February 20, 2024

Bonus Episode: Past Lives cinematographer Shabier Kirchner

In this bonus episode of The Cinematography Podcast, we interview Shabier Kirchner, the cinematographer of Past Lives. The film is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

Past Lives, written and directed by Celine Song, is about childhood sweethearts reconnecting as adults after many years. When cinematographer Shabier Kirchner, who is from Antigua, was sent the script, it immediately resonated with him. “Past Lives was not just a standalone amazing script, but I found myself in the material. A lot of what I was going through, being an immigrant to the US, being from the Caribbean, reconnecting with a friend, falling in love, all of that stuff was happening while I was reading the material and it just felt like it was written for me.”

Shabier and director Celine Song had an amazing first conversation, and he wasn’t aware that she’d never made a film before. Fortunately, they had an extensive amount of time to prep the movie, and they chose to shoot on Kodak 35mm film. The film takes place in New York and Korea, and they knew they had to shoot it out of order, starting with all of the New York scenes which take place later in the story. Shabier and Song also spent time discussing how to use the language of the film to express what the characters were experiencing. Past Lives tells a story about how relationships change over time. Shabier chose to translate this into deliberate pacing with long tracking shots, keeping the lighting natural and simple. In the film, natural elements tell the passage of time as well, through rain, clouds and the changing light. Even the characters Nora and Hae Sung tell a story about time in their movements. “We were speaking about the final scene in the film, and I asked Celine a question of what direction should they walk? In a very Celine fashion, she (said) ‘Well, they should walk right to left because that is into the past. And she should drop him off in the past and then walk from left to right back into the future and up the stairs.’ That very small and simple moment in our conversation led and informed the entire language of the film in terms of how we move the camera from left to right.”

Shabier broke out as a cinematographer a few years ago on director Steve McQueen’s five-part anthology series, Small Axe, winning a BAFTA for lighting and photography. The series tells both real and fictional stories about London’s West Indian community in the 1970’s and 80’s. McQueen chose to treat each episode as a series of small films, rather than a TV series. They would discuss and prep one, scout it, shoot it, break for a week, then begin prep for the next episode. Starting with Mangrove, the longest in the series, they shot in order as much as possible, with Lovers Rock next. Shabier says it was a nice release for the crew’s pent-up emotions on Mangrove, which dealt with anti-police protests and then the trial of nine Black men accused of starting a riot. They knew they could put joy and energy into Lovers Rock, a much simpler story about a house party, love and music. Shabier thinks McQueen structured the shoots for Small Axe in a way that was very smart, creating a serious mood when they needed to be serious, and lightening the mood as needed.

Past Lives is still in some theaters and available on VOD. https://a24films.com/films/past-lives

The Small Axe series is on Amazon Prime.

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com

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

May 31, 2023

Ted Lasso cinematographers David Rom and Vanessa Whyte

The show Ted Lasso has truly become a feel-good TV phenomenon for Apple TV+. With tons of new subscribers after its premiere in 2020, it saved the brand-new streaming service and was Apple TV+’s top comedy in 50 countries. Ted Lasso seemed to tap into what many people needed during the pandemic. It’s a positive and uplifting show about Ted, a fish out of water determined to spread joy and inspire confidence while coaching the AFC Richmond football (soccer) team in England.

Cinematographer David Rom has been shooting Ted Lasso since the pilot. He and co-creator/star Jason Sudeikis worked out the look of the show together with the production designers. They wanted to find a look that was clean, bright and saturated, but not look like a network comedy. It was a challenge to make so many offices and locker rooms look interesting because they had to be lit from above. David and director Tom Marshall used the sports films Moneyball and I, Tonya as references for the pilot episode. David chose to shoot with the ARRI Alexa LF with Tokina lenses to get the big, colorful look. The show frequently uses a single camera, handheld approach even though they often need several cameras to cover the action. Many of the scenes are rewritten, changed or improvised in the moment, so both David and fellow cinematographer Vanessa Whyte have to be ready to think on their feet.

DOP Vanessa Whyte joined Ted Lasso in season 2. As the seasons of the show have progressed and the characters deepen, the look of Ted Lasso has also progressed, with room for experimentation in a few episodes. For example, in the episode “Beard After Hours,” Vanessa got to have fun with more psychedelic and dreamlike camera work as Coach Beard parties his way around London after a team loss. Vanessa also found that each season has a lot of episodes that refer back and tie in to previous episodes. With help from the show’s DIT, she would reference these previous scenes, in order to match up the shots and storylines neatly. She finds that the fans of Ted Lasso notice and appreciate when they’re able to recognize a callback.

Ted Lasso IS about football, and for all of the football sequences, the show has a special second unit for shooting the games. David and Vanessa use a large crew to shoot on the field, with many extra cameras. The crew is not allowed to shoot on any actual football pitches, and all of the stadiums where the games are played are recreated with computer graphics, and a CGI crowd. Most of the practices and games are actually shot on the Hayes and Yeading Football Club pitch. A few small greenscreens are strategically placed on the field and behind the goals, and the CGI team does their magic to turn it into a stadium.

For both David and Vanessa, shooting in the UK can be a nightmare with the unpredictable British weather. Vanessa says that it’s definitely part of the training for any European cinematographer. The weather regularly shifts from clouds to sun to clouds and rain. They always need to build in more time to shoot, and have plenty of lights as backup with color grading in post to correct for drastic light and shadow changes. After season 1, the crew built a set instead of using a real location for Rebecca’s office, since it was so difficult to control the lighting in the south-facing windows.

Ted Lasso is streaming on AppleTV+.

Find David Rom: http://www.davidrom.com/
Instagram: @davidrom_dop

Find Vanessa Whyte: https://www.vanessawhyte.com/
Instagram: @noodlle

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Greentree Creative: www.growwithgreentree.com

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