March 6, 2024

Jenelle Riley, Variety’s Deputy Awards and Features Editor, discusses the 2024 Academy Awards nominations

Long-time friend and colleague Jenelle Riley of Variety magazine chats with Ben and Illya for our fifth annual Oscar nominations special. With a focus on cinematography, they discuss what they liked, what will win, what should win, and their favorite movies of the year that may have been overlooked. They also talk about the past year in movies, Oscar campaigning and the accusations of film “snubs.”

Here’s a rundown of some of the films and topics discussed in this episode. Listen to our recent interviews with the nominated DPs as well as other films of note!

Spike Lee, who won an ASC Board of Governors award
Hoyte Van Hoytema, Oppenheimer, who also won an ASC award for theatrical feature film
Ed Lachman, El Conde
Matty Libatique, Maestro
Robbie Ryan, Poor Things
Rodrigo Prieto, Martin Scorsese Killers of the Flower Moon
Barbie, Ryan Gosling
Nyad, Anette Bening
The Holdovers (DP Eigil Bryld) , Alexander Payne, Da’Vine Joy Randolph
Past Lives (DP Shabier Kirchner), Greta Lee
American Fiction (DP Cristina Dunlap)
Wonka
Saltburn (DP Linus Sandgren)
The Killer (DP Eric Messerschmidt)
May/December

Find Jenelle Riley on Instagram and X: @jenelleriley
and Variety: https://variety.com/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com

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

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
Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com

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

December 28, 2022

Matthew Libatique, ASC on shooting Don’t Worry Darling and The Whale

We welcome cinematographer Matthew Libatique, ASC for his third time on the podcast. For this interview, Matty, Ben and Illya have a more technical discussion about lenses, LUTs and cameras used on Don’t Worry Darling, A Star is Born and The Whale.

For the film Don’t Worry Darling, Matty found it easy to find the right mid-century modern visual style, since the production design, costumes, hair and makeup were all influenced by that distinctive look from the 50’s and 60’s. Director Olivia Wilde wanted to invoke the Rat Pack era of Las Vegas and Palm Springs. She also heavily referenced the 1975 movie The Stepford Wives, along with an 80’s and 90’s thriller element from movies like Devil’s Advocate. They were able to shoot some of the exteriors at the historic Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs, while all the interiors were sets. Matty chose the Arri Alexa Mini LF camera for the larger sensor, so they had more focus fall off on the wider focal lengths. He also wanted as much color in the frame as possible, and chose a LUT that accentuated the reds, oranges and yellows without affecting or oversaturating the skin tones. The lenses he used were Blackwings and Sigma Classics, because he liked the multiplicity of lens flares.

Matty immediately went from shooting Don’t Worry Darling into prepping and shooting The Whale with director and frequent collaborator Darren Aronofsky. They spent some time figuring out how to take a play and translate it into a film, where Charlie, the main character, spends most of his day stationary on a couch. Matty and Aronofsky realized that using 4:3 framing to hold the vertical in the foreground solved the problem. Aronofsky also wanted to block the scenes so that the camera wouldn’t be stationary and static the entire time. Matty chose to use the Sony Venice camera for the first time, due to its light sensitivity, with Angenieux Optimo Prime lenses. The camera movement was dictated by the characters who come and go around Charlie, so different scenes were marked with a wide shot, then pans and forced cuts to make it more visually interesting. As for the composition of each scene, the camera had to follow the eyeline of where each character is looking. Matty also used as much minimalist, naturalistic lighting to tell the story. He used the windows as a light source to show subtle changes in the weather outside of the apartment, and while there were not a lot of windows, it helped show the passage of time and affected the mood of the film as the days pass in the story.

Find Matty Libatique: Instagram @libatique
Don’t Worry Darling is available streaming on Hulu and HBO.
The Whale is currently in theaters.

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

April 14, 2021

Matthew Libatique, ASC, PART 2: Tigerland, The Fountain, working with Spike Lee, Straight Outta Compton, Iron Man, A Star is Born

In Part 2 of our interview, we continue our conversation with cinematographer Matty Libatique.

After Pi, Matty couldn’t believe that such a small movie shot on 16mm black and white film opened so many doors for him. He began to get calls for large Hollywood movies, such as Tigerland with director Joel Schumacher. Schumacher, known for big-budget, glossy films like Batman and Robin, was looking for a new look for the gritty Vietnam training camp film, starring an up and coming Colin Farrell. Matty and Schumacher decided to shoot hand-held 16 mm for Tigerland so that it would amplify the anger, stress and pain of preparing for war.

Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing influenced Matty’s path to a career in cinema, and he had the honor to work with Lee on four films, including Inside Man. Matty found Lee’s approach to film to be incredibly unique. Lee would decide scenes with multiple cameras could become one camera done in one shot, or plan that a single camera scene should be done with multiple cameras and angles. Matty thinks that as a DP you are a collaborator and need to be present as a fellow filmmaker and not as a fanboy, so he resisted telling Lee that Do The Right Thing was the reason why he went into film. Matty also got the chance to work with another hero of his, director and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, who shot Do The Right Thing, on the film Never Die Alone.

Matty teamed up again with director Darren Aronofsky on The Fountain, an incredibly surreal sci-fi love story that takes place across space and time. It was a big challenge for Matty to bring Aronofsky’s vision of The Fountain to life, bouncing ideas off Aronofsky’s astrophysicist collaborator, who described what other universes might look like. By contrast, their next movie together, Black Swan, was a stripped down thriller, focused on taught performances and choreography. Black Swan earned Matty his first Academy Award nomination for cinematography.

Surprisingly, working on the first Iron Man movie felt to Matty just like working on a giant independent film. With a comedic star like Robert Downey Jr. and an experienced comedic director like Jon Favereau, the two often reworked the script before shooting scenes. Matty had never worked on a project with such a large budget, and he helped create the look of the Marvel cinematic universe.

When Matty heard Straight Outta Compton was in developement, he immediately asked his agent for a meeting with director F. Gary Gray, because he was such a big fan of the hip-hop group NWA. The film is about the origins of NWA’s generation-defining album and the story of the band, but it was not a straightforward biopic, and Matty wanted to make sure the movie had the right look and feel for the era.

For 2018’s A Star is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, Matty and Cooper, who also directed the film, wanted to pay homage to the other two versions but Cooper’s take on the story was definitely different. They decided to feature more musical performance in their version, and early into shooting, Cooper changed the ending so that the main character, Jackson Maine, doesn’t die in a motorcycle accident. Matty found that Bradley Cooper has the ability to clearly explain what he sees in his imagination, and his acting experience enabled him to be aware of where the camera was positioned so he didn’t have to watch playback of his scenes.

Matty’s film, The Prom, can be streamed on Netflix. He is currently shooting the film, Don’t Worry Darling, directed by Olivia Wilde.

Hear Part 1 of our interview with Matty Libatique: https://www.camnoir.com/ep120/

Hear our 2019 interview with Matty Libatique: https://www.camnoir.com/ep33/

Find Matty Libatique: Instagram @libatique

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep121/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNQIhe3yjQJG72EjZJBRI1w
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

April 6, 2021

Matthew Libatique, ASC, PART 1: The Prom, Pi, working with director Darren Aronofsky and his early career

Cinematographer Matty Libatique’s work ranges from mind-bending features like Pi, Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream to huge Marvel movies such as Iron Man and Birds of Prey. He enjoys balancing his work on both large films and smaller indies in order to feel satisfied and to keep his craft sharp.

For his latest film, The Prom, Matty met with director Ryan Murphy about the project. The star-studded cast and the message about gay acceptance appealed to him. But once Matty saw the Broadway play he was concerned- he had never shot a musical before, and he wasn’t quite sure how to translate a big Broadway musical into a movie. Matty had worked on several music videos and was the cinematographer of 2018’s A Star is Born, which featured musical performances, but it was incredibly gritty and grounded in reality compared to The Prom’s bubbly feel-good fantasy world. He and director Ryan Murphy met and knew they wanted to keep it big and colorful while not going too over the top. Murphy loves working with color, and the two decided The Prom had to feature two distinct palettes of colors- the yellow/browns of normal Indiana contrasted with the bright pastels of “the prom” and the theater people who descend on the town. For the final scene in the movie where all the characters go to the all-inclusive prom, Matty and his team utilized a full array of lights on stage that they programmed on the fly.

Growing up, Matty was always attracted to light, camera and composition in movies, but he didn’t understand what anybody did on a film set until he saw Do The Right Thing. The Spike Lee film made him realize he wanted to make movies. He went to AFI film school along with director Darren Aronofsky and the two bonded right away. They began making movies together in a partnership that continues today. Matty says of his long relationship with Darren Aronofsky that when you keep working with the same directors, it’s a sign you’re doing the right thing and dedicating your craft to the right ideas. Their first feature together, Pi, had to be created within the parameters of an incredibly low budget. Aronofsky couldn’t afford to shoot color film, only Super 16mm black and white reversal, so Pi had a grainy, gritty look and style immediately. A few scenes in Pi use a body-mounted rig to give it a first-person perspective. Matty and Aranofsky first saw the rig used by Icelandic cinematographers Eidur and Einar Snorri, now known as a Snorricam, and knew they wanted to use it in Pi- but the key was to use it sparingly.

Matty’s film, The Prom, is currently on Netflix. He is currently shooting the film, Don’t Worry Darling, directed by Olivia Wilde.

Hear our 2019 interview with Matty Libatique: https://www.camnoir.com/ep33/

Listen for Matty Libatique, Part 2, coming next week! He talks about Tigerland, The Fountain, working with Spike Lee, Iron Man and more.

Find Matty Libatique: Instagram @libatique

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep120/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNQIhe3yjQJG72EjZJBRI1w
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

March 17, 2021

Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC on Snowfall, working with the late John Singleton, Spike Lee, Straight Outta Compton, Tales, Kalushi and more

Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, ASC uses light and color to help emphasize the drama and power of each scene on the FX series Snowfall. He enjoys putting opposing colors in the scenes to subtly suggest any underlying subtext and shifts in power between the characters. Tommy knows that understanding light and knowing how to photograph dark skin is important in a series revolving around primarily African American and Latino characters. Snowfall, created by the late John Singleton, is a period drama that takes place in 1980’s Los Angeles during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. For Tommy, Snowfall feels personal after growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s in the inner city neighborhood of Mattapan in Boston. Mattapan got the nickname of “Murderpan,” and crack addiction personally affected his own family.

As the lead cinematographer on season four of Snowfall, Tommy reads each script, meets with the showrunners, and even goes into the writer’s room to talk to them about the subtext in certain scenes to devise a color schematic for each storyline. He develops an idea of his approach and watching the blocking on set allows him to try different things. Snowfall is pretty collaborative- John Singleton helped develop an African American cultural understanding on set, often taking suggestions from people’s lived experiences. Tommy says many cultural nuances come from behind the lens, and Black actors, crew members, and people from the neighborhood make the show.

Tommy first got into the business as a production assistant in New York, moving up to grip/electric while going to college in Massachusetts. He started working with Spike Lee on commercials as a gaffer and as an operator on Lee’s miniseries, When the Levees Broke. After attending AFI (American Film Institute), Tommy met fellow cinematographer and mentor Matty Libatique, who brought him on to Iron Man 2 and Straight Outta Compton. Tommy went on to shoot Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu in South Africa, and television series such as Tales, On My Block and Empire. Several years ago, Spike Lee had introduced Tommy to John Singleton at Singleton’s birthday party. Singleton stayed in touch and later saw Tommy’s work on the BET anthology series Tales, and approached him to shoot Snowfall.

You can see Snowfall on FX on Hulu. https://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/snowfall

Find Tommy Maddox-Upshaw: http://www.maddoxdp.com/
Instagram: @themaddoxdp

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep117/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

October 9, 2020

War Stories Vol. 4: Tales from the Set featuring Quyen Tran, Mike Figgis, Dan Laustsen, Abe Martinez, Bill Wages, Larry Fong, Vanja Černjul, Rachel Morrison, Linus Sandgren, Stefan Ciupek, Matty Libatique

Special: The Cinematography Podcast- War Stories Vol. 4

In our fourth War Stories Special, we feature eleven guest’s harrowing, hilarious or heartwarming stories they had while on set, or a formative career experience that led them to cinematography.

Find full interviews with each of our featured cinematographers in our archives!

Cinematographer Quyen Tran on her life-changing experience after 9/11 in New York; Mike Figgis and a nearly disastrous screening of Timecode; Dan Laustsen tells the story of how his sister influenced him to go to film school; Abe Martinez serendipitously found the perfect house while staying in Kenya; Bill Wages was dissuaded early on from becoming a National Geographic Magazine photographer; Larry Fong talks about getting his big break with JJ Abrams on Lost; Vanja Černjul on his secret to decompressing after wrapping on a big shoot; Rachel Morrison’s story of making a huge mistake as a set P.A. with Matty Libatique; Linus Sandgren on his early days working as a gaffer with a seasoned electrician; Stefan Ciupek talks about the blooper in the single-take film, Russian Ark; and finally, Matty Libatique on getting real concert footage for A Star Is Born.

Do you have a War Story you’d like to share? Send us an email or reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/warstories4/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz