February 9, 2022

Academy award winning cinematographer Linus Sandgren, FSF, ASC on No Time To Die and Don’t Look Up

Acclaimed cinematographer Linus Sandgren just happens to have two Oscar nominated films out right now- the new James Bond movie, No Time to Die and the Adam McKay satire, Don’t Look Up. Both films are extremely different from each other, and Linus was excited to work on both. Linus says that working on a Bond film is about creating a heightened reality, escapist adventure that romanticizes action and espionage. Don’t Look Up is also about creating a type of heightened reality, but in an absurd, satirical way that tells the truth.

Linus was very excited to shoot No Time to Die with director Cary Joji Fukunaga. Linus always tries to find a story and script that he hasn’t done before, and it was a new challenge for him to take on a film with so much action. They focused on making it their own Bond, rather than looking at previous James Bond films. No Time to Die even begins differently from past Bond films- instead of an action set piece, Linus and Fukunaga chose to create a horror movie feeling in the opening. For the opening sequences of No Time to Die, Linus set the creepy tone, choosing monochromatic grays and icy blue skies, and a very isolated location. By contrast, the very next action sequence featuring Bond is full of harsh bright sun washed in yellows and browns. For every film Linus shoots, he likes to have keywords for the emotions in the script to guide him in prep for different scenes, such as horror, grief, loss, humor, etc. and decides how to address those emotions visually. Linus and Fukunaga also discussed the expectations of a Bond film: an entertaining action-packed joyride, but still have No Time To Die act as a final chapter wrapping up Daniel Craig’s arc as James Bond.

Don’t Look Up is a disaster-movie satire film directed by Adam McKay. Linus felt the script was terrific and horrific at the same time, and it was clear to him that McKay wanted to comment on how people’s personal and political agendas cause them to ignore glaring problems, such as climate change, and hijack the actual solution that could save lives. Linus felt like it was an important and hilarious film to shoot. He decided that the visuals should feel like a political thriller, because the comedy and satire would come through in the writing. Linus would dolly in to create tension, use longer zooms to compress the shots, then go close up with a macro lens in order to get right on a character’s eyes. The shoot required a lot of extras, which was made even more challenging with COVID protocols. Linus had to be creative to figure out how to shoot with fewer extras, using longer lenses so the physical distancing wouldn’t be as apparent, and they often re-used the same actors in different scenes since they were in a quarantine bubble together.

Find Linus Sandgren: Instagram @linussandgren_dp

You can purchase and stream No Time to Die on AppleTV, Amazon, Vudu, or your preferred service. Don’t Look Up is available on Netflix.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep158/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Sponsored by Arri: https://www.arrirental.com/en

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

December 15, 2021

Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Elswit, ASC on King Richard, Nightcrawler, Boogie Nights and Magnolia

Legendary cinematographer Robert Elswit has shot a wide range of movies, including Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood- which won him the Academy Award for Best Cinematography- Magnolia, Good Night and Good Luck, Tomorrow Never Dies, The Bourne Legacy, two Mission Impossible movies, and of course Return of the Living Dead Part 2.

Robert’s latest film is King Richard, a biopic that tells the story of how Richard Williams, the father of tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, was determined to shape his daughters into champions. From the beginning, Robert and director Reinaldo Marcus Green wanted the tennis to be realistic. They watched many other tennis movies and didn’t find the speed and athleticism of the actors to be believable. They knew it was going to be tricky dealing with actors pretending to be tennis players. Fortunately, the story was about Venus and Serena developing and honing their tennis skills, so the playing didn’t have to look perfect. The matches were carefully designed around scripted beats that moved the story forward. Robert and Green decided to show only specific moments of the matches, including how Venus and Serena interacted with other players, how the parents interacted with their kids, and how Richard interacted with the coaches and his kids. They were careful in thinking about how to shoot the match, keeping it as interesting and as believable as it could be in terms of speed and athleticism but also making sure that the audience understands what is happening emotionally with the characters. For the look of King Richard, Robert chose several different types of filters and diffusion to represent the light in Compton, but didn’t use as many for Florida, so that the sun could feel more bright and harsh.

Robert’s throughline for Los Angeles for the film Nightcrawler was shooting the ribbons of freeways that run through the Valley, as the main character Louis Bloom drives around LA looking for crime as a news stringer. It was impossible to fake it with a green screen. Robert, the cast and crew had to literally drive around and shoot Los Angeles at night. They had no time or budget to light things, so they scouted locations that were already lit. He took advantage of the street lights and the ambient light from billboards and stores. This approach gave the movie its distinctly seedy look, and Robert felt it was clearly the only approach that fit the script.

You can see King Richard on HBO Max.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep151/

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 Aputure: https://www.aputure.com/

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

May 5, 2021

Randy Thom, Oscar-winning Director of Sound Design at Skywalker Sound, on The Midnight Sky, Apocalypse Now, The Right Stuff, The Empire Strikes Back, and more

Randy Thom feels it’s important for the sound elements of a film to be present right from the start, at the script writing stage. Sound is an important tool for a filmmaker because it “sneaks into the side door to your brain” and enhances the emotional impact of the film. As George Lucas once told Randy, sound is 50% of the movie experience. After working in the sound department on over 150 projects and winning two Oscars, Randy has helped elevate motion picture sound into an art form, and is often involved in the creative process right from the beginning. He thinks it’s important for the sound production mixer to be as involved in preproduction with the director as the DP and production designer are, in order to think about the sound possibilities within the movie.

Randy stumbled into sound design later in life, starting out in college radio, then moving to the Bay Area in the 1970’s to work professionally in public radio. Once he saw the movie Star Wars, it changed his life, and Randy decided he really wanted to transition from radio into film. Through a friend, he managed to get in touch with Walter Murch, who worked as a sound designer at Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Studios. He sat in on a remixing session of American Graffiti, and Walter Murch next hired him to work on Apocalypse Now as a field sound recordist, where he spent his time recording sound for a year and a half. Randy began working in sound at a time when Northern California filmmakers George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Phil Kaufman had a shared philosophy that fresh sounds should be collected for each project.

Each movie should have its own sound style, which can be difficult to articulate to a director, much as a cinematographer talks to the director about the visual style. Sound styles are audio look books for your ears. For example, when Randy created the auditory experience for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he had to think about what elements would create the sounds of magic, which had to be based in the natural world. Things disappear and reappear through the transporter in a Star Trek movie as well, but the sound style is distinctly electronic and digital. The sounds used for a transporter would be jarring in a Harry Potter movie.

After Apocalypse Now, Randy was asked to record sound effects for Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back with supervising sound editor Ben Burtt. They needed to find the right sound elements for the Imperial Walkers. Randy found metal factories through the phone book, and was able to go record metal sheer noise from the factory in person. The metal noises Randy recorded comprise about 90% of the Imperial Walker sound effect.

For the Robert Zemeckis movie Contact, sound plays an important role. Jodie Foster’s character, a scientist listening for alien life in the universe, finally hears an alien signal. Randy and Zemeckis had to decide what that extraterrestrial signal would sound like. As the sound designer, Randy had input in preproduction early on and gave Zemeckis his take on how much sound to use in the visual sequences traveling through space.

There was little dialog in the film The Midnight Sky, so Randy could collaborate closely with composer Alexandre Desplat. Randy integrated radio signal sounds with the score, so that it would sound interesting but not conflict harmonically with the music. For the dramatic ice breaking sequence in the film, they knew they needed an organic, natural sound, so he accessed the sound library at Skywalker Sound, using several types of ice breaking, even reaching out through contacts to find sound recordists who could get the raw recordings of breaking ice that were then layered and pitch manipulated to help them stand out and not just become background noise.

You can see The Midnight Sky streaming on Netflix.

Read Randy Thom’s tips for sound design on his blog: https://randythomblog.wpcomstaging.com/

Find Randy on Twitter: @randythom

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep123/

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 28, 2021

Dana Gonzales, ASC, director and cinematographer of Fargo and Legion, on creatively rich television, moving into directing, and more

Dana Gonzales, ASC loves pushing himself to use creative lighting, lenses and camera moves to transport the audience into the story. While working on the mind-bendingly surreal television series Legion and the cinematic, character-driven crime stories of the series Fargo, Dana found a true creative home with producer and showrunner Noah Hawley. With Hawley, Dana has been able to explore how to create and maintain an image that challenges himself and makes an audience feel differently than they’ve ever felt before. Audiences today are more sophisticated and crave good visuals and storytelling. Dana sees many of today’s television series leading the way in artistic expression, which is why huge actors and directors are getting involved. Writers can tell a 10-hour story, fully developing characters and plot, while the director and camera crew can build a world with a strong visual foundation to hold it up. Dana finds today’s TV is certainly still challenging- shooting on tight schedules requires staying sharp all the time, and strong visionary showrunners and producers keep everyone motivated.

For season four of the FX series Fargo, Dana shot three of the episodes and directed four, including the season finale. Being involved with Fargo since season one helped Dana confidently bring a point of view to the story. He thinks one of the most important aspects of directing is offering an interesting perspective that makes the most of the story, characters and tone. Working with cinematographers Erik Messerschmidt and Pete Konczal, they changed the look of the show to a small degree, using different lenses and framing, and departed from a strict adherence to the visual LUT of the first seasons. They instead decided on a Kodachrome look, which was also the first color film used in season four’s time period. The biggest challenge of season 4 was shooting the tornado sequence- partly shot in black and white as a callback to The Wizard of Oz, the complex storylines leading up to and in the aftermath of the tornado all had to seamlessly weave together.

As a kid, Dana grew up in L.A. He was always naturally attracted to cameras and began taking photos at a young age. He found jobs on film sets as a driver, set PA, loader and camera assistant, and worked his way up while shooting small side projects. Just working on low budget movies, where Dana was able to be bold and experiment, served as his film school. He maintains the philosophy that every single job needs to be an artistic statement better than the last one, with each script informing his approach differently. After several years working on features and television, Dana moved into directing, where he feels you’re even more the author of a show than as a cinematographer. He continues to enjoy working as both a cinematographer and as a director.

Dana loved working on the series Legion, where producer Noah Hawley gave him the freedom to be extremely bold and experimental. For Legion, Hawley wanted surreal, elevated images with beautiful and dramatic lighting, that both embraced and reimagined the comic book/graphic novel look. If they tried something and it didn’t work visually, they would simply reshoot it. Even though they had access to a visual effects team, Dana chose to build most practical effects in camera, such as stacking several filters onto the lens to create a super surreal look for some scenes, knowing he would be satisfied with the results instead of leaving it up to post production or visual effects to create his vision.

You can see season four of Fargo on FX and on Hulu.

Find Dana Gonzales: https://www.danagonzales.com/
Instagram: @dana_gonzales_asc

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep122/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Aputure: https://www.aputure.com/

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