuring out how to overcome them.

To have a good rapport with a director, Sayombhu suggests listening to the director first, and only then make a suggestion that would make it better. Ferdinando enjoys collaborating with Sayombhu because they both understand the importance of preparation during pre-production and research, and they have similar taste in filmmaking and visual language.

You can watch Beckett on Netflix.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep138/

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

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

August 25, 2021

Emmy-nominated Mark Doering-Powell, ASC on grown-ish, challenges of single camera comedies, lighting setup tips, the early days of HD video

When Mark Doering-Powell, ASC was hired as the DP of Freeform’s grown-ish after season one, he knew the show had to expand the storylines of each character’s college experience. He was excited to take more of an anthology approach to some of the episodes, and get creative shooting each chapter with multiple looks.

A single camera half-hour comedy such as grown-ish takes about four days to shoot, creating an extremely tight schedule between prepping and shooting. Mark thinks it’s imperative to be in touch with post and the dailies colorist at the end of each day, so everyone can stay on top of the workload. On a rapid schedule it can be challenging to make the show look cinematic, but finding each character’s point of view helps consolidate the work and keeps each shot economical. Mark favors using “swingles” on grown-ish, where the camera swings back and forth between characters on single shots, saving setup times.

With a focus on each college-age character’s personal life and position on social issues as they navigate their early 20’s, the lighting on grown-ish is intended to make the cast look their best, and sometimes Mark employs classic Hollywood portrait lighting techniques using crisp, controllable hard light. Mark also likes to splash hard light onto the set, letting it naturally bounce off of something that is already in the room. He’s learned to focus on lighting the people and then the space- lighting the space can aid lighting the people.

Mark went to art school in New York, studying painting and graphic design until he found the film department and changed his major to film. He then worked as a Photo-sonics technician, which is a special high speed camera for shooting slow motion, on several commercials in the 1980’s and 90’s. But Mark wanted to focus more on filmmaking, so he quit, moved out to L.A. and started working for Roger Corman’s studio in Venice, including camera assisting on Corman’s famously unreleased 1994 version of The Fantastic Four. A documentary about the production called Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four was made in 2015. 

Find Mark Doering-Powell: www.markdoeringpowell.com
Instagram: @instamdp

You can watch grown-ish Season 4 on Freeform: https://www.freeform.com/shows/grown-ish

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep137/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by DZO FILM: https://www.dzofilm.com/

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