December 30, 2020

Erik Messerschmidt, ASC: Mank, Mindhunter, Legion, Raised By Wolves, working with David Fincher

Erik Messerschmidt, ASC believes that cinematographers get too much credit for how a movie looks and not enough for how the story is told. When you break a scene apart and assemble a sequence, the cinematographer has a huge part to play in the process of deciding when to move the camera, what lenses are used, how it flows and when it moves. Erik thinks when you look at it that way, cinematography has a lot more in common with editing rather than photography.

Erik’s most recent project, Mank- which is currently streaming on Netflix- was shot entirely in black and white. The look was the result of lots of conversations with director David Fincher. They both had a clear idea of what they wanted it to look like and also exactly what they did not want- too much heavy handed, contrast-heavy black and white cinematography in a film-noir style would take the viewers out of the experience, so it needed a lighter touch. Erik used fine art photography from the ’30’s to the mid ’40’s as a reference, and he and David Fincher wanted an homage to Citizen Kane without it actually looking like the film. Fincher was clear that he wished to transport the audience so they would lose their awareness of watching a black and white movie, and feel as though they are in the world of Herman J. Mankiewicz as he writes the script for Citizen Kane in the 1940’s.

Erik has worked with director David Fincher on several projects, first working as a gaffer on Gone Girl, then moving into the camera department on the series Mindhunter. Erik and David have become very close collaborators, and he enjoys working with him. Fincher likes a sense of hyper reality to his movies, and Erik sees it as his job as the cinematographer to learn what the director responds to, figure out how best to support their process and bring something to the party.

Before moving into the camera department, Erik worked for several years as a gaffer. After working with David Fincher on two seasons of Mindhunter, Erik needed more work since he was a newly minted director of photography. He got the opportunity to shoot second unit on Sicario: Day of the Soledado with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski as the lead DP. He then worked on a few episodes of the TV series Legion with producer/director Noah Hawley and DP-turned-director Dana Gonzales, which was visually fun to work on. Legion’s look was whimsical yet dark, as it explored the main character’s mental illness and possible superpowers. He had the opportunity to work with Dana again on the finale of season four of Fargo. Erik also shot several episodes of the Ridley Scott series, Raised By Wolves, splitting the series with DP Ross Emery.

Mank is available to watch right now on Netflix.

Find Erik Messerschmidt: Instagram @emesserschmidt

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Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep107/

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November 11, 2020

Iris Ng, documentary cinematographer of Stories We Tell, Shirkers, Making a Murderer, and more

As primarily a documentary cinematographer, Iris Ng always asks where the camera should be at a given moment and how is it supposed to behave. She approaches a project asking about the perspective- is it supposed to be deeply personal, from within the lived experience of the person it’s about, or more observational and objective, from the outside looking in?

Quite a few of the documentaries Iris has worked on are deeply personal stories. Her first big feature was on fellow Canadian Sarah Polley’s film, Stories We Tell. The film integrated Sarah’s family home movies, shot on Super 8, into contemporary interviews with Sarah’s family members, and reenactments shot on Super 8 with actors in 70’s and 80’s era costumes. Iris ended up using several Super 8 cameras to shoot with, since the film cartridges are so short and the cameras had to be constantly swapped out and reloaded. Stories We Tell required a great deal of sensitivity as each person told their story of Sarah’s mother, Diane, a charismatic actor with many secrets who passed away in 1990. The documentary was critically acclaimed and received an Oscar nomination.

Iris took a similar approach to the documentary Shirkers. Like Stories We Tell, Shirkers uses personal excavations and film material from the past to examine it for answers. As a teen, writer/director Sandi Tan and her friends had made an indie film in Singapore called Shirkers. Their film teacher disappeared with all the footage once shooting had wrapped, and Sandi wanted to tell the story about tracking down what happened to the film through interviews with friends while going back to retrace the experience. They chose interesting setups and locations for interviews, and Iris would often turn the camera on Sandi to capture her reactions as she was reliving her past.

For the Netflix documentary series Making A Murderer, Iris had a different challenge. Iris came to the project on year nine of filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos’ ten year process of shooting the series, and used her artistic eye to help elevate and add to the the previously shot footage. Each of the two seasons was 10 episodes long, so it was a matter of ensuring that there was enough coverage and angles, such as the exteriors of the Manitowoc County Courthouse for the filmmakers to work with.

Iris Ng is currently shooting more narrative projects, such as the web series Hey Lady for CBC Gem.

Find Iris Ng: http://iriscinematography.com/
Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep100/

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October 16, 2020

Phedon Papamichael, ASC on The Trial of the Chicago 7, working with writer/director Aaron Sorkin, and more

Phedon Papamichael’s latest project is The Trial of the Chicago 7, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. The bulk of the story centers on the 1969 trial of seven men accused of inciting a riot in the park outside of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In Phedon’s view, a film is actually made three times: it’s conceived in the writing process, developed during principal photography, then reinvented and finalized in the editing process. When working with a director and writer like Aaron Sorkin, the way the film is scripted is exactly what he wants to see on the screen. The person speaking must be on camera, and specific shots are needed to sync with the rhythm of his words, like a poem. Sorkin is not a technical filmmaker, and after their initial meeting, Phedon knew Sorkin would rely heavily on him for creating the visuals. Since the majority of the action takes place in the courtroom, Phedon had to generate visual interest, making sure they had the right lenses and angles to enhance the drama, and to get good reaction shots of the jury and spectators. He used the lighting within the courtroom to enhance the moods and tension, and adjusted the light coming through the windows to reflect the changing seasons. When shooting the protests in the park and the violent clashes with the police, the camera crew went hand-held documentary style. Some of the footage from the protests was actually intercut with real footage taken from a film called Medium Cool, a combination documentary/fiction film by famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who shot actual footage of the riots in the park from the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

You can watch The Trial of the Chicago Seven streaming now on Netflix.

Find Phedon Papamichael: https://www.phedonpapamichael.com/
Instagram: @papa2

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IT’S A BOOK GIVEAWAY! Enter to win the Video Palace book- Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man Collected Stories- signed by our host, Ben Rock, who also authored one of the stories! The book expands the world of the Video Palace podcast that Ben directed for Shudder. http://videopalace.shudder.com/

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Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep96/

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September 21, 2020

Ben Kutchins, Emmy-nominated cinematographer of Ozark, on creating the look of the show, working with Jason Bateman, the Veronica Mars movie, Mozart in the Jungle

Cinematographer Ben Kutchins feels that in filmmaking, you have to be fully committed to believing the story you’re telling, and your focus must be unwavering when shooting. There is no other story happening in the world other than the story you’re telling. This single-mindedness has served Ben well when shooting the series Ozark for Netflix, which is shot with very controlled light sources and camera movements. Every scene in the show is planned out carefully to reveal more about the story or the character. He and director/producer Jason Bateman wanted it to always look dark and shadowy, and many of the shots in the show are done as “oners,” or one long take. It might take seven to ten takes to get the oner, depending on how intricate it is. Before Ozark, Ben started off exploring still photography as a teen, then landed an internship at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), which led to a production assistant job at ILM. He had the opportunity to use the lab at Lucasfilm to experiment and process film to understand how it could look. But Ben knew his passion was film, so he enrolled at NYU Film School in order to learn more and work with other young filmmakers such as Rachel Morrison and Reed Morano. He shot about 60 short films in two years, then worked on several indie films before getting hired to shoot the Veronica Mars movie and then the Amazon series, Mozart in the Jungle. Shooting Mozart in the Jungle gave Ben the opportunity to work with and learn from very seasoned directors. He thinks working in television has been an amazing opportunity to collaborate with other DPs and that television has helped him develop a style and hone his craft.

You can find Ozark season three streaming on Netflix.

Find Ben Kutchins: http://www.benkutchins.com/
Instagram: @benkutchins

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep92/

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June 24, 2020

Xavier Grobet, ASC on HBO’s Watchmen, going to film school with Mexican filmmakers Rodrigo Prieto and Alfonso Cuarón, early experience on films Total Recall, Revenge, Before Night Falls

The Cinematography Podcast Episode 80: Xavier Grobet

Mexican-born DP Xavier Grobet grew up surrounded by visual images. His mother was a professional photographer, and from an early age, Xavier made his own Super 8 movies every summer with his cousins and family members. He started out going to architecture school, but soon decided his passion was film. Xavier’s generation of fellow Mexican filmmakers, “Chivo” Emmanuel Lubezki, Rodrigo Prieto, and Alfonso Cuarón were also attending film school at one of the two main colleges in Mexico City. One of Xavier’s early experiences was operating the third camera on a French film, Les Pyramides Bleues, with Alfonso Cuarón as the assistant director. Many American productions were shooting in Mexico at the time, so Xavier was able to work on huge movies like Tony Scott’s Revenge and Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Once he moved to America, it took awhile to get established again, but he got a big break shooting the Julian Schnabel film Before Night Falls and the series Deadwood. Xavier Grobet’s most recent work has been on HBO’s phenomenal series Watchmen, on episodes three, five, and seven. Going into the world of Watchmen proved to be a huge challenge, because each episode works as its own separate piece, but required a familiarity with the script for the entire series to ensure the consistency and look of the story. He always found ways to shoot from different angles, and used blue lighting selectively to suggest and reveal Dr. Manhattan. It was daunting working within the framework of the show’s look and following its guidelines, but Xavier embraced it and made it his.

See Watchmen on HBO: https://www.hbo.com/watchmen

Find Xavier Grobet: http://xmexdp.com/ Instagram: @xmexdp

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep80/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com
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May 18, 2020

BONUS Episode: Oscar-nominated cinematographer Xiaoding Zhao on the movie Shadow and working with director Zhang Yimou on eleven films, including House of Flying Daggers

The Cinematography Podcast Bonus Episode: Xiaoding Zhao

Illya sat down with cinematographer Xiaoding Zhao and Shadow producer and translator Ellen Eliasoph at Cameraimage 2019 to discuss the film Shadow. Director Zhang Yimou and Zhao worked together to create a very distinctive color palette, wanting it to appear to be like a Chinese ink brush painting. The costumes are also all in gray or black for the same ink washed look. It also enabled the color of red blood to show bold and bright against the duller background. For Shadow, Zhang Yimou chose to make most of the action design in constant rain, which proved a huge challenge for Zhao. Getting the proper lighting was difficult, because he wanted to use a softer light on the actor’s faces, but illuminating the hard contrast on a wet and dark exterior was also important. Zhao actually started off life as a professional speed skater, but got injured and couldn’t continue, so he began taking photos and videos of his speed skating team. He found he really enjoyed the work and was admitted to the prestigious Beijing Film Academy. Zhao and Zhang Yimou have made 11 movies together, including the acclaimed House of Flying Daggers, for which Zhao received an Oscar Nomination in 2004.

You can stream Shadow right now on Netflix. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGetemRDuVY

Find Xiaoding Zhao: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1618536/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cr31

Special thanks to Shadow producer and translator Ellen Eliasoph

Zhao was featured in the May issue of American Cinematographer: https://ascmag.com/articles/asc-close-up-zhao-xiaoding

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

Website: www.camnoir.com
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May 13, 2020

Toby Oliver, ACS talks Dead To Me Season 2, working with Jordan Peele on Get Out, horror films The Darkness and Happy Death Day, Mötley Crüe movie The Dirt, and the upcoming Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar

The Cinematography Podcast Episode 74: Toby Oliver

Toby Oliver was an experienced cinematographer in his native Australia for a few decades before moving to the U.S. and establishing himself as a DP. He worked with fellow Aussie director Greg McLean on Wolf Creek 2 and other horror genre movies for Blumhouse Productions such as The Darkness. When shooting any genre or time period, Toby believes color palette is important and enjoys working with production designers to fine-tune the look. This was especially true for the Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt, which takes place across the 1980’s. Consistency and continuity of visuals have also played a big part in Toby’s films, such as Happy Death Day and the sequel, Happy Death Day 2 U. Both films rely on the “Groundhog Day Trope”- as in, the main character must repeat the same day over and over again, so keeping continuity in sets, camera setups and lighting was important. Toby met director Jordan Peele through his connections at Blumhouse. Jordan Peele, as a first time director, needed an experienced DP and hired him for Get Out. They collaborated closely and created the look of “The Sunken Place” in the movie. For Season Two of Netflix’s Dead to Me, Toby tried to keep the look of the show consistent with the first season, just tweaking lighting and camera angles to be more flattering to the actors. It took a little bit of adjustment getting used to shooting series television, but Toby also got to rely on his horror background for some of the creepier scenes.

Dead to Me Season Two is currently streaming on Netflix https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmU7ylnmn_M

Find Toby Oliver: https://tobyoliver.com/
Instagram @tobyoliverdp
Twitter @tobyoliver67

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep74/

Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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March 18, 2020

DP Kira Kelly on working with director Ava DuVernay, her Netflix series Self Made, 13th, Queen Sugar, East Los High

Cinematographer Kira Kelly had years of experience before director Ava DuVernay approached her to shoot her documentary, 13th. For 13th, DuVernay was interested in creating artful, composed shots rather than the typical “talking heads” of most documentaries, and pushed Kira and the team to get creative about how it was framed. The film examines the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, yet the mass incarceration of African-Americans continues to this day as its own kind of slavery. 13th was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2017. Kira collaborated with DuVernay again on the second season of the critically-acclaimed series, Queen Sugar. When she was first starting out, Kira worked as a gaffer before moving into the camera department and establishing herself as a cinematographer, shooting a small independent film called Were the World Mine. Producer/director Carlos Portugal noticed her work and hired her to shoot four seasons of Hulu’s Emmy-nominated series, East Los High.

Kira Kelly’s latest show is a limited series for Netflix called Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C.J. Walker, starring Octavia Spencer. The series is based on the real-life story of an African American washerwoman who builds a hair product empire to become the first female self-made millionaire. Self-Made is on Netflix beginning March 20. https://www.netflix.com/title/80202462

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep67/

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January 7, 2020

DP Paula Huidobro on Barry, Tallulah, working with Bill Hader, Emmanuel Lubezki, and Norman Lear

Paula Huidoboro first became drawn to telling a story with images as a young teen while taking photography classes at the local museum of modern art. One of her early learning experiences was as a camera intern for well-known cinematographer “Chivo” Emmanuel Lubezki. Paula was thrilled to work with actor/creator Bill Hader on finding the balance between violence and comedy on the HBO hitman/dark comedy “Barry.”

December 30, 2019

Walt Lloyd, ASC on Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Kafka, Short Cuts, The Hitcher, The Perfect Storm, Pump Up the Volume, Empire Records, Alien Raiders, and much more

Walt Lloyd happened upon John Boorman’s crew shooting Deliverance in Georgia and decided he wanted a job in the movie business. His first big break was as a camera assistant on the 1983 film Never Cry Wolf, directed by Carroll Ballard. One of Walt’s earliest films as director of photography was on sex, lies and videotape for first-time feature filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. Host Ben Rock and Walt Lloyd also have a personal connection- Walt was the DP for Ben’s feature film, Alien Raiders.