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 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

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

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