April 3, 2024

Dune: Part Two cinematographer Greig Fraser, ACS, ASC

Cinematographer Greig Fraser, ACS, ASC doesn’t see Dune: Part Two as a sequel, but as simply the second half of the Dune story. Shooting the second movie made Greig feel “emboldened, to make decisions that we may not have made in the first instance. We weren’t necessarily considering how to outdo ourselves. I think the fact that we were kind of riding a wave- no pun intended- but a wave of success for that last movie.”
Dune: Part Two was shot digitally on the ARRI ALEXA 35, the ALEXA 65 and the ALEXA Mini LF then printed to 70 mm film in post production for the final print. Greig prefers the look of film to that of raw digital, but he doesn’t feel like he has to shoot on film. He used a small set of spherical lenses that were easily transportable.

Lighting for the movie included plenty of hard light and open shade, since most of Dune: Part Two takes place in the harsh desert sands of Arrakis. Greig chose to uplight in order to illuminate faces, because harsh sunlight would naturally bounce off the ground and reflect upwards onto the characters. “I think that the most important thing in this movie is that everything feels honest. When you’re going to extremes in a story, if you’re running a thousand foot long sandworm in the middle of the movie, which is obviously fantasy, then you’ve got to also fill it with reality and honesty. You can tell Denis’ direction with the actors was absolutely honest. I needed to make sure that I had the same kind of approach for the lighting.”

The production featured a massive crew, shooting in four countries: Budapest, Italy, Jordan and Abu Dhabi. The second unit was essential for staying on schedule. Greig also relied on his DIT to help him match shots across different locations, sometimes months apart. He often had to choose whether to shoot on the sound stage or outside on location for the desert sequences. Though filming outside was best for daylight, the reality is that real sand is messy, uncontrolled, and harsh on equipment. The huge sandstorm sequence was shot on the soundstage, which was pumped full of atmospheric haze and color graded in post to be sand colored.

Greig enjoyed testing and using infrared black and white film for the gladiator-style fight scenes on Giedi Prime. He used a modified ARRI ALEXA 65 to shoot infrared. Since the people there have very pale white skin, he imagined that Giedi Prime has only infrared light from the sun, and no visible sunlight.

Greig partnered with actor Josh Brolin to create a beautiful art book of photography called Dune: Exposures. It features photos he took on the set of Dune and Dune: Part Two, with prose written by Josh Brolin. You can find it at Insight Editions or on Amazon.

Find Greig Fraser: Instagram: @greigfraser_dp

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October 11, 2023

The Creator cinematographers Greig Fraser ASC, ACS and Oren Soffer

Filmmaker Gareth Edwards and co-cinematographers Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer embraced the unconventional while making the new science fiction movie The Creator. From the camera used, to how it was shot, to the visual effects, the team brought together film techniques both new and old.

It’s rare to have two cinematographers working on the same film, but Greig Fraser had a set date to begin prepping for Dune and could not be on location in Thailand for shooting The Creator. Gareth was the co-writer, director and camera operator on the film, and Greig knew Gareth needed support prepping the camera and lighting each location. Greig enjoyed the close collaboration with another cinematographer while shooting the series The Mandalorian and he knew having a second DP would be the ideal situation for shooting The Creator. Cinematographer Oren Soffer was brought in, and Oren, Gareth and Greig all prepped the film together, discussing in detail how Gareth wanted to tell the story. Once shooting began, Greig was tasked with managing the LUT and screening the dailies in a Los Angeles theater, while Gareth and Oren managed the day to day on set. Oren and Greig would talk every day about lighting setups, and they both appreciated having another DP around for feedback and ideas. With a collaborator, they both felt like working on the film was less stressful and it led to better creativity.

As Greig told us in his interview with The Cinematography Podcast in 2022, The Creator was shot on a Sony FX3. The FX3 is a very affordable, small, lightweight camera that Gareth was familiar with. It was easier for him to move around handheld, explore his shots, and have the freedom to interact with his actors. Gareth’s approach to The Creator was documentary-style, much like his first film, Monsters, but it was important to him that it still looked composed like a film. The FX3 could deliver a quality image at the level they needed for color grading and for visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic to add VFX. Oren points out that if a camera can deliver an image quality that looks like what you want, and fits the technical specifications you need, then any camera the director or DP chooses is the right tool. The images shot on the FX3 did have a lot of digital noise at higher ISOs, but this was a look they embraced for its similarity to film grain. The tools a cinematographer uses will continue to evolve and unlock more creativity. With advances in post production and lighting technology, how the image is made matters a lot less. The most important thing to consider is how does the audience respond to the film? Is the cinematographer doing their job as the storyteller? For his part, Greig likes to know about all the tools available to tell the story, and he wants to have enough knowledge about what’s possible to pass on to a director when he’s asked.

While shooting The Creator, Gareth would let the crew know the general story beats they needed for the day, but he would not share the shot list- it was a reference he kept for himself, so that he could shoot on the fly in an improvisational manner. As the operator, he didn’t need to spend a lot of time explaining the shots he needed to get, or rely on storyboards. Since the visual effects were designed after the footage was shot, the storyboards only acted as a reference. Gareth wanted all of the pieces, including the action, to have the energy of spontaneity. Oren was able to “set up the sandbox for him and the actors to play in. It meant lighting more broadly, but we would know which direction he’d be shooting, and augmenting it on a shot by shot basis with small LED lights or a helios tube on a boom pole. It was like growing a film in a pot of dirt in your backyard.”

For the visual effects on The Creator, Gareth chose to be very sparing in his use of 3D special effects., spending the budget only when it was needed to render detailed objects like the robots. As a big visual effects nerd, Oren says a key component to creating a sci-fi world like this is having a director who knows what they want and having very talented VFX artists such as those at ILM who understand what is needed without wasting time on 3D images when a 2D matte painting would work just as well. The intricate 3D modeling was saved for what is seen in the foreground. An on-set visual effects supervisor gathered information, mainly about how things were lit, that could be used for 3D modeling later.

For Oren, the whole experience was life-changing, shooting all over Thailand, in over 80 different locations throughout the country. He’s very proud of the movie, and felt very inspired to work with a director like Gareth, a maverick who’s constantly open to exploring new things. He was also inspired by Greig’s equal openness and creative collaboration.

The Creator is currently playing in theaters.

Find Oren Soffer: https://www.orensoffer.com/
Instagram: @orensofferdp

Find Greig Fraser: http://greigfraser.com/work/
Instagram: @greigfraser_dp

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October 4, 2023

Silo cinematographer Mark Patten, BSC

Cinematographer Mark Patten, BSC’s most recent project, Silo, is a post-apocalyptic science fiction drama that’s been a huge success for AppleTV+. The thousands of people who live in the silo don’t know why the silo exists, who built it, or why the world outside is uninhabitable. Citizens who express a desire to go outside, or are convicted of a crime, are sent outside to “clean” the cameras and never survive. After being recruited as the new silo sheriff, engineer Juliette starts to uncover shocking secrets and the truth about the silo.

Silo was shot in Essex, England in a huge former cold storage facility. The set had to be completely built out, retrofitting the space into a working film stage. Lighting rigs were hung even before the sets were built so that the set building and production design crew could see in such a huge dark space. The production crew built three working levels of the actual silo set, complete with the spiral staircase. Mark found the richness of the set decoration created a lived-in, worn down place that made the silo itself seem like a character. Everything is very analog or “lo-fi sci-fi” in this dystopian world. It was interesting to think about how society would act together, in a closed vessel, and maintain their sanity in a locked in culture, especially after just coming out of the pandemic. Mark thought of the Silo as a slow ship moving through time, and it felt like shooting a submarine film. The central staircase acts as a helix through the society of the silo, and Juliette is climbing her way up through the layers of it to solve a mystery.

Mark worked alongside production designer Gavin Bocquet to visualize the Silo’s society, honing in and letting the visuals sing. He decided to subtly use different color palettes for each level. It was a great way to add texture to the images, with the mechanical level becoming very desaturated, except for some touches of bright yellow and orange glow from the heat of the power generators. Since the silo is a mile down into the ground, there is no natural light at all, and Mark needed to figure out what would motivate the light all the way at the bottom. He decided the lighting in the top of the silo would be strongest, and the light would filter down from there. Practical lights were built in everywhere throughout the set and as characters descend to the lowest level of mechanical, the practical lights are the only source. Since every light source was designed and built in, there was no hard light anywhere to manipulate, so for Mark it was an exercise in restraint manipulating reflective light.

Mark recently finished shooting Season 2 of Andor on Disney+.

Silo is available to stream on AppleTV+.

Find Mark Patten: https://www.markpatten.tv/
Instagram: @kiesh

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July 19, 2023

Junk Film: Why Bad Movies Matter author Katharine Coldiron

Author Katharine Coldiron wrote her book, Junk Film: Why Bad Movies Matter around thirteen essays exploring movies from the 1940’s to the 2010’s. Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Staying Alive, and the musical television show Cop Rock are just some of the disastrous projects explored in the book. Katharine feels that bad movies can be unintentional teaching tools for film students and movie aficionados- but you have to watch a ton of bad movies before you can learn anything from them.

There are specific elements that all bad movies share: insufficient resources, incompetence in the basics of filmmaking, and bad acting or screenwriting that create unintentional comedy. Bad movies are actually records of ATTEMPTS at making a movie, and you can see the broken mechanics of each project discussed in Junk Film. In writing the book, Katharine chose to focus on movies she was interested in exploring. She didn’t want to write about movies that have been well-covered. For example, she chose not to write about Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, but instead focused on his follow-up, another stinker called Best Friends.

Katharine feels that the problem with most junk films is not the cinematography, which is at least usually competent. Where these films fail is in the directing and editing process, with the director incompetently stringing along narrative logic from one scene to another. After watching so many bad movies, Katharine has a pointer for creating a good movie: if the director, editor and crew is cohesive, competent, and cares about the film’s final quality, then your movie will at least be watchable.

Junk Film is available on Amazon and at Barnes&Noble.com

Find Katharine Coldiron: http://kcoldiron.com/
Twitter: @ferrifrigida

WIN an autographed copy of Junk Film: Why Bad Movies Matter. Follow us on Instagram @thecinepod, Threads @thecinepod Facebook @cinepod or Twitter @ShortEndz and comment on our post about the book giveaway for this episode!

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July 12, 2023

Star Trek: Picard and Schmigadoon! Cinematographer Jon Joffin, ASC

Jon Joffin, ASC has learned the importance of staying creative, committed and inspired during shoots. In his long career as a cinematographer, Jon has learned how to work on a team, manage people, and surround himself with those who really care about their craft.

When he was first starting out, Jon was hired as a second unit camera operator on The X-Files. Prior to that, he had only worked on music videos and smaller films. The X-Files was a huge show at the time, and Jon quickly moved up to DP for several episodes. The dark and bold look was extremely cinematic, with its signature scenes of bobbing flashlights in the dark woods. The X-Files search for dark secrets set it apart from most high-key sitcoms and workplace dramas that were popular at the time, and it opened up many new opportunities for Jon’s career.

For the series Star Trek: Picard Season 3, the series creators decided they wanted a big, rich cinematic look for the show. In the previous two seasons, the ship had been lit overhead with sky panels, giving it a flatter look. Jon chose bigger, softer light sources and fewer cameras that could focus on the faces of the well-known actors who were reuniting from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He wanted to get good close-ups that would capture their performances and their ease of working together. It was also important to make it look and feel like a realistic spacecraft and not a set. The crew rebuilt the Starship Enterprise set for the show, and it needed to be lit in a similar way that people remembered from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Jon brightened up the lights on that set so that it was a closer match to the original Enterprise.

The Apple TV+ series Schmigadoon! is about a couple who gets lost while backpacking and find themselves in a magical world of musical theater. Season Two finds the couple trying to get back to Schmigadoon, but they end up in Schmicago instead. Jon was excited to work on Schmigadoon! Season 2, because he loves musicals and had previously shot one called Julie and the Phantoms. Schmigadoon! season 2 is based on darker musicals than season 1, such as Chicago, Cabaret and Sweeney Todd, interspersed with 70’s musicals Godspell and Hair. Jon met with showrunner Cinco Paul, who wrote the Despicable Me and Minions movies and who wrote the songs and scripts for season 2. They decided to use a bright, Technicolor look, with a soft contrast, while also working in darker, vibrant tones for the more harrowing musicals.

Jon Joffin just received an Emmy nomination for his work on Schmigadoon! Season 2. You can find it on Apple TV+

Star Trek: Picard is on Paramount Plus

Find Jon Joffin: https://ddatalent.com/client/jon-joffin-asc-mini-series-and-tv-movies
Instagram: @jonjoffin

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YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
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Twitter: @ShortEndz

September 14, 2022

Brendan Uegama, CSC on Moonshot, Riverdale, Truth Be Told, Child’s Play and Mike, the Hulu Mike Tyson dramatic series

Cinematographer Brendan Uegama, CSC enjoys shooting many different genres, from romantic comedies such as Moonshot, to horror movies such as Child’s Play (2019). He enjoys changing his approach to each project depending on the needs of the script. Brendan feels that a good filmmaker knows that the cinematographer is there to serve the story and builds trust with the DP to create the look and feel.

As a kid, Brendan was always into photography and art. He and some high school friends shot skate videos of themselves, and soon after he began making motocross videos. He knew then he wanted to get into film and went to film school in Vancouver, Canada and began working his way up.

Brendan shot 26 episodes of the CW series Riverdale, including every episode of season two. Being the DP for every chapter of the show meant prep time was very short, and Brendan relied on and trusted his team to do location scouts and work ahead. Riverdale was a great show to do that was fun, creative and led to many other projects for him, such as the show Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and later, Moonshot.

The film Moonshot is a romantic comedy set in space, rather than just a science fiction movie. Mars has been terraformed and colonized and the two main characters are traveling to see their significant others, but fall for each other. Because of the science fiction aspect, everything was storyboarded out and had a decent amount of prep time, and much of Moonshot’s science fiction aspects were done with practical effects. Brendan knew where they needed to rely on visual effects ahead of time. The most challenging part of the film to shoot was the spacewalk scene, which involved extensive wirework and visual effects.

Brendan’s latest project, Mike, a dramatic biography series on Hulu about heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson, is currently streaming.

Find Brendan Uegama: https://www.brendanuegama.com/
Instagram: @brendanuegama_dp
Twitter: @brendanuegama

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep183/

Sponsored by DZOFilm: https://www.dzofilm.com/
Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

September 15, 2021

Director Wyatt Rockefeller and cinematographer Willie Nel, SASC on the indie science fiction movie Settlers

The film Settlers is a blend of science fiction and western, about a mother, father and little girl who have created a peaceful homestead on a desolate part of Mars until another band of colonists invade their land and take everything. The girl, Remmy, must grow up fast under difficult circumstances. Her only friend is a small non-verbal robot called Steve. Wyatt Rockefeller both wrote and directed the film, which is also his first feature.

Wyatt found the perfect place to create the Mars setting for Settlers in a remote part of the northern cape of South Africa, in one of the hottest places on the planet. His South African producer introduced him to cinematographer Willie Nel, and the two immediately began figuring out the look of the film, using some images from Mars as references. Willie found that the dry reddish landscape of their location naturally informed both the look of the film and how the characters dealt with surviving in a difficult place. Wyatt and Willie were able to spend lots of time in prep, discussing how they wanted to shoot the film and what the story needed to be. When it came to actually shooting, it went very smoothly since they were each so familiar with the script and shots they’d discussed ahead of time. But the crew couldn’t foresee everything- they had to deal with rolling power outages in South Africa due to the heat and a crazy rainstorm that nearly ruined the set.

Remmy’s companion is Steve the farming robot, which gives Settlers one of its few science fiction visuals. Wyatt wanted Steve to exist as a practical creature for the actors to interact with, while keeping it simple so as not to break the budget. He also wanted Steve to seem like a real, functional piece of equipment that Mars settlers would need and use, so he based Steve’s boxy design on the Mars Curiosity rover, but with legs. Wyatt began working with the production designer, the VFX team, creature builders and the lead puppeteer William Todd-Jones in the early stages of planning and prep to create a puppet version of Steve with visual effects used for some of his more complex motions.

Find Wyatt Rockefeller: @wrockefeller Twitter
Find Willie Nel: https://www.willienel.com/ @willie_nel_sasc Instagram

You can watch Settlers streaming on VOD platforms and on Hulu in October. https://www.ifcfilms.com/films/settlers

Read more about the design of Steve the robot by the Settlers team: https://www.talkhouse.com/designing-steve/

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep140/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

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