June 21, 2024

Bringing 3 Body Problem to life: DP Jonathan Freeman, ASC

Jonathan Freeman, ASC faced a unique challenge on Netflix’s sci-fi series 3 Body Problem. The books, written by Cixin Liu, are extremely intellectually dense novels. Translating them into visually compelling television seemed like a daunting task. Show creators DB Weiss and David Benioff had worked with Jonathan previously on Game of Thrones, and they leaned into filmmaking that was motivated by impactful storytelling rather than just “cool shots.” A key reveal moment in particular was achieved simply by pushing in on a photo of one of the characters in the first episode, revealing how the stories were interconnected.

Together, they decided on the look of the show and chose three distinct visual styles for 1960s China, modern London, and the virtual world of a videogame. The 2:3:5 aspect ratio and ARRI ALFA lenses helped differentiate these environments. The lenses were prototypes that Greig Fraser was developing on The Batman. “They had exactly all that beautiful bokeh that you would expect, but the center was optically pure,” says Jonathan. “They also had these chromatic aberrations to them. These distorted, stretchy little bits in the edges of the frame just looked funky and kind of otherworldly. I just like the idea that it could be interpreted as sort of an alien’s point of view.”

Filming the virtual world within a limited physical space required innovation. Jonathan’s “low-res volume” stage concept used a massive wall of SkyPanels and strategically placed lighting to create a realistic, immersive environment for actors. “Each (panel) was almost like a pixel, so we created an array of 110 feet by 45 wide wrapped around 180 degrees.” says Jonathan. “It was a very complex system, but overall the intent was to recreate these live environments the way you might be able to do in a regular volume. Then, there was the lighting on top, similar to the skylight, where we programmed animated lights to recreate sunrise, sunset, dusk, and dawn. It was quite complicated, but we were able to use a real space and transition in camera. It took a lot of minds to put it together, but I thought it was really successful.”

Find Jonathan Freeman: http://freemandp.com/

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June 19, 2024

Tokyo Vice producer/director Alan Poul

The acclaimed crime drama Tokyo Vice on Max follows American journalist, Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort.) As a reporter for a large Japanese newspaper in the 1990’s, he dives into the dangerous world of the Yakuza, the Japanese organized crime syndicate. The series is based on the book and real life experiences of Jake Adelstein, who named his memoir Tokyo Vice as a wink to the 1980’s show, Miami Vice. Michael Mann, creator of Miami Vice, was interested in the show and came on board to executive produce the series and to shoot the pilot.

Producer and director Alan Poul joined the Tokyo Vice team later into the development process. “I was aware of Tokyo Vice because of course I had read Jake’s book when it came out,” says Alan. With a college degree in Japanese literature and a background in Japanese cinema and theater, Alan began his film career in Japan when director Paul Schrader hired him as an associate producer on Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. The movie Black Rain, directed by Ridley Scott, quickly followed for him, but Alan didn’t want to become known as “the Japan guy” in Hollywood. He built his career producing episodic television for shows like Tales of the City, My So-Called Life, Six Feet Under, and The Newsroom. But Tokyo Vice creator J.T. Rogers knew they needed someone with experience in Japanese production, language and episodic television, so Alan was asked to join the project. “It represented a kind of full circle closure/homecoming,” says Alan, about going back to produce in Japan. “It doesn’t happen very often in one’s career and so it became an extraordinarily fulfilling experience for me.”

The first season of Tokyo Vice began location scouting in 2019 and shooting began in March 2020- for only 6 days before the pandemic shut everything down. Production resumed in October 2020, and the team had to shoot the entire first season under strict Japanese quarantine and COVID testing rules. As a result, Season One uses tighter shots and fewer locations, with more closeups on Jake and the other characters who shape the story. By Season Two, Alan was excited that they were able to expand the visual range of the show, shooting more of Tokyo and the surrounding area. Alan had the opportunity to direct episodes one and two of the second season. “When I am directing, it is always an incredible joy. At least during those 12 hours I try to let go of all the other hats that I have to wear and just wear the hat that allows me to focus 100% on what is taking place in front of the camera.”

Though Tokyo Vice has completed its series run on Max, Alan and creator J.T. Rogers are optimistic about the show’s future on another platform.

Find Alan Poul: Instagram @alanpoul

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June 5, 2024

Shogun director Jonathan van Tulleken and cinematographer Christopher Ross, BSC

The FX miniseries Shōgun takes viewers on a journey filled with action and adventure through historically accurate 1600’s Edo-era Japan. Englishman John Blackthorne arrives on a Dutch trading ship after a rough voyage, interested in beginning trade with the Japanese. The country is governed by five regents locked in a power struggle, and the ruler Toranaga thinks the Englishman might be useful to him.

Director Jonathan van Tulleken and cinematographer Christopher Ross worked on episodes one and two together, establishing the look of the series. They have a deep understanding of each other’s creative vision, collaborating on several TV shows over the years. For Shōgun, Jonathan and Chris created a visual experience that honors both the grandeur of feudal Japan and the disorientation of a foreign visitor like the “anjin,” John Blackthorne. The two met and created a look book and sizzle reel to present to FX. Jonathan drew inspiration from movies such as The Revenant and Apocalypse Now. Chris was influenced by classic Japanese films Ran, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and Akira Kirosawa’s jidaigeki (historical drama) films. Most importantly, they wanted the show to be bold and stand out with a cinematic look and genuine artistic intention behind it. Chris chose anamorphic lenses and wider aspect ratios for the first two episodes, playing with the point of view of the outsider’s subjectivity and disorientation. The choice of anamorphic lenses, which create a lot of background blur but keeps the character in crisp focus, may have seemed controversial, but has become more widely used on today’s television shows. (Read this article from The Ringer to learn more.)

Shōgun was shot in British Columbia during the winter, with the wild ocean shores of Canada and carefully designed soundstages standing in for Japan. Jonathan, Chris and the production team chose a lighting and color palette of browns and greens for the warring factions. Opulent costumes, warmer lights and colors represented palace life in Osaka, while in the village, the use of blues and grays reflected the harsh realities of the time period.

The dialog is almost entirely in Japanese, and Jonathan actually enjoyed directing in a language he didn’t speak. “It meant that you were not giving line readings, you couldn’t give line readings. You had to direct in a much more pure way, dealing with the bigger arcs of the scene, the character development, without getting into very macro stuff that isn’t helpful. I think you could just feel the emotion.” Chris agrees. “What you’re hoping to achieve is some sort of emotional resonance with a character that is in tune with what they’re saying and synchronous with what they’re saying.”

Find Jonathan Van Tulleken: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1743387/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

Find Chris Ross: Instagram @edjibevel

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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

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September 14, 2023

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty cinematographer Todd Banhazl, ASC

When cinematographer Todd Banhazl, ASC was hired by creator Adam McKay for Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, he knew he wanted to capture the look and feel of TV broadcasts from the 70’s for season 1. As the timeline of the show moved into the mid-80’s in season 2, Todd wanted to embrace the gloss and glamour of the era, with more dynamic camera moves on the court.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Winning Time is its signature look. The show integrates and embraces the camera formats used during each time period in the show. They used 8mm and 16mm film and for season 2, VHS-C camcorders. Each scene was also always covered with two 35mm cameras, so that the period look of Winning Time doesn’t weigh on the viewer too much. The series is based on the book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.” McKay and Todd wanted the show to be as loud, bold and maximalist as the personality of Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

Todd and McKay tested the different camera looks for months before shooting the pilot, and they fell in love with mixing the formats. Todd made a look book approved by HBO, and shot the pilot that way. Next, they had to figure out the editing and post process, to make sure that the look stayed dirty- they wanted film grain, hairs and video imperfections to stay in and even be emphasized. Todd thinks they found the line where the look doesn’t overwhelm the story. He enjoys creating art where the form and the way it’s made is part of the emotional experience.

For Todd, finding crew is much like a casting process. A TV shooting schedule requires finding people who you can trust and rely on. When it came time to find other cinematographers, he wanted to hire artists that he respected for their work, and he wanted his fellow DPs to be able to put their own stamp on the show. John chose to work with Mihai Mălaimare Jr. (a former guest of the Cinepod) for season 1 and John Matysiak (also a former guest) for season 2. He has always admired Mihai’s work, and Todd felt that he and John had the same taste.

In season 2 of Winning Time, Todd had the chance to direct episode 3, “The Second Coming,” which tells Larry Bird’s backstory. The episode also deals with Larry Bird’s father’s suicide, and he and the crew had a lot of conversations about how to be deeply respectful and responsible about portraying an event that really happened. Even though there has been some criticism of the show by a few of the real people portrayed in Winning Time, Todd feels that their job on the series is to treat the real-life characters with humanity and empathy.

Todd grew up in the suburbs of San Dimas, and he knew he always wanted to work in the movies. As a kid, he made home movies all through junior high and high school. He studied film at San Jose State, where he became the class’s defacto cameraman. After film school, he went to AFI graduate school where he realized that cinematography was the career he wanted. Todd worked his way up, shooting music videos, camera assisting, and then becoming a director of photography. Blow the Man Down, a critically acclaimed feature he DPd, won awards at the Tribeca Film Festival. Todd was also the cinematographer for 2019’s Hustlers, starring Jennifer Lopez.

You can watch Winning Time streaming on Max.

Find Todd Banhazl: https://www.toddbanhazldp.com/
Instagram: @toddbanhazl

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Facebook: @cinepod
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