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.

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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June 14, 2023

Abbott Elementary, The Office, Parks and Recreation director, producer and cinematographer Randall Einhorn

Multihyphenate producer-director-cinematographer and all around talented guy Randall Einhorn is currently the executive producer and director of the award-winning ABC show, Abbott Elementary. Randall began his career in series television first as the DP of The Office, then became one of the most frequent directors of the series. He got to know the mockumentary style intimately, and carried it onto many other shows such as Parks and Recreation, The Muppets, and Modern Family.

Quinta Brunson, show creator and star of Abbott Elementary, was a huge fan of The Office and pitched her idea to executive producers Randall Einhorn and Patrick Schumacker. Randall immediately knew that the mockumentary format would work well as they followed the everyday drama of teachers in an underprivileged elementary school in Philadelphia. They began shooting the pilot in August 2021, working with kids who were mostly non-actors and hadn’t been inside a classroom for an entire year due to COVID. Working with kids made everything harder, but also made everything better, and Randall emphasized that they would have a good time every day. The children were so happy and excited to see each other and to be in a classroom, even if it was a set.

On Abbott Elementary, Randall wanted the teachers to be treated like heroes, so they chose to use ARRI cameras and Angenieux Optimo Zoom lenses. The classrooms look inviting, with wood, warm earth tones and bright light coming in from the windows. By contrast, on The Office they would “dirty up” the frame to make it seem more spontaneous, as though something unexpected was actually caught. Randall would pan to someone, purposely defocus, then bring the actor into focus, to make it seem as though it was just caught. For Abbott Elementary, the camera crew keeps everything mostly in focus, but they will make a conscious effort to keep a piece of doorway in the shot, for example, to imply that people are having a private moment with the cameras hanging back. Randall feels that there’s an honesty to using a long lens and backing up so it would look like the actors are having an intimate conversation.

Randall naturally developed his mockumentary shooting style after working on reality and extreme sports shows. Executive producer Ben Silverman saw his work and thought his verite style would work well for The Office. Randall met with executive producer Greg Daniels, and they hit it off. Since he’d never worked on scripted shows before, Randall broke lots of rules that were considered “normal” for series television on The Office, such as operating himself and pulling his own focus. Blocking and planning the camera placement ahead of time was also essential- the camera crew would never put a camera where it couldn’t or wouldn’t be. He also figured out how to add to the improvisational comedy through the camera’s movement and focus. Randall would keep one eye on the eyepiece and another on the actors to see who was going to improv. He’d lean in with the camera on an actor, stepping in closer to make a moment even more awkward. Unlike the British version of The Office, which was always carefully rehearsed, they would just shoot the scenes and reactions, in true documentary style.

Randall’s company, Sad Unicorn, has a multi-year first look deal at Warner Bros. and he will continue executive producing and directing Abbott Elementary.

Abbot Elementary is in its second season on ABC and Hulu, and season three will likely be delayed due to the writers strike.

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
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Twitter: @ShortEndz

June 30, 2021

Cinematographer Alice Brooks on shooting In The Heights, Home Before Dark, working with director Jon M. Chu

Alice Brooks grew up on Broadway musical theater and movies as a kid, and loves shooting music and dance oriented films and TV shows. Alice has always been in awe of dancers, and though she isn’t a dancer herself, she is inspired by their work ethic and loves that she can capture dance with her camera.

Working on In The Heights has fulfilled a lifelong dream for Alice. She and director Jon M. Chu have known each other since college at USC. The two bonded over musicals- she shot his she shot his student short, a musical called When The Kids Are Away in 2002 and worked together again on the film Jem and the Holograms. Alice and Jon were shooting the Apple TV+ series Home Before Dark when he asked her to shoot In The Heights. Jon, choreographer Christopher Scott and Alice had also worked together on a Hulu series called The LXD: The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers for three seasons, and they got used to working together and working quickly, figuring out how tell a story and develop characters through dance. Jon, Alice and Chris Scott felt their whole careers came together to make a musical like In The Heights. The characters’ hopes, dreams, fears and anxieties can be played out not only through song and dance but in the environment around them, which sometimes shifts to where they are emotionally.

With just 49 shoot days, preproduction for In The Heights was essential. Alice and Jon Chu would location scout in the mornings and then spend afternoons in the dance rehearsal space with Chris Scott. They would share their input and make suggestions from each location scout on how to face and orient the dance. Alice and Jon thought at first many more locations would be done on a soundstage, but they found that shooting in real places on the streets looked and felt so true- even the theater and the subway station were real locations. During shooting, every Sunday they would meet and go through the coming week because the schedule was so tight and the camerawork so complex, looking at videos from dance rehearsal to discuss the shots and angles to use, deciding if a crane shot was needed, and how many cameras to use for each scene. Jon made animatics detailing each scene from storyboards and dance rehearsal footage. With 17 song and dance scenes in In The Heights, Jon had huge goals for the musical numbers, and Alice, the dancers and the entire film crew were able to pull it off.

Alice grew up in New York and got into acting at a young age. She and her family then moved to Los Angles, and she realized as a teen that she did not want to be an actor. Being on set around the camera crew made her realize that she wanted to shoot movies, and that being a DP was her true dream. After graduating from USC Film School, Alice asked many of the graduate students if she could shoot their projects, knowing that the key to honing her craft was practice, practice, practice. She shot about 20 shorts, including Jon M. Chu’s musical short, When The Kids Are Away. Alice thinks it’s important to find the right people to work with, since you’re spending so much time together, and forming that bond helps everyone. She wants to make movies that inspire her daughter. For anyone with a family, it’s important to pick the projects that are worth it, since filming can take so much time away from loved ones.

Find Alice Brooks: https://www.alicebrooks.com/
Instagram: @_alicebrooks_

You can see In The Heights in theaters, the best place to experience the film’s immersive sound design and visuals. You can also find it streaming on HBO Max.

Alice’s new musical film directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda is tick, tick…Boom! releasing in the fall.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep130/

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/channel/UCNQIhe3yjQJG72EjZJBRI1w
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

October 12, 2020

DP Eric Branco on The 40-Year-Old Version, Clemency, shooting black and white film, working with director Radha Blank, and more

Cinematographer Eric Branco discovered early on that he enjoyed translating people’s stories into visuals. Eric started out as an actor in high school, but quickly realized no one had any interest in holding the camera except himself. While in film school, he developed an eye and shot several student projects, then found work on film sets in New York as a grip and gaffer while shooting short films on the side.

Eric’s latest film, The 40-Year-Old Version was shot almost entirely on black and white film stock. Director Radha Blank was very firm that the movie be black and white- in fact, when Eric received the script, it read “A New York tale in black and white.” So Eric came with a suitcase full of black and white photo books of New York when he and Radha met, which helped them arrive at The 40-Year-Old Version’s look: a matte texture with a prominent grain. Eric ran several tests to find the perfect film stock for the movie, and shot it handheld with vintage lenses. The movie is a funny, semi-autobiographical story starring Blank as a struggling, almost-40 playwright who is determined not to sell out or compromise her artistic principles and reinvigorates her creativity by becoming a hip-hop artist. The 40-Year-Old Version won the U.S Dramatic Competition Directing Award for Blank at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020. For Eric, it was the third film he’d shot to go to Sundance in as many years. He felt honored to be the cinematographer of Clemency, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2019. Written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu, Clemency took a long time to get off the ground before Alfre Woodard was cast in the lead role.

You can watch The 40-Year-Old Version streaming on Netflix.

Find Eric Branco: https://ericbrancodp.com/
Instagram: @ericbranco

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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/

TO WIN: SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel, LIKE and COMMENT on the “How To Vote” breakdown we just posted! We will randomly select a winner from the comments. We’re expanding and adding to our YouTube channel, so look for new content there, too! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNQIhe3yjQJG72EjZJBRI1w

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep95/

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