February 7, 2024

El Conde cinematographer Ed Lachman, ASC

El Conde is a a dark comedy/horror film that portrays former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a 250 year old vampire. Director Pablo Larraín wanted to play with the idea that a dictatorship is a blood-sucking drain on society with lasting generational impacts. Cinematographer Ed Lachman immediately liked Larraín’s message. “El Conde is his allegory of how we are seduced into yielding to fascism. And it isn’t just in Chile. It’s like the last 50 years, we’re facing that all over the world. That’s why I think the film has something to say- if you can get past the gore.”

Ed had been a long time admirer of Larraín’s work. He found Larraín’s films to be conceptually brilliant with camera placement and movement to tell the story. “They say a cinematographer and a director is a marriage. But I always like to think of it as a dance partner- you hear the same music, but do your steps compliment each other? And I’ve certainly felt I have that relationship with Pablo.” Ed knew he wanted to shoot El Conde in black and white, referencing gothic vampire movies such as Nosferatu and Vampyr (1932). Working with Netflix Latin America, Larraín obtained approval to originate the film in black and white rather than shoot in color and then desaturate it later. For production design, special effects and costumes, all the color choices could be made for the best look in black and white. Ed decided to use the ARRI LF camera, and fortunately, ARRI had just developed a monochromatic sensor for them to use. He enjoys shooting with an actual black and white camera because the exposure latitude and grain structure is different, and he can use monochromatic filters meant for black and white cinematography.

El Conde features some amazingly realistic scenes of vampires flying. The night flying sequences had to be done with a blue screen, which did require a color camera. But all of the day flying sequences and stunts were shot with the black and white camera. The flying sequences were done practically, with no special effects. A 120ft crane suspended the camera operator, who moved through the air with the actors and stunt acrobats on wires.

Ed used the EL Zone System, a method he invented, to figure out the proper exposures for the cameras on El Conde. He’s developed the EL Zone system over the past 10 years, in an effort to measure light values and standardize exposures for digital cameras, and won a technical Emmy in 2023 for the technology. The system uses 18% gray as the standard, which is a universal photography standard. The camera’s sensor data is used as a reference point and filmmakers can view the entire exposure of a shot on a monitor to make lighting adjustments easier.

El Conde is streaming on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/81590652
Find Ed Lachman, and learn more about the EL Zone System: https://www.elzonesystem.com/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by ARRI: https://www.arri.com/en

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

October 18, 2023

Ahsoka cinematographer Eric Steelberg, ASC

Cinematographer Eric Steelberg, ASC has always loved movies, which is what led him to a career as a director of photography. He tries to find compelling film and television projects, putting his own stamp on the story’s visuals.

Back in 2006, Eric was at the beginning of his career as a DP when he shot the small independent film, Quinceañera which won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury prize at Sundance that year. It was shot in HD, which was very new technology at the time, especially for smaller films. After Quinceañera, Eric’s career began to take off. He’d been a frequent collaborator with director Jason Reitman, whom he met shooting commercials and smaller projects, but not films. Working on Quinceañera gave Eric more credibility as a DP, so Reitman asked him to shoot his next film, Juno. At first it was an uphill battle to get Juno’s financiers, Fox Searchlight, to sign off on Eric, because they didn’t see him as experienced enough for the job. But Reitman fought for him, and it led to a long relationship with Eric as Reitman’s director of photography for Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult, Labor Day, Men, Women & Children, Tully, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

Eric never dreamed he’d start at Juno and end up working on the Disney + Star Wars series, Ahsoka. Eric and director of photography Quyen Tran, ASC split cinematography duties. He began prepping the show with executive producer/showrunner Dave Filoni, frequently touching base with Q since she wasn’t able to come on set until later. Both Eric and Q have similar approaches to lighting and composition, and Eric feels it was the best version of a two DP collaboration that there could be. One of the biggest successes of their working relationship was doing their camera testing together and knowing they were aligned with the cameras, lenses and lighting for the show.

As a Star Wars fan, Eric was familiar with the source material and he felt so much joy working on a piece of the saga. He had never done a show shot on volume and blue screen stages, and Eric saw it as an opportunity to learn something new. As a DP, he feels his biggest job is listening, looking and paying attention to what the director and the rest of the team wants to see on the screen. Developing the look of Ahsoka began with the art department’s concept art for the show, but there was lots of room for creativity as the characters travel to different planets. Eric found Ahsoka to be by far the HARDEST show he has ever worked on, but he also feels extremely proud of his work.

Ahsoka is currently on Disney+.

Find Eric Steelberg: http://www.ericsteelberg.com/
Instagram: @ericsteelberg

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

February 1, 2023

Award-winning Sundance films Bad Press and The Persian Version

We kick off our Sundance Film Festival 2023 interviews with the documentary Bad Press and the dramatic comedy, The Persian Version.

Bad Press follows the battle for a free press on the Muscogee Creek Nation reservation in Oklahoma. As a sovereign nation, the Muscogee are not bound by the U.S. Constitution to guarantee freedom of the press. When local journalists for the tribal paper Mvskoke Media discover that the tribe’s “Free Press Act” will be repealed, they begin demanding that freedom of the press be written into the tribe’s constitution, led by Mvskoke Media reporter Angel Ellis. The Free Press Act does get repealed, and immediately the newspaper is in danger and put under the control of the tribal government. The tribal council began censoring the news and preventing the community access to free and fair reporting, which reporter Angel Ellis knew would impact the upcoming tribal elections.

Filmmaker Rebecca Landsberry-Baker is a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation and a journalist, so the people in the film are her people. Co-director and editor Joe Peeler was an acquaintance with a background in documentary filmmaking, so he came on board right away. Cinematographer Tyler Graim was brought on to the project when Joe had had enough of shooting everything himself, allowing him to focus more on what was happening as a director. They wanted the footage in the documentary to give people an accurate feeling of what it’s like to be on the reservation, and the oppressive heat of an Oklahoma summer. Becca, Joe and Tyler agreed that they also wanted Bad Press to have a distinctive look, and were influenced by newspaper movies such as All the President’s Men.

They made a conscious choice for viewers to make the larger connections of what is happening to free press from within the microcosm of the Native American community, to the macrocosm of what’s happening to media in the outside world. A free press supports tribal sovereignty, because it supports an engaged and informed electorate and the movement to ensure a free press by writing it into tribal constitutions is spreading in Indian Country.

Bad Press won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Freedom of Expression at the Sundance Film Festival and is seeking distribution.

Find Bad Press on social media: #BadPressFilm

The Persian Version is a dramatic comedy that follows Leila, a young Iranian American woman who grew up in New York and New Jersey with 8 older brothers. Leila is determined to forge her own path and has a tumultuous relationship with her immigrant mother. When her father is hospitalized for a heart transplant, she must return home to help care for her grandmother and uncovers a secret about her mother’s past.

Director and writer Maryam Keshavarz chose to make The Persian Version semi-autobiographical. While much of the story is true, the film had to take artistic liberties for it to fit within two hours and also stay funny. Maryam wanted the past and present within the film to feel similar, but for all of the storytellers in the movie to have a point of view, so there is a tonal shift within the film when Leila’s mother’s narrative begins. Maryam felt like her cast was family, and as they rehearsed, she rewrote the script as needed.

Maryam’s first feature film, Circumstance, also won the Sundance audience award, and she went on to make a bigger-budget feature, Viper Club in 2018, starring Susan Sarandon. But Maryam found that she wanted to feel more personally connected to the cast and crew during the filmmaking process, so she returned to independently writing and directing with The Persian Version. She feels that films from her standpoint in the world as an Iranian-American hold a large place in her heart. Maryam enjoyed making a film that was both meaningful, funny and reflective of current and past societal and political views.

The Persian Version won the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award & The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award in U.S. Dramatic Competition and is seeking distribution.

Find Maryam Keshavarz: Marakesh Films http://www.maryamkeshavarz.com/
Instagram: @TheTPVFilm

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Greentree Creative: https://www.growwithgreentree.com/

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