February 24, 2021

Sean Bobbitt, BSC, on Judas and the Black Messiah, working with director Shaka King, working with director Steve McQueen on Hunger and Shame

Sean Bobbitt thinks good cinematography is composed of a series of very carefully crafted and decided upon images. He began his career as a news camera shooter, but once he began to work on documentaries and features, Sean learned that each shot is not just coverage to edit together. After working in news and documentary for several years, Sean decided he wanted to transition into working on dramatic films, so he took a cinematography class with acclaimed cinematographer Billy Williams, and it changed his life. He knew he wanted to become a cinematographer. He soon got his first feature film job working on Wonderland, directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a gripping biographical drama about FBI informant William O’Neal and Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton. O’Neil is a small-time criminal who agrees to go undercover for the FBI and infiltrate the Chicago headquarters of the Black Panthers. O’Neal’s tips directly result in Chairman Hampton’s assassination in his bed by police in 1969. Sean found the script gripping and incredibly relevant to today’s ongoing issues of racial inequality. He realized he knew little about the Black Panthers and this chapter of racial injustice in America, and he needed to help tell the story. After reading the script, Sean met with director Shaka King, who brought hundreds of stills of the Black Panthers and talked Sean through the screenplay. Together, Sean and King began to explore what they wanted to visually create. The photographs became the basis for the look and color palette of the film. All the color photos were Kodachrome or Ektachrome, so they had a slightly faded look. Sean wanted high contrasts with punchy primary colors and worked closely with the DIT to get the color grade for the look he wanted.

Previously, Sean had worked on a few biopics with director Steve McQueen, such as 12 Years a Slave and Hunger. Sean finds McQueen a very unique artist and a fantastic collaborator. They’ve worked together for so long that they are very good at communicating on set. McQueen loves long takes, and really began exploring those with Hunger- the film features a 16 and a half minute take, based on the idealogical concept that if you simply hold the frame, the audience begins to project themselves into the action. If there’s no cut, the audience can’t be reminded it’s a film and can’t be let off the hook. Sean learned to compose very considered frames where the action happens. One of the main concepts of the movie Shame was that most New Yorkers live their lives in high rises in the air, and the characters in the film only came down for sordid reasons. Most of the takes in Shame are also very long and purposefully make the viewer feel uncomfortable.

You can watch Judas and the Black Messiah in select theaters and streaming on HBO Max. https://www.judasandtheblackmessiah.com/

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep114/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

February 17, 2021

Lachlan Milne, ACS, NZCS, cinematographer of Minari, Stranger Things, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and more

Lachlan Milne believes that finding a connection and building a friendship with the director of a film is the key to making great art. Growing up in Adelaide, Australia, Lachlan had a clear idea of what he wanted to do from an early age, since his father was a director and his mother was an editor. He got his foot in the door as an assistant prop master, but knew his calling was in the camera department. At first he was barely scraping by from job to job before getting more established as a cinematographer on small movies such as Uninhabited and Not Suitable for Children. His big breakout movie was 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople with director Taika Waititi. Lachlan soon found a niche on challenging but fun supernatural movies such as Little Monsters, Martha the Monster, and Love and Monsters (coming soon to the U.S.) and then began work on the hit series, Stranger Things.

Working on a big budget show like Stranger Things was weird for Lachlan, who was used to making do on small budget movies. Stranger Things has the luxury of shooting on a stage, and everything is a built set, with walls and ceilings that could be removed for ease of shooting and lighting. The crew was even able to customize and control all the neon and lighting in Episode 8- The Battle of Starcourt to make the entire mall flicker on demand.

On his latest film, Minari, Lachlan and director Lee Isaac Chung decided the film needed to be one camera, that the pacing should be languid, simply and naturalistically shot. Lachlan feels that having a low budget actually worked to Minari’s advantage, because the best version of the movie was a film that relied more on capturing the performances rather than big showy shots. He favors holding out for a closeup until it’s emotionally warranted rather than doing it just for the sake of having closeups. Minari was a great opportunity for Lachlan to move back into shooting simple indie films. He and Isaac spent time together carefully shotlisting all the scenes. One of the most challenging aspects of shooting Minari was scenes in the trailer the family lives in. They used an actual trailer, and it was hard to cram sometimes up to 15 people into it, with no air conditioning and a limited range for camera motion and angles.

Lachlan Milne is currently shooting season four of Stranger Things.

You can watch Minari in theaters and streaming on VOD beginning February 26.

Find Lachlan Milne: https://info509786.wixsite.com/lachlanmilne

Instagram: @lachlanmilne

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep113/

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

February 10, 2021

Director Barry Alexander Brown on his film Son of the South, a civil rights movie inspired by the life of activist Bob Zellner

For many years, Barry Alexander Brown labored over bringing his film, Son of the South to the big screen. Barry is best known for his editing work with director Spike Lee, and was nominated for an Academy Award for BlacKkKlansman. Growing up in Alabama, Barry was familiar with civil rights activist Bob Zellner, and he knew he wanted to make a movie about Zellner’s life. Zellner, whose grandfather was in the Ku Klux Klan, became an activist in the civil rights movement while a college student in 1961. His autobiography, The Wrong Side Of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement gave Barry a starting point for his screenplay, which made the rounds and was well received, but no one would commit to making the film. After nearly ten years, Barry gave up on ever being able to make the movie. Then at the end of 2017, Barry got a call from actor Daniel Radcliffe, who really loved the script, but was unable to star in it. This gave Son of the South some heat again, and Barry was able to get more producers on board and raise the money to make the film. Barry wrote some of his personal experiences with segregation into the script, and he hopes Son of the South inspires people to continue to fight for civil rights.

You can watch Son of the South streaming now in select theaters and on VOD.

Hear Barry Alexander Brown’s previous interview with us in 2019, discussing BlacKkKlansman: https://www.camnoir.com/ep31/

Find Barry Alexander Brown- Instagram: @barryalexanderbrown

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep112/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

February 3, 2021

Director Ryan White and cinematographer John Benam on the documentary Assassins

When filmmaker Ryan White first heard about the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in early 2017, he paid little attention to the story until a reporter called to let him know that it might make an interesting documentary. Kim Jong-nam was poisoned in the middle of a crowded Malaysian airport by two young women who smeared a highly poisonous nerve agent on his face. On the surface, these women seemed like bold, cold-blooded killers. But once Ryan and cinematographer John Benam flew to Malaysia to find out more about the story, they soon realized that the political assassination plot went deep, the women might be innocent, and were likely duped by North Korean operatives. The two women, Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong, were put on trial for murder in Malaysia. Ryan was able to speak with their lawyers and eventually interview Siti and Doan. With help from the women’s defense lawyers, the Assassins editorial team painstakingly pieced together all the security footage from the airport and put together the entire sequence of events during the assassination. They were also able to see and use within the film many of the text messages the women exchanged with their handlers, which clearly pointed to their complete ignorance of what they were getting into.

Ryan feels Assassins became controversial and had trouble finding distribution not because of the political content, but because big online companies feared retribution, as occurred with Sony Pictures getting hacked by North Korea when they released the film The Interview.

Cinematographer John Benam has worked on several documentaries with director Ryan White, beginning with the the Netflix series The Keepers, about the murder of a nun and the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Baltimore Catholic Church. When John first decided to make a career out of filmmaking, he knew he wanted to stay in Baltimore, and started working in a camera shop during the switch from film to video. Luckily, Baltimore has a bit of a film industry and he was able to work locally on several TV shows, then got a job working for National Geographic shooting nature documentaries.

For Assassins, John and Ryan dove deep into Siti and Doan’s story, exploring where they came from and what brought them to Malaysia. They felt it was important to have the women tell their own story, and it required patience and sensitivity. John is a mission-oriented, emotional cinematographer, and shooting nature documentaries taught him the skill to sit still, keep a low profile, and watch a story unfold. John had to travel light and nimble, taking dozens of trips to Malaysia for the story over the course of two years while the trial was going on. He used two Canon EOS C300 Mark II cameras for shooting, because of its lightness and small size, staying under the radar from the general public. As he learned about the intricacies of the Malaysian legal system and shot the trial, John felt very emotional about the outcome of a guilty verdict for the women, which would mean execution by hanging.

You can watch Assassins streaming now in virtual cinemas: https://www.assassinsdoc.com

Find Ryan White: http://www.tripod-media.com/

Find John Benam: https://www.benamfilms.com/

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep111/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

February 1, 2021

BONUS Episode: Director and cinematographer John Bailey, ASC on Groundhog Day, Ordinary People, and his past tenure as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

It’s Groundhog Day! Director and cinematographer John Bailey, ASC sat down with us before the pandemic to discuss his work on the film, Groundhog Day, and briefly touched on his other work.

John Bailey feels that the screenplay is the most important part of a film. It can be a leap of faith to work with a first time director, when they don’t have a body of work, so a good script is always a solid starting point. As the DP of Ordinary People, John noticed the craftsmanship of that particular screenplay, which was carefully written and structured for several years by screenwriter Alvin Sargent and first-time director Robert Redford. He knew right away it would become a meaningful and important film. Both Sargent and Redford won Academy Awards for their work as screenwriter and director, respectively, and Ordinary People won the Best Picture Oscar.

Groundhog Day grabbed John immediately as an interesting and offbeat idea for a film, but no one guessed that it would actually become part of the film canon and popular culture. To this day, John is surprised when people tell him how much they like that film and how much it has touched people. The movie famously had its own chaos, since star Bill Murray and director Harold Ramis had a very combative relationship on set.

John spent two years as the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His passion was in furthering the Academy Film Archive, the Margaret Herrick Library, and other AMPAS charitable projects. He became frustrated with the industry’s focus on the Academy’s role in the Oscars and how much punditry went into how to fix the awards process.

Currently, John continues to work as a cinematographer and director.

You can watch Groundhog Day all day long on Feb. 2 on AMC, or stream it (for a fee) on Amazon, Sling TV, or YouTube.

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

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

January 26, 2021

Cinematographer Quyen Tran on Palm Springs, Unbelievable, A Teacher, baking for charity, shooting during the pandemic, and more

With a background in photojournalism and documentary, cinematographer Quyen Tran is drawn to emotional stories and giving voice to victims. But she also has a talent for shooting comedies, such as The Little Hours, the series Camping, and most recently the hit movie Palm Springs. Palm Springs is a comedy about two people trying to escape a time loop, reliving the same day over and over, like Groundhog Day. The film became hugely popular and critically acclaimed during the pandemic, probably because it resonated with everyone locked down and feeling like each day was the same. Palm Springs was shot on a relatively small budget and a pretty fast schedule, so Q was able to call in a few favors to help stretch the budget. She enjoyed working with Cristin Milioti, Andy Samberg and JK Simmons, who was a great foil for Andy Samberg’s character. A great deal of the movie was actually improvised- while it was definitely scripted, there were many alternate takes that made it into the movie. Since the film is about a constantly repeating day, the actors improvising different takes kept the story fresh and each take could be a bit different each time.

Q also shot a few episodes of the Netflix series Unbelievable, a true story about a young woman who is raped and then recants her story. Years later, two female detectives track the serial rapist and prove her story true. The series won a Peabody Award for showing a humanized exploration of rape survival. Q and director Lisa Cholodenko knew they wanted very literal and subjective camerawork, making the camera seem like it was always from the character Marie’s point of view of being sexually assaulted. They had the actress Kaitlyn Dever block scenes in pre-production so that she could help contribute and feel comfortable in the environment. Q chose to place a camera under a table in the interrogation scene so that it could still get a close up on her face, and give a feeling of disembodiment and detachment from her body.

The FX/Hulu series A Teacher explores grooming and sexual abuse, but this time with a male victim. Quyen shot the show in a naturalistic way as she did with Unbelievable. She wanted to stay true to the material and help the viewer emphasize with the victim.

One of Q’s passions in life is cooking and baking, and during the pandemic in her down time, Q and her friend and fellow DP, Jeanne Tyson, decided to start Doughrectors of Photography. In exchange for a donation to the LA Food Bank or other charity such as Vote Blue, patrons receive a loaf of homemade sourdough and/or cookies. Doughrectors has now donated over 100,000 meals to the L.A. Food Bank, and they continue to bake and raise money.

Most recently, Quyen was shooting Maid with director John Wells in Victoria, BC. They had to follow strict COVID protocols, including quarantining for two weeks before shooting. She was able to have a lot of prep time over Zoom with the director. The crew had to have masks on at all times of course, and were tested 3 times per week, taking their time and limiting the amount of people in the space.

You can check out Doughrectors of Photography and find out how you can donate and get some delicious baked goods on Instagram at @doughrectorsofphotography

You can hear our previous interview with Quyen Tran: https://www.camnoir.com/ep26/

Find Quyen Tran: https://www.qtranfilms.com/
Instagram: @qgar

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep110/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

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

January 20, 2021

War Stories Vol. 5: Tales from the Set featuring Newton Thomas Sigel, Lije Sarki, Dan Kneece, Jeff Cronenweth, Tony Liberatore, Trevor Forrest, Iris Ng, Bill Totolo, Johnny Derango and Alex Winter

Special: The Cinematography Podcast- War Stories Vol. 5

In our fifth War Stories Special, we feature ten 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! www.camnoir.com
Cinematographer Tom Sigel experiences a fight on the set of Three Kings; producer Lije Sarki and the horror film that never saw the light of day; Dan Kneece on working in Chile for a job; Jeff Cronenweth figured out an elaborate ruse to steal a shot while shooting The Social Network; storyboard artist Tony Liberatore on finding his career path; Trevor Forrest talks about one of his more unusual and life-affirming gigs; Iris Ng on the bureaucracy in Iraq to shoot at Shanidar Cave; Bill Totolo experiences the Survivor reality show shoot from hell; Johnny Derango races to get a shot; and finally, Alex Winter on shooting with a wind-up Bolex in a mosh pit.

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/warstories5/

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

January 12, 2021

Tami Reiker, ASC on One Night in Miami, working with director Regina King, The Old Guard, early career on High Art, Pieces of April

Tami Reiker, ASC focuses on how to make beautiful, authentic performances while maintaining the director’s vision. Her most recent film, One Night in Miami, is full of amazing performances. Directed by Academy Award winning actress Regina King, One Night in Miami is based on real events, when Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown met in a hotel room to celebrate Ali’s fight victory over Sonny Liston. The film is based on a play by Kemp Powers, which presented a challenge for Tami since most of it takes place in one hotel room and it’s almost entirely dialog. All the actors had very busy schedules, so she and Regina King had only four days for rehearsal. King had very specific ideas about the type of film she wanted to make, and they planned the blocking and the shots together. It was also important for King for Tami to reproduce some of the scenes from historic reference photos, such as the original Hampton House hotel, Cassius Clay working out in the swimming pool, the diner, and the fight scenes. To give One Night in Miami a less static feel, Tami kept the camera moving, hiding some in walls on the set and using a jib arm, keeping her shots fluid so that the camera feels like a fly on the wall during the men’s conversations. Tami chose an Alexa 65 and used Prime DNA lenses with Bronze Glimmerglass to give the movie a vintage look.

Growing up, Tami was always interested in photography. She attended NYU film school, where she worked on several student films and met director Lisa Cholodenko, with whom she later shot the film High Art. The 1990’s to the early 2000’s was the heyday of indie filmmaking and with the advent of digital cinema, Tami was excited to be involved with independent production companies such as InDigEnt, which produced Pieces of April in 2003 starring Katie Holmes. InDigEnt’s business model allowed each person on the crew to own a percentage of the movie. Tami shot the film on a mini DV camera, and she still gets a residual check for Pieces of April today.

One Night in Miami can be seen at drive in theaters in Los Angeles and is available to stream on Friday, January 15 on Amazon Prime.

Find Tami Reiker: http://www.ddatalent.com/client/tami-reiker-asc
Instagram: @tamireiker123

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep109/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

January 10, 2021

Jake Swantko, DP and producer of The Dissident, on working with director Bryan Fogel and shooting the controversial documentary

Cinematographer Jake Swantko spoke with us last year at the Sundance Film Festival after the premiere of The Dissident, the documentary he shot with director Bryan Fogel. Jake and Bryan had previously collaborated on the Oscar-winning film, Icarus. The Dissident explores the assassination and international coverup of outspoken Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Once director Bryan Fogel learned more about the circumstances surrounding the death of Khashoggi, he knew this was another important- and dangerous- subject to film for his next documentary. Bryan took the idea to Jake, who also worked as a producer on the film, and they began the grueling process, traveling to Canada and Turkey multiple times to interview Khashoggi’s close friend and Saudi insurgent Omar Abdulaziz, speaking to Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz, spending a year digging into the case and meeting with the Turkish government. The Dissident team knew they had to have the cooperation of Turkey to shoot the story, since Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and they eventually scored an interview with Irfan Fidan, the chief prosecutor in Istanbul who investigated the murder. Since The Dissident was so huge in scope, Jake knew he wanted to elevate the production value of the film and shot it like a dark thriller. He set up most interviews formally instead of run-and-gun style, with three cameras and one on dolly track to push in on the subject’s face.

Despite being well received at Sundance, The Dissident struggled to find a distributor, even from Netflix, who had championed Icarus. Amazon Prime also would not buy the film, despite Jeff Bezos briefly being in The Dissident- Jamal Kashoggi wrote for his newspaper, The Washington Post and Bezos’ phone was hacked by Saudi Arabian government hackers. It seems the streaming services feared retaliation by the Saudi government and didn’t want to risk losing viewers in that market. Briarcliff Entertainment finally championed The Dissident, and it is currently available on VOD.

The Dissident is available to stream now on video on demand services. https://thedissident.com/

You can hear our past interview with Jake Swantko in 2018 talking to us about the Oscar winning documentary, Icarus. https://www.camnoir.com/special-swantko/

Find Jake Swantko: https://www.jakeswantko.com/
Instagram @swantko

IT’S A GIVEAWAY! Last week to enter to win Bruce Van Dusen’s book, 60 Stories about 30 Seconds: How I Got Away with Becoming a Pretty Big Commercial Director Without Losing My Soul (or Maybe Just Part of It). Like and comment on our Bruce Van Dusen post on Facebook and we’ll choose a winner from the comments. https://www.facebook.com/cinepod

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep108/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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

January 5, 2021

Best Of 2020 featuring Bradford Young, Kira Kelly, Greig Fraser, Anthony Dod Mantle, Wally Pfister, Brendan Davis, Don Coscarelli, Frederick Wiseman, Iris Ng, Bruce Van Dusen, Julie Taymor and Ron Howard

In our first-ever Best Of compilation episode, we have a dozen clips of listener favorites from 2020 and some of our selects as well.

Cinematographer Bradford Young goes deep into his filmmaking philosophy and influences, such as on Selma; Kira Kelly talks about making the documentary 13th with director Ava DuVernay; Greig Fraser on Lion, Star Wars and The Mandalorian; Anthony Dod Mantle describes exploring New York City for The Undoing; Wally Pfister on his early career working on Roger Corman movies; Brendan Davis on leaving China as the pandemic hit; director Don Coscarelli remembers working with cinematographer John Alcott on The Beastmaster; legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman talks about his process of assembling his films; cinematographer Iris Ng on making documentaries that are personal narratives; commercial director Bruce Van Dusen tells an anecdote from an Ex-Lax commercial; director Julie Taymor on the visual language of The Glorias; and finally director Ron Howard on directing the documentary Rebuilding Paradise versus his approach to narrative films.

Be sure to check out the full episodes, and let us know what you think!

IT’S A GIVEAWAY! Enter to win Bruce Van Dusen’s book, 60 Stories about 30 Seconds: How I Got Away with Becoming a Pretty Big Commercial Director Without Losing My Soul (or Maybe Just Part of It). Like and comment on our Bruce Van Dusen post on Facebook and we’ll choose a winner from the comments. https://www.facebook.com/cinepod

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/bestof2020/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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