January 19, 2022

Quyen Tran, ASC, on directing and shooting episodes of the Netflix limited series Maid

Cinematographer Quyen Tran, ASC enjoys telling stories that are compelling and have impact and meaning. Q’s previous work on the show Unbelievable led showrunner Molly Smith Metzler and executive producer John Wells to ask her to shoot Maid, a limited series for Netflix. Maid deals with the complex issues of poverty, domestic abuse, the working poor, addiction, single parenthood and mental health. With amazing performances by Margaret Qualley, Andi McDowell and young actor Rylea Nevaeh Whittet, the series handles all of these heavy and heartbreaking issues with sensitivity, peppered with moments of levity and joy.

For Q, shooting Maid was incredible, and incredibly challenging. It was her first job during the pandemic, beginning in August of 2020, and the crew had to quarantine for two weeks in Victoria, British Columbia, wear masks, get frequent COVID tests and follow strict COVID protocols. Quyen thought she would only do the pre-production and shoot the pilot because she didn’t want to leave her family for very long.

Quyen shot extensive tests for the look of Maid. She knew it would be primarily handheld, which creates intimacy and forces a personal perspective on the viewer. Q decided she wanted to use the Alexa Mini and Panaspeed lenses because of the vintage, soft look, and they allow for close camera to subject distance. As part of the pre-production process, Q created a look book for the whole series that the other DPs could pick up and reference.

After shooting the pilot, Q returned to Los Angeles. Then, right after the holidays, director/executive producer John Wells asked Quyen to come back and direct episode eight of Maid. Although Q had a little bit of experience directing, it was very scary for her to even think about directing in a narrative format. She never went into filmmaking to become a director, and never had the desire to be one. But she knew she could do it because she was so familiar with the characters and the story. As both DP and operator on the show, Q already had a rapport with the actors, but now as a director, it was about discussing the motivation of why their characters were doing certain actions. She also had to keep three year old actor Rylea Whittet engaged with the action. As Maddy, single mom Alex’s daughter, Rylea is in nearly every scene and Q often entertained her with piggyback rides and games. For her directorial episode, Quyen camera prepped everything and storyboarded the entire episode. One of the most visually interesting and challenging elements in the episode Q directed is the couch that literally pulls Alex in and swallows her. Q and the production designer worked together for about three weeks to create the couch that Alex could sink right into and disappear.

During the pandemic and in their down time, Quyen and her friend and fellow DP, Jeanne Tyson, found a passion for making sourdough bread. They started Doughrectors of Photography and in exchange for a donation to the LA Food Bank or other charity, patrons receive bread, cookies or other goodies. You can check out Doughrectors of Photography and find out how you can donate and get some delicious baked goods on Instagram at @doughrectorsofphotography

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

You can see Maid on Netflix

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep155/

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 DZOFilm: https://www.dzofilm.com/

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

December 8, 2021

Jeff Cronenweth, ASC on Being the Ricardos, working with Aaron Sorkin, shooting a 1950s period film

Jeff Cronenweth, ASC understands that creating a period piece such as the film, Being the Ricardos, involves lighting and set design, period costumes, hair and makeup styles, and of course, positioning the camera. For today’s more sophisticated and contemporary audiences, everything must be shot in a more dynamic way than in the staid 1950’s style. Jeff and director Aaron Sorkin had the TV show I Love Lucy to work from as well as photographs from the I Love Lucy set, which were invaluable for recreating scenes for the movie. They also watched films that take place in the 1950’s such as LA Confidential, Carol, and Peggy Sue Got Married, to see how those filmmakers approached the time period, while carefully crafting their own unique vision of what 1952 looked like. Jeff created four looks for the time periods within Being the Ricardos: 1952, where most of the story takes place; contemporary interviews from the mid-90’s by the story’s narrators; the 1940’s with flashbacks to when Lucy and Desi first met; and then black and white footage paying homage to I Love Lucy that represents what is going on in Lucy’s imagination. For the black and white sequences, Jeff embraced the theatrical “fashion noir” look using a starlight/hard light method for portrait photography from that time period.

Jeff and director Aaron Sorkin had previously worked together on The Social Network for just one scene. Being the Ricardos was their first real opportunity to collaborate for a longer amount of time. Aaron Sorkin is known for crafting fast and complex back and forth dialog, and his writing style was similar for Being the Ricardos- tight, structured, and well thought out with brilliant dialog. Jeff found Sorkin’s script created a sturdy framework for the entire movie- when the script is really confident and solid, everyone else on the film has a clear map of how and where they can be creative within those parameters. As the cinematographer, Jeff knew the actors would have fast, overlapping lines and were on an emotional roller coaster as they navigate through a crisis. He used lenses with a very close focus to give the feel that the characters were in a world that made them feel vulnerable and alone. He decided to use as much contrast as possible, balancing light and dark throughout the movie while still creating richness and depth with points of light in the background.

Being the Ricardos is in theaters December 10 and will be on Amazon Prime Video December 21, 2021

Find Jeff Cronenweth: https://www.ddatalent.com/client/jeff-cronenweth-asc-narrative

Instagram: #jeffcronenweth

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep150/

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 Arri: https://www.arri.com/en

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
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

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

November 7, 2018

Ep 26 – Quyen Tran, DP of HBO’s “Camping” talks her filmography, working with Alan Ball, Lena Dunham and finding work/life balance behind the camera

The Cinematography Podcast Episode 26 – Quyen Tran Director of Photography Quyen Tran DP Quyen Tran most recent project is the Lena Dunham-created HBO series, Camping.  In this interview  she talks about her early work and desire to focus on narrative storytelling, both in comedies such as The Little Hours, Deidra and Laney Rob a Train