joker opening scene

When you have as many variables and extras as you do with all the chaos going on at the end, how did you control the lighting there?

He’s surrounded by a city burning because of his actions, which is similar to the dancing scene. It’s about giving him power with the lens. He started off invisible, but then ends literally standing above a mob of people, lit by the warmth of the fires blazing around him. Obviously, other elements, like smoke, help create the chaos, but it really comes down to camera positions, showing his sense of power over his environment, which is in complete contrast to his tiny, insignificant self, earlier in the movie.

Everyone always brings up the shot where he’s looking out the window of the cop car. Some think of The Dark Knight, which has a similar shot, but it’s really a reference to the earlier shot, when he’s on the bus. They’re very similar frames and, in almost the exact same camera position. That’s the contrast there. From his isolation and loneliness to his joy, and the reflection of the world he sees dancing on his face.

In the end, you can question how much of it is actually real. For you, are there any visual cues in the movie that distinguish fantasy from reality?

Well, even the things that are there I’ll never talk about. We wanted to make the interpretation of the real versus what’s not real, a part of the viewer’s experience. For instance, his relationship to Sophie is a fantasy to him. Some people have asked me, “Was she killed?” Todd makes it clear she wasn’t killed. Arthur is killing people who’ve wronged him in a certain way, and Sophie never wronged him. In terms of what we did visually to play with the real and not real, there are callbacks and scenes that mirror each other. We leave hints using imagery or way we covered scenes similarly between scene. Outside of that, I like that people can have the conversation and come to their own conclusions.

What about when he confronts and kills Murray? How did you and Todd want to keep turning up the tension in that scene?

The audience has seen Murray Franklin, as Arthur has his whole life, on TV. The four camera angles that cover Murray on TV, are the angles we’re used to seeing. The singles of the guest, the two shot, the shot of Murray, and the wide shot. We wanted to have a vantage point for the ending that the audience at home doesn’t see. As far as creating tension that mostly comes from the lensing. The camera goes from frontal angle and wider to over the shoulders of Murray and Joker, tighter each time until finally we are in extreme close up and behind the couch in what we refer to as reverse overs – the off axis over the shoulder that is less commonly scene on screen. It comes very late, like when Arthur yells, “Do you want to hear another joke?” The angles move behind the couch, behind the desk, and looking over Murray and Joaquin, showing us what the audience never sees, the most priveledged angles.

Was it ever surreal filming Robert De Niro, especially in a movie homaging The King of Comedy?

I love The King of Comedy, and Raging Bull is one of the reasons why I wanted to become a cinematographer. Every opportunity I get to work with someone that big of a star, I go to a place of nonplus. As much as it’s surreal, I go into professional work mode even more intentionally on those days, which is the best way for me to describe it. I just go, “Another day of work.” Usually, when the day’s ended I go, “Holy shit, I was shooting Robert De Niro.”

I think it was bigger for me when we did a table read in Tribeca at his office, because it was the first time I saw him. That was a little more, like, “Whoa.” The coolest thing about working with actors you’ve seen your whole life is, you see they have a process too. I see an actor and think, “They may have seven Oscar nominations, all the accolades and money, and everything, but they still get nervous, just like the rest of us.” It’s demystifying in the best possible way, because it puts us on the same playing field. We’re all just trying to make something good.

By the way, the movie I directed, Father Figures, I worked with Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, and J.K. Simmons, and shit, you realize, yes, they’re larger-than-life. Movies have such power. They create memories in our brains and relationships with people. If a movie is effective, we feel like we know those characters, so there’s always a strangeness when you meet them and see them as human beings.

The person I was perhaps most intimidated by was Joaquin. He has such enigmatic, dangerous energy on-screen, even when he’s playing somebody hurt and gentle, like he was in Her, which I loved. He’s such a powerful actor, even when you’re watching him act on-camera in person. He was mesmerizing every single day, in a way you never would want to turn away. Working with him on this movie, I got to see a force in him I hadn’t really seen from another actor.

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