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