cold war trailer

As we head into the final stretch of awards season, /Film had the opportunity to speak with a number of cinematographers about their craft. These include Linus Sandgren of First Man, Lukasz Zal of Cold War, John Mathieson of Mary Queen of Scots, Michael Grady of On the Basis of Sex, and C. Kim Miles of Welcome to Marwen

Although not all of these artists were nominated for an Oscar for their work this year, this series of interviews could not be more timely. With this year’s ceremony removing the cinematography award from the live broadcast (and airing the acceptance speeches later in the show), it is more important than ever to take notice of the craft that goes into lighting and shooting a movie.

First Man Trailer

Linus Sandgren – First Man

When it comes to shooting First Man, what was the most challenging aspect of the shoot?

I think the most challenging was that the film was meant to feel almost effortless, real and documentary, as if one cameraman just followed these people around in the ’60s. Could be easy in a normal situation, but in environments which are obviously not real it is really hard, especially since we took on a path where we decided to capture the final image as much as possible in camera, and not use any green screen for example.

In all this technical focus, we had to stay faithful to the needs of the story, so we made sure to put the technical aspects aside and discover the language of the film.

We wanted to approach the photography with realism, and follow the emotions of the story with a careful hand. Find poetry through metaphors of death and grief. Make it feel both tender, intimate at times, scary, visceral and immersive other times and epic, as well.

It took a lot of research and puzzle work with many departments full time collaborating to get to where we got. For example did we need to develop a Lamp, 2x the power output of the brightest one existing at the time, in order to cover the set we built for the moon scenes with the right exposure. This lamp is a 200,000W single source lamp. We also had to figure out many different type of solutions for each scene to trick the audience in believing we were traveling in space or up in an elevator along the Saturn V rocket. It included very modern LED rear screen solutions on stage as well as practical vehicle to vehicle solutions on location, but also miniature photography, etc.

When it came to shooting the lunar landing, was there anything in particular that Damien Chazelle wanted for the scene?

The transition from the Capsule to the Moon Surface was a very important moment for Damien. Damien wanted it to feel emotionally intimate and alive, throughout the film until we exited the human world, into the surreal and serene beautiful but sterile moonscape. He wanted it to contrast as much as it does in the Wizard of Oz, stepping out from black and white to Color.

The World out there is silent, its bare and dead. Neil can finally accomplish not just his human achievement, but also his personal achievement and finally come to rest with his grief. Here, Damien wanted the first POV to belong to the Audience, and in this environment he wanted us to both feel as if you are there for real, but its also time for afterthought. Perhaps to connect with your own ghosts. We were looking for another type of Poetry, to connect with the audience in a different way, so it was important to change as much as possible visually, but still stay in the movie.

So we basically go from gritty, noisy, shaky space capsule, 3rd person hand held documentary 16mm, something we can relate to, and ideally be immersed in a real way, to 1st person POV and when outside the astronaut, the space mans helmet is faceless. We have a floaty camera, clean, dead landscape, IMAX (with a huge difference in grain and resolution), silence, poetic score in minor keys, which all hopefully makes the audience feel emotionally connected in a different way.

As a DP, how have your techniques improved over the years?

Of course you learn on each project about different techniques and with growing experience both on commercials and feature films, you get a wider knowledge of ways to achieve imagery, but to me, the meaning of Cinematography is toVisually tell the Story and especially to help convey the Emotions in the Story. I try to always start with a fresh mind, and work with the Directors Vision, help develop the visual language, and any technical aspect is just based on decisions made from this work. The script, the vision, the locations, all determine the techniques.

So for example, First Man was hand held because that particular story asked for it. We also shot on mixed film formats, because we felt more grain helped us to connect with the human story as well as the visceral claustrophobic space travel, while IMAX helped us to take in the beauty of the serene moon, and acted as a dramatic contrast, going from intimate human 16mm to surreal Moonscape in IMAX.

Is there a particular camera that you like to use?

I generally prefer film cameras, because the way it captures the images is different from how a digital camera captures the images. And with film cameras I personally can give myself many more options and a lot more control on the images while I am shooting.

But I always try to be open to any format, and base it on the story and how it wants to be expressed, I just always tend to return to film as my first choice. But for example, on the Hundred foot Journey, I shoot the majority of the story on 35mm anamorphic and push processed 1/2 a stop to bring out the most of colour and contrast in the food and the French countryside, to make it feel romantic and enchanting, while when the main character leaves this idyllic world to make a career in Paris, he looses track of his grounded self, and gets emotionally colder, so we wanted the world around him to feel more sterile, and we shot that Paris sequence on the same lenses but with Digital cameras, and you can see a clear difference in life.

And that is how I like to use formats, let the story and the emotions guide you.

With winning an Oscar for La La Land and being named as DP for the next Bond film, how do you manage to stay grounded?

[Laughs] Well, its obviously flattering to be recognized and for brief moments you get to walk on clouds, and I am very grateful for the film project opportunities I am given. But what I am most glad about and proud for, is the work itself. I love making movies, because it’s a collaborative creative and often challenging process, where you work hard, together with a large group of grounded, real people. When I come home, I have my lovely family to come home to, and all these people around me are all very grounded.

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