January 31, 2024

American Fiction cinematographer Cristina Dunlap

The film American Fiction has been nominated for over two dozen awards, including five Academy Awards. Director Cord Jefferson is a seasoned writer who worked on acclaimed series such as Watchmen, Station Eleven, and The Good Place. He adapted the screenplay and wrote the script for American Fiction himself. Jefferson knew that he would also like to direct the film, although it would be his first time ever directing.

Cinematographer Cristina Dunlap knew immediately after reading the script that she wanted to work on the film. “I think there’s always a concern every time you work with a new director, just learning their style and how they work. But the second I sat down with Cord, I could tell immediately that he was going to be a wonderful person to work with because he is just very joyous and positive and excited, collaborative and open to ideas. And so when we started talking about the script, it was really more excitement. And, you know, he was very honest. He said, ‘I’ve never even directed traffic before. So you’re going to have to maybe hold my hand through some things or answer questions.’ And I was completely willing to do that.”

Fortunately, Cristina and Jefferson had about eight weeks of prep time in Boston, with only about 25 actual shoot days. Cristina likes to break down each scene psychologically, to explore visually what each character is going through. They scouted locations with the rest of the crew, and spent time figuring out the blocking so that they would have a concrete plan when the actors were on set. Cristina relied on the Artemis Pro app to map the location spaces which really helped create photo storyboards, figure out the lighting setup and plan Steadicam moves. She knew it would be challenging to be able to fit everything in on each shoot day, especially when there would be six or seven people in a scene. The beach house was an especially challenging location for lighting- it had dark wood walls and low ceilings. Cristina knew they wanted to able to see the ocean through the windows, but they couldn’t afford to light with a Condor lighting rig every day from the outside. She had to pull out a lot of lighting tricks and build off the practical sources in the space. For one scene, an arborist helped the gaffer by climbing a tree in order to rig several gem ball lights in the branches.

Cristina got her start in photography. She went on to shoot music videos for artists such as Coldplay and Lizzo, and was the DP of the 2022 Sundance Audience Award winning feature, Cha Cha Real Smooth.

American Fiction is in theaters now.

Find Cristina Dunlap: https://www.cristinadunlap.com/
Instagram: @cristina_dunlap

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