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: @willie_nel_sasc Instagram

You can watch Settlers streaming on VOD platforms and on Hulu in October.

Read more about the design of Steve the robot by the Settlers team:

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links:

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Twitter: @ShortEndz

June 10, 2020

Bradford Young, ASC- PART 2: Arrival, directors Denis Villeneuve, Ron Howard, and Ava DuVernay, Solo: A Star Wars Story, When They See Us, working on long form episodic vs. movies

The Cinematography Podcast Episode 78: Bradford Young, PART 2

Bradford Young continues our conversation from his busy household. One lesson he’s learned is that the cinematographer’s job is to make the director happy. Bradford was drawn to the science fiction film Arrival because it had an intimacy and a perspective about who we are that many sci-fi movies lack. Arrival takes us on a journey of discovery while keeping the human experience at the center of the film, with the camera following Louise, played by Amy Adams, the entire time. At first, Bradford found it difficult to find the visual language of the story, since it was so much about decoding the aliens’ language. But his collaboration with Denis Villeneuve and the rest of the team makes Arrival feel cohesive and engaging. When Bradford was approached to shoot Solo: A Star Wars Story, he knew it would be a power move for his career, although it was uniquely challenging to work with four cameras plus huge action sequences and special effects. He also had to adjust to the turmoil of Lucasfilm’s decision to fire directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were replaced by director Ron Howard in the middle of the Solo shoot. But Bradford felt fortunate to be able to continue shooting Solo and to work with a seasoned and respected director like Ron Howard. Bradford was happy to work with director Ava DuVernay again on When They See Us, which was his first episodic series. He and DuVernay wanted to bring weight and care with their approach to the story of the Central Park Five, using minimal lighting, composed photographic shots and anamorphic lenses. For Bradford, When They See Us was a hard story to tell and they told it the best way they could. He feels that while films are powerful, they are also fleeting- sometimes it takes longer to tell and inform a story, and the injustices done to Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam was better served as a series.

Find Bradford Young

You can stream When They See Us right now on Netflix.

You can find Selma streaming on Amazon, Vudu, or iTunes.

Bradford Young was featured in the May 2020 issue of American Cinematographer.

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links:

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz