May 22, 2024

Griselda cinematographer Armando Salas, ASC

Netflix’s gripping new series, Griselda, takes viewers deep into the world of Colombian drug lord Griselda Blanco. But behind the drugs and violence is a masterfully crafted world, built by cinematographer Armando Salas, ASC. Armando, known for his work on Ozark, brings a unique perspective to Griselda. His approach to color throughout the series tells a story that’s more about character than it is about the drug trade. “In the end, we’re making a work of fiction, and we really want to connect with the audience,” says Armando. “And the things you know and hear about Griselda Blanco is, you know, she’s a killer, a psychopath. There’s not a lot of redeeming qualities when you’re looking into the drug wars in Miami at that time.” Even through all the death and destruction in the series, director Andrés Baiz didn’t want Griselda to be too dark. He still wanted to find some joy and absurdity within the story.

Armando met with director Andrés Baiz, who wanted to hire a local Los Angeles DP who also spoke Spanish, since a majority of Griselda’s script is in Spanish. Growing up in Miami, Armando happened to know the story of Griselda Blanco very well. He also worked on a 2006 documentary called Cocaine Cowboys, about how Miami became the cocaine capital of the US. They did careful location scouting around LA for places that looked like Miami in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Armando and Baiz wanted the show to have the right period look. “We didn’t take an intellectual conceit, I wasn’t only using lenses or camera technology that existed at that time. We were really more interested in finding the right feeling,” Armando explains. “And so, we looked at a lot of photography from the period, we looked at a lot of films from the period, we looked at modern films that were doing a good job of recreating the period, but we kind of landed our our own version. Again, it’s really just like capturing the vibe and building the world. And so we had a very aggressive and unique approach to the LUT and the color characteristics of our negative.” The Polaroid pictures Baiz took during location scouting became a big inspiration for the color palette of the show.

Throughout the six episode series, Armando used color to help tell a compelling character story. Griselda’s world is full of deep, rich colors as she’s living the high life. In contrast, Armando chose a bluer, more desaturated color for scenes with June Hawkins (Juliana Aidén Martinez), the Miami PD intelligence analyst. As she breaks the case and convinces law enforcement officers to go after Griselda, she enters a world of color. “And on top of that, we unleash the camera. We go flying down the sidewalk with her from multiple angles. It’s the fastest camera movements in the series. And over the course of the series, her storyline and Griselda’s storyline meet, and the color, the glitz and glamour of Griselda’s world has been mostly stripped out at that point. June has come into her own, and they meet in that world. The two arcs have now connected, and it’s one story.”

Griselda is available on Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/title/81133447

Hear our previous interview with Armando discussing his work on Ozark and more. https://www.camnoir.com/ep91/

Find Armando Salas: https://www.salasfilm.com/
Instagram: @cinesalas

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
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Twitter: @ShortEndz

May 15, 2024

True Detective: Night Country cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, BSC

HBO’s True Detective: Night Country has captivated audiences with its chilling atmosphere and compelling narrative. Cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, BSC worked with director Issa López to craft the haunting visuals for the supernatural whodunit. “The detective procedural is part of the brand and it’s part of the show, but it should not affect the cinematography,” says Florian. “The cinematography is never motivated just in terms of solving the mystery. We must be sure to show every important fact or clue, to understand the mystery or to build up a bigger mystery. But it’s important to follow the characters and their internal struggles and secrets, the relationships, the darkness, the supernatural as the case unfolds.”

When he first met with Lopez to discuss shooting True Detective: Night Country, Florian liked the feeling of eerie isolation and darkness of the location. The influence of nature adds to the supernatural and to the characters’ fragmentation from each other. Florian found inspirational images by photographer Alexander Gronsky, who took photos of Russian workers in mines near the Arctic Circle. John Carpenter’s The Thing and the movie Sicario were also influences for the look of the series.

True Detective: Night Country takes place in Alaska near the Arctic Circle, with Iceland as the filming location. Most of the show was shot outside during the winter months, although it happened to be the coldest winter in Iceland in a hundred years. They used a soundstage only for the scenes where characters had to be outside in the snow naked or barefoot. Florian enjoys shooting in extreme climates, noting that proper clothing for the temperature is what matters the most. Even with the extreme cold, the ARRI Alexa 35 cameras all functioned just fine. The filming was over a period of 112 days, starting in October on the soundstage. Once winter really hit after Christmas, they began shooting in the snow and darkness. Each day provided about four hours of light, with just about five minutes of sunlight, then a few blue hours of sunrise and sunset.

True Detective: Night Country is available on Max.

Hear our previous interview with Florian Hoffmeister discussing his work on TÁR. https://www.camnoir.com/ep194/

Find Florian Hoffmeister: http://florianhoffmeister.de/
Instagram: @florian.hoffmeister

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
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March 28, 2024

Dynamics of a Working Camera Department with Greg Irwin, SOC

Gregory Irwin is an extremely experienced A Camera First AC who first got into the business 44 years ago. He received a 2016 Society of Camera Operators Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions as Camera Technician. His most recent project is the Joker sequel Joker: Folie à Deux coming soon.

Greg frequently gives talks on the importance of character and credibility in the camera department. The camera department is in a leadership role on any production. There’s always going to be challenges on set, but it’s important to remember that if the camera department seems like they’re panicking, it affects the rest of the production. A good camera department is always helpful, no matter what department needs it. Never be rude or show panic, even when things aren’t going to plan. Greg says, “I want my team to know everything at all times, and I want them to be better than me. If I can develop a young camera person into a rock solid, good human being as well as a good camera technician then I’ve done my job.”

Greg discusses:

Character and credibility in the camera department-remembering you are in a leadership role
Taking a business approach to the camera department
Interacting with the director, cinematographer, producers and showrunners
How to hire others in the camera department- be sure to vet your camera crew before hiring them
Be a “one minute manager”- choose people you don’t have to micromanage
Handling the first phone calls with the filmmakers and producers: save talk about rates, money, deals until about the 4th phone call so you can get to know the person who you’re negotiating with
Generally talk rates/business aspects for your camera team as well
Prep for the camera prep day: prep should already be done ahead, including what you need for your camera package
Prep and budget: build everything you need for prep based on meetings with the filmmakers & DP, timestamp prep lists to keep track of everything. By draft 10, you should be clear on what’s needed and camera budget should be very clear at that point
Look the part- better to dress like a professional
Be organized and don’t have a sense of entitlement
How to get noticed and move up in the camera department

Find Greg Irwin: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0410389/

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
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March 20, 2024

Masters of the Air cinematographer Richard Rutkowski, ASC

Masters of the Air on AppleTV+ is about the pilots who served in the 100th Bomb Group in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. Cinematographer Richard Rutkowski shot episodes 107 and 108, which included both aerial flying, bombing and imprisoned airmen at a German POW camp. From the beginning, Richard was impressed with how everything was organized on such a massive scale. The props, set design and costumes were extremely exact to the time period. “I really am attracted to stories that have authenticity in them,” says Richard. “And they put the authentic on camera. It is all exactly what it’s meant to be, what it was at the time, as close as they can get.”

Richard worked with director Dee Rees on their block of Masters of the Air. The prison camp scenes involved working with searchlights, mud and absolute darkness at night, with up to 250 people in a scene. He chose to light in a way that would emphasize the dim lighting, gray atmosphere and unhealthy look for the POWs. Some of the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary African-American fighter pilots, are also brought to the POW camp and the prisoners are integrated into the previously racially-segregated fighting force.

Shooting the action inside the planes involved large-scale LED volume screens surrounding the aircraft sections, with an LED roof overhead, which created most of the lighting for the scene. The actors were placed on a gimbal controlled articulated steel deck so they could react to the motion. The cameras tracked with the video system, and had GPS locators that allowed the background to respond to where the camera was so that it knew how much background to put in.

Richard was the sole cinematographer on the FX series The Americans for several seasons. The Americans was about a Russian spy couple posing as Americans in suburban Washington D.C. during the Cold War in the 1980’s. Richard established the look of the show, with the couple’s “normal” DC life leaning into bolder primary colors, in a kind of red, white, and blue cleanliness. By contrast, in their double life as spies, Richard chose a grittier, darker and grainy look. On The Americans, Richard says he learned the value of letting the actors do their work. “(There is) an unspoken connection being made about whether a scene is moving well, whether a take is truly finished. I would learn to stop reaching for that cut button. No matter who said what, if the actor was in it, we don’t cut. You leave the boom up, keep out of the frame. If the actor’s in it, we’re not cutting. We’ll go till they’re ready.”

As a kid, Richard’s father was a fine art painter and he grew up all over the country. He began making 16mm films in college and working with theatrical director Robert Wilson. After college, Richard started working on small budget films, working his way up through the camera department, including being a second assistant camera on School Ties with cinematographer Freddie Francis, a two time Oscar winner. After School Ties, Richard wrote Ed Lachman asking to work with him, and he went on to work with Ed on several movies. He feels that working your way up and learning all the different crafts in the camera department is a great education for a DP.

Masters of the Air is available on AppleTV+.

Find Richard Rutkowski: Instagram @richardrutkowskidp

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March 13, 2024

House of Ninjas showrunner and executive producer Dave Boyle

The Netflix series House of Ninjas has become a hit show, rising to #1 in the streaming service’s top 10 list. The story follows the Tawara family, who have been ninjas, or shinobi, for generations. Tragically, the oldest son and brother disappeared six years before in a battle with their rivals, leading the Tawaras to stop being ninjas. But the family must fight together again as the rival clan gets more powerful and threatens the entire country.

Showrunner Dave Boyle was first brought on as showrunner for House of Ninjas by an executive at Netflix Japan, who knew he was familiar with the culture. Dave’s second language is Japanese, which he studied as a Mormon missionary in Australia. He had written and directed a few independent Japanese American and Japanese language films, such as Man from Reno, Daylight Savings and Surrogate Valentine, which all took place in the U.S. This was his first experience with shooting anything in Japan. He was drawn to the tone of House of Ninjas, which combines both drama, action and violence with comedy and warmhearted playfulness. “Tone was the reason why we all wanted to make this project. It’s more than the plot mechanics and the story. It was all about creating this atmosphere, this tone that an audience could sink into and enjoy for many, many episodes. And so I think that tone was something that we were talking about from the very, very get-go and something that we really wanted to nail and get right.”

Once he was on board, Dave began working on the preproduction and show bible for House of Ninjas. The show bible had to be written in three weeks, which is a very fast process, especially since Dave knew the show’s foundation required a deep understanding of shinobi culture and history. He found the preproduction process in Japan to be much different from the U.S., with casting happening even before the show’s scripts were written. The script format in Japan read from right to left, and the top half of the page is left blank for the director to draw storyboards and a shotlist, as a clear way for the director to show what they’re planning to do.

House of Ninjas is available on Netflix.

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February 21, 2024

Maestro cinematographer Matty Libatique, ASC

We have the multi-talented Kays Al-Atrakchi as our special guest host this week!

Shortly after working together on A Star Is Born, director and actor Bradley Cooper told cinematographer Matty Libatique that he’d like their next project to be about conductor Leonard Bernstein. Cooper hadn’t even begun writing the screenplay for Maestro yet, but over the next six years, he and Matty discussed how to evolve the story and shoot the biopic. They spent a lot of time shooting tests in multiple formats. Matty and Cooper decided to shoot on Kodak film, using both black and white and color, and two different aspect ratios (1.33:1 and 1.85:1) for the story. The film takes place over 50 years, and it was important to test the aging makeup and prosthetics Cooper would wear as Bernstein.

Maestro was a complex story to tell, and Cooper wanted to explore Bernstein’s life in as many visually creative ways as possible. Every shot was thought out, including all the montages that deal with the passage of time. For several scenes, much of what Cooper had described on the page was what ended up on screen. “It’s one of those rare cases where the the writing really matched up with what we ended up doing, very early on. There were subsequent drafts, but those moments that he had crafted ahead of time never went away,” says Matty. In order to keep himself organized, Matty created a spreadsheet that mapped out all the shots and equipment for every beat and scene in the script, which could also be altered if Cooper made changes.

At the heart of Maestro is the complicated relationship between Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre. Cooper frequently used the motif of Montealegre waiting in the wings for Bernstein, as she put everything in her life on hold to be with him. Their love grounds the story, and Matty wanted it to look as naturalistic as possible. “Instead of going for the glam, even though it might feel like an old movie at the beginning of the film, I was trying to keep it more candid… I think Bradley and I gravitate towards naturalism because we don’t want anything that smells false or pretentious. It’s just something to stay away from. Bradley has a real sensitivity to it.”

Cooper’s approach as a director is extremely artistic and sensitive to the emotions in the scene, and he doesn’t use a conventional shot list or get traditional coverage. If the scene feels wrong after they’ve shot it, he and Matty will mull it over and then come up with a better way to shoot it. “Bradley is so editorially minded, he keeps in mind whether or not we’re going to end a scene in a wide or start in a wide or ended in tight or start in a tight. So those are conscious decisions, but they aren’t necessarily made ahead of time. We respond to the space and we respond to the light. And then we just react and it’s organic, it’s his process.”

Maestro is available on Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/title/81171868

Matty Libatique is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

Find Matty Libatique: Instagram @libatique
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Facebook: @cinepod
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February 17, 2024

Bonus Episode: Bobi Wine: The People’s President directors Moses Bwayo and Christopher Sharp

In this bonus episode of The Cinematography Podcast, we interview Moses Bwayo and Christopher Sharp, who collaborated as directors on Bobi Wine: The People’s President. The film is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Co-director and producer Christopher Sharp grew up in Uganda and was a fan of Bobi Wine’s music. He met Bobi and his wife Barbie in London. Christoper says, “When I met him, he’d just run to be an independent member of parliament and he was sort of transitioning from being solely a musician into an activist and a politician. When he told me what he was about to sacrifice, it seemed pretty obvious that we needed to stick with him and see where it went.”

Bobi Wine (Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu) had grown up in the slums of Kampala, Uganda and through his musical talent, had risen to become an extremely popular and famous Afrobeat musician. Bobi’s music often communicates a socially conscious message aimed at political change. He put himself through university, where he met his wife Barbie. Political activism was extremely important to him, so Bobi successfully ran as an independent candidate for Uganda’s parliament. He then decided to run for president against the dictator Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 38 years.

Christopher brought the idea of making the documentary to Moses Bwayo, a Ugandan journalist and filmmaker. Moses followed Bobi with cameras for five years, sometimes with a small crew, using a monopod and available light. Moses used the Sony FS7 and the smaller Sony Alpha a7 III. He often had to just run and gun, serving as both cameraman and director, documenting the tense and frequently dangerous situations Bobi, his family and Moses himself encountered. “We wanted to tell a story of this young, talented musician who comes out of the ghetto to inspire the nation, and he rises into politics and the coalitions he was building in parliament and the bills he was trying to bring. But, as we kept filming, it was very dangerous for him and there was a few attempted assassinations on him. More and more we realized the camera was actually a protection to him… So we just kept on going and going.”

Uganda has been under the control of Yoweri Museveni since 1986. Museveni uses the might of the military police and his political operatives in Parliament to stay in power. When Bobi announced he was going to run for president against Museveni, the military police stepped up their aggressive attacks on him, his family and his campaign workers. “We knew that the closer we stuck with him and his wife and people close to him, it would bring some level of protection, and indeed, even the days I spent under house arrest with Bobby and Barbie, what worried us was that the military and police would break into the house at any moment. But I think what stopped them is when they knew that there was a cameraman in that house- it probably stopped them from breaking into the house.”

Moses and the crew risked their lives to make the film. “I was arrested a few times. I was locked up in jail. I was interrogated, and I was shot in the face close to the election.” Fortunately, Moses recovered from his gunshot wound and the documentary continued. The political situation in Uganda had become very violent, so before they released the film, Moses and his family decided to flee and are seeking asylum in the United States. Though Museveni won election again through terrifying attacks and imprisonment of Bobi and his supporters, Bobi still goes back to Uganda and continues to risk his life to speak out against the government. “This story is still happening today. It’s urgent. Christopher and I, we’ve been thinking maybe we should find a way to start filming again because the situation has not improved, and we have this incredible access, we have this story still happening right now. And the camera had become like a protection to them and now we feel like we’re indebted to this struggle. We need to do something.”

Bobi Wine: The People’s President is available on Disney+ under the National Geographic tab, or free on YouTube.

Find Moses Bwayo on Instagram and X: @bwayomoses

Find Christopher Sharp: Instagram @christophersharp

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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February 14, 2024

Oppenheimer cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, ASC

Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, ASC and director Christopher Nolan have crafted some of the most visually stunning and intellectually stimulating films of the 21st century. The film Oppenheimer marks their fourth collaboration, and they’ve achieved an ease and rapport with each other over time. “In all these years, we’ve spent so many endless hours in scouting vans and on airplanes and on film sets. So we have done a lot of the talking together. Chris is a very meticulous filmmaker, but this process has also allowed us to be very intuitive and we can kind of skim through a lot of bullshit just by knowing each other,” Hoyte says.

Hoyte first began working with Nolan on Interstellar in 2014. At first he found the scale of the film extremely daunting. “I was literally looking up at that crazy, gigantic mountain in front of me and thinking, how am I going to do this and how am I going to even technically wrap my head around this? But (Nolan) was always very calm and very reassuring and he said, ‘Let’s just start’.” Despite it being their first project together, the synergy between Nolan’s bold vision and Hoyte’s keen eye for detail was immediately apparent. They employed a combination of practical effects and cutting-edge visual techniques to bring the vastness of space and the intricacies of theoretical physics to life on the screen. Nolan uses practical effects as much as possible, and he needed creative techniques to get across the idea of atomic energy on Oppenheimer. The second unit crew spent time experimenting with shots to create the effects of atomic particles and atoms interacting for scenes when Robert Oppenheimer envisions harnessing nuclear energy.

To tell a story as big and complex as Oppenheimer, Nolan and Hoyte chose to shoot on IMAX. This required some invention and innovation. Nolan wanted to shoot the congressional hearing scenes in black and white, but black and white film stock for IMAX did not exist. Kodak was happy to manufacture it for the movie, although it was challenging to use. The black and white film didn’t fit into the camera the same way, so they had to re-engineer the camera gates and pressure plates.

Even though they were shooting with an extremely large format camera, Hoyte wanted to get very intimate, close shots. “Chris and I had to decide that our vistas in this film, our scope, is not something that comes from landscapes or wideness or action, but it has to come from faces, you know? I always say the faces kind of became our landscapes. But I also believe that scope is something that comes from what you as an audience project onto something.” They opted for a very simple, naturalistic style to the cinematography to support the unfolding psychological drama. Each frame is not just a visual composition but a narrative device, serving to deepen the emotional resonance of the story and engage the audience on a visceral level.

Oppenheimer is playing in theaters, available on VOD, or streaming on Peacock starting February 16. Hoyte Van Hoytema is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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January 4, 2024

Ferrari cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, ASC

With the film Ferrari, cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, ASC has now had the opportunity to work with two huge directors: Michael Mann and David Fincher. In 2021, Erik won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Mank, directed by Fincher. He finds Fincher to be very methodical and precise about film structure and camera placement. Michael Mann tends to be more spontaneous, interested in capturing visceral moments, but still detail oriented. He is hyperfocused on the emotional response of the audience and how best to capture the character’s interactions. “That is the joy of being a cinematographer, coming and playing in someone else’s sandbox and learning how you can contribute to making their film,” Erik says.

Ferrari was a passion project for director Michael Mann, who had been developing the film for decades. Once he was hired to work on Ferrari, Erik saw that Mann had tons of material on Enzo Ferrari. He had an incredible collection of photos, newsreel footage, and personal letters that provided a great start to shaping the film. Mann knew exactly what he wanted to make and it came down to the two of them discussing the film’s look, pacing, and structure. The entire film was shot in 58 days with no second unit. They filmed on location in Italy, which was a huge contributor to the aesthetic of the movie and lent it authenticity. Most of the locations were historically accurate to Enzo Ferrari’s story- they shot exteriors of the Ferrari home, his barber shop, and even inside the Ferrari mausoleum. Adding classic Ferraris and other vehicles from 1957 with people in period costume made it easy to make the movie feel of its time without needing to add more.

The dramatic scenes in Ferrari had to be differentiated from the racing scenes. While all of the racing scenes were meticulously planned and storyboarded, the dramatic scenes such as a fight between Adam Driver & Penelope Cruz’s characters was rehearsed, blocked and planned on the day. Erik chose to use more structured, classically composed framing, with subtle zoom moves in on the actor’s faces for a nuanced emotional response. By contrast, the racing scenes had to be kinetic and visceral. Mann wanted the audience to feel like they are right there in the car, and all of the racing scenes take place in real cars on Italian roads. The camera operators sat in the car with the professional drivers, shooting handheld right next to them. As an amateur race car driver, actor Patrick Dempsey actually did all of his own driving in the film. Each Ferrari was actually a replica, and safety gear like roll cages and harnesses were added. Erik also used older camera mounts on the outside of the cars to capture every shake and bump, since the suspension on cars from that time period were much stiffer.

Find Erik Messerschmidt: Instagram @emesserschmidt

Listen to our previous interview from 2020 with Erik Messerschmidt on Mank and his other work. https://www.camnoir.com/ep107/

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Facebook: @cinepod
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September 20, 2023

Talk to Me cinematographer Aaron McLisky, ACS

Cinematographer Aaaron McLisky is thrilled that Talk to Me, a small Australian independent horror film, has found such a huge audience. It has become A24’s highest grossing horror movie in North America. The movie is about a group of friends who discover how to become possessed by spirits with an embalmed hand, creating a thrilling party game. The main character, Mia, has recently lost her mother, and her grief makes the idea of finding her mom on the other side both compelling and dangerous. But soon, the supernatural forces can’t be controlled any longer.

Aaron had heard rumors about the Talk to Me script and was intrigued to find out more about the project when directors Danny and Michael Philippou direct messaged him on Instagram. The twin brothers had no feature film experience, but are self-taught YouTube filmmakers. Their channel, RackaRacka is huge, and features a series of horror/comedy shorts completely shot and edited by Danny and Michael.

During the development and pre-production of Talk to Me, Aaron and the brothers discussed how they wanted the film to look cinematically and frequently workshopped and filmed sequences. Aaron always wants to elevate the story through cinematography, making sure that every frame and every camera movement speaks to a world that’s truthful to the characters. He wanted to be sure that the camera work elevated the tone of the horror movie, by showing or withholding information as needed. As a former editor, Aaron constantly thinks about editing- how certain sequences will go together and how much coverage might really be needed. Once production started, he found it exciting to be bold, keeping coverage of each scene minimal, and confident that they didn’t need more. He kept scenes lit with practical lighting and green fluorescents as much as possible, making Mia seem sickly and possessed. During the possession scenes, Aaron chose to contrast the sequences with unmotivated lighting, and as Mia’s psychological decay progresses, the film subtly becomes darker and more desaturated in the grade.

Aaron was born in Australia but lived in Indonesia for much of his childhood. He fell in love with photography there and knew he wanted to study film, so he returned to Australia. After completing his degree, he got a job at a production company as an editor, eventually moving into directing commercials and music videos, but he didn’t enjoy it. Aaron found he was always more interested in visual images as a storyteller, so he decided to start over as a cinematographer. He was fortunate enough to shoot a music video for YouTube stars, The Bondi Hipsters, who then asked him to be the cinematographer for their television series. Aaron also served as the primary cinematographer of the FX series, Mr. Inbetween.

Talk to Me is still playing in theaters and is available to purchase on VOD.

Find Aaron McLisky: http://aaronmclisky.com/
Instagram: @aaronmclisky

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The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
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