The Cinematography Podcast is the program about the art, craft and philosophy of the moving image and the people who make it happen. Your job title doesn't have to be cinematographer to be featured on the show. We interview a wide variety of filmmakers including, actors, directors, producers, production designers, editors, storyboard artists and those in related filmmaking careers. This is not a film school, more like a professionally produced radio program found on NPR, each episode brings an interesting perspective to an often overlooked and widely misunderstood craft. Recorded in Hollywood, California at the world headquarters of Hot Rod Cameras. Hosted by Ben Rock and Illya Friedman.
Wally Pfister, director/cinematographer PART 2: Inception, Moneyball, The Dark Knight Rises, winning an Oscar, moving into directing, and listener questions
The Cinematography Podcast Episode 102: Wally Pfister, Part 2
We continue our conversation with Oscar winning cinematographer Wally Pfister- don't miss Part 1.
When much of the film world was going digital, Christopher Nolan and Wally began to experiment with large-format IMAX cameras. They had used the IMAX format for some of the visual tricks on The Prestige, and Wally was excited to try shooting more on The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Wally did lots of tests with lighting and specially created IMAX lenses, which have a massive frame and shallow depth of field.
Just after The Dark Knight, Wally was hired to DP Moneyball with director Bennett Miller. He decided to take a more dramatic and moody approach for lighting the baseball games, rather than using conventional, flat stadium lighting. After doing some tests, he was able to convince Miller that the scenes still looked like a baseball stadium, only better.
Once Wally saw the script for Inception, he knew there would be several logistical challenges: shooting hand-held chase scenes in the snow, and of course, the rotating hallway scene. Christopher Nolan still preferred to do most of what was seen on-screen in camera, as a practical effect rather than with computer generated VFX added later. Nolan wanted a James Bond aesthetic for the film, with naturalistic lighting and a loose, hand-held feel. It was Wally and Nolan's sixth film as a team, so it was easy to work together during pre-production, even while working out the most technical scenes. A huge rotating rig was built for the famous gravity-defying hallway scene. (Here's a BTS video of the making of the scene.) Wally installed practical lighting into the rotating cylindrical set, with one camera affixed to the floor, so it does not appear to rotate, and a second camera that rotated with the set.
Wally won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Inception, after being nominated four times. It was a huge honor, and he was very proud of his work on the film. Once he'd won, it changed his life- so much so, he decided to move into directing. He directed his first feature film, Trancendence, starring Johnny Depp and executive produced by Nolan. It was a huge challenge for him to let go of being in control of the photography and to find the right DP and a good camera operator. Since directing Trancendence, Wally has enjoyed directing commercials. But on set, he'll still act as director of photography, lighting the sets, and directing the actors and the camera operator while watching on the monitors.
Find Wally Pfister: Instagram @wpfister
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Close Focus: A discussion of the theatrical release box office numbers during the pandemic. This week's box office winner, Freaky, made only $1.2 million. Wonder Woman 1984 will be released day and date, in theaters and HBO Max- the first big tentpole movie to do so.
Ben's short end: Interested viewers might want to watch famed documentarian and our upcoming guest, Frederick Wiseman's work. Most of his films can be found on a href="https://lapl.kanopy.
Wally Pfister, director/cinematographer PART 1: working with Christopher Nolan, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige and more
The Cinematography Podcast Episode 101: Wally Pfister, Part 1
Wally Pfister grew up loving movies, and couldn't wait to become a filmmaker. The son of an ABC news journalist, Wally got his start as a news production assistant in Los Angeles, and he worked his way up to become a news cameraman. He attended American Film Institute, where he met fellow filmmakers Janusz Kaminski and Phedon Papamichael. Together they began working for Roger Corman's Concorde/New Horizons production company based in Venice, CA, cranking out as many as twelve B-movies per year. Wally would leave the studio literally splattered in fake blood, but he knew low-budget filmmaking work was essential for having the freedom to learn lighting and shooting while on the job. Even with his prestigious degree from AFI, Wally knew it didn't make him a filmmaker- he still needed to learn and hone his craft before moving on to bigger projects. Those opportunities came once Phedon Papamichael brought him on as a camera operator for Phenomenon and While You Were Sleeping.
Wally loved the independent films of the 1990's, and was happy to work as director of photography for The Hi-Line, a well-received indie feature that won awards at several film festivals. Director Christopher Nolan saw the film, and approached Wally to shoot Memento. Memento blends black and white with color cinematography, to show the main character's broken memory as he tries to piece together who killed his wife. Nolan had purposefully scripted it so that the color sequences shown in the film are in reverse order while the black and white scenes are chronological. Wally and Chris Nolan both preferred taking a naturalistic approach to lighting and camerawork, and Wally's experience of working fast enabled them to shoot in just 25 days.
Insomnia was a big jump for Wally and Christopher Nolan into a bigger budget movie, especially with stars such as Al Pacino and Robin Williams attached. This time, Wally had the budget, the time and the ability to make a great movie. Insomnia uses light rather than darkness as a way to build tension- it takes place in midsummer Alaska, when the sun never sets. Wally used key lighting in certain scenes to enhance the performance of Pacino, whose detective character is quite literally hiding from the light, as his guilt and exhaustion spirals down into madness.
The next project Christopher Nolan and Wally collaborated on was a huge Hollywood movie: Batman Begins, which relaunched the Batman franchise after nearly ten years. Even though Batman is a superhero/comic book movie, Nolan still wanted to take a gritty and naturalistic approach- he never wanted the cinematography to get in the way. Wally kept the movie dark and rough, rather than glossy and stylized in contrast to the previous Batman movies. Very little of Batman Begins used computer generated visual effects- Chris Nolan prefers to do all effects in-camera when possible and used models and miniatures, as in the train derailment sequence.
For The Prestige, the production crew scouted locations in Los Angeles, and found old theaters and the Universal backlot to make it seem like Europe at the turn of the century. Again, Nolan wanted The Prestige to look natural and loose, with much of the film hand-held, even when Wally was on a crane. Wally used lanterns and natural light to illuminate most scenes, and every magic trick was done in-camera, with no special effects.
Iris Ng, documentary cinematographer of Stories We Tell, Shirkers, Making a Murderer, and more
The Cinematography Podcast Episode 100: Iris Ng
As primarily a documentary cinematographer, Iris Ng always asks where the camera should be at a given moment and how is it supposed to behave. She approaches a project asking about the perspective- is it supposed to be deeply personal, from within the lived experience of the person it's about, or more observational and objective, from the outside looking in?
Quite a few of the documentaries Iris has worked on are deeply personal stories. Her first big feature was on fellow Canadian Sarah Polley's film, Stories We Tell. The film integrated Sarah's family home movies, shot on Super 8, into contemporary interviews with Sarah's family members, and reenactments shot on Super 8 with actors in 70's and 80's era costumes. Iris ended up using several Super 8 cameras to shoot with, since the film cartridges are so short and the cameras had to be constantly swapped out and reloaded. Stories We Tell required a great deal of sensitivity as each person told their story of Sarah's mother, Diane, a charismatic actor with many secrets who passed away in 1990. The documentary was critically acclaimed and received an Oscar nomination.
Iris took a similar approach to the documentary Shirkers. Like Stories We Tell, Shirkers uses personal excavations and film material from the past to examine it for answers. As a teen, writer/director Sandi Tan and her friends had made an indie film in Singapore called Shirkers. Their film teacher disappeared with all the footage once shooting had wrapped, and Sandi wanted to tell the story about tracking down what happened to the film through interviews with friends while going back to retrace the experience. They chose interesting setups and locations for interviews, and Iris would often turn the camera on Sandi to capture her reactions as she was reliving her past.
For the Netflix documentary series Making A Murderer, Iris had a different challenge. Iris came to the project on year nine of filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos' ten year process of shooting the series, and used her artistic eye to help elevate and add to the the previously shot footage. Each of the two seasons was 10 episodes long, so it was a matter of ensuring that there was enough coverage and angles, such as the exteriors of the Manitowoc County Courthouse for the filmmakers to work with.
Iris Ng is currently shooting more narrative projects, such as the web series Hey Lady on CBC Gem.
Find Iris Ng
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Aputure: Coming soon- The Aputure LS 600d is the brightest LED light available. It uses 600 watts of power and can light an entire room at maximum power.
The Winner of Don Coscarelli's book, True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking is Marcos Segura!
Close Focus: Online film schools, both accredited and non, marketing to aspiring filmmakers. One of the latest is a company called Yellow Brick offering coursework through NYU, though upon completion a “certificate” and not a degree is awarded.
An update: Ben's experiment with Creation Effects plug-in, Swarms, to create swarms of flies to an episode of the web series, 20 Seconds To Live called “Astaroth” has been quite successful. He'll have a new version of the episode with the fly swarms ready in a few weeks and we will post it.
Illya's short end: Vespid prime zoom lenses are ...
Ross Emery, ACS, on Raised By Wolves, The Matrix movies, Dark City, shooting second unit and more
The Cinematography Podcast Episode 99: Ross Emery
Cinematographer Ross Emery believes that a director of photography can make beautiful compositions, but if the ideas aren't transferred to screen, it's not effective for telling the story. Knowing the intent of the director and the screenwriter is very important for translating the script into images, especially on movies with heavy visual effects.
On his most recent project, Ross shot five episodes of the Ridley Scott sci-fi series, Raised by Wolves for HBO Max. Ross and fellow cinematographers Dariusz Wolski and Erik Messerschmidt each shot episodes of the show. The first third of the series follows the androids “Mother” and “Father” to a new planet. Ross decided to shoot those episodes in the style of an ethnographic documentary, following the inhabitants around in their environment. It seemed a strange way to approach a sci-fi show at first, but Ross felt it aided creator Ridley Scott's ability to build the world, giving the audience the feeling that they are actually on another planet. Scott wanted the planet to be a harsh and inhospitable landscape, to set it apart from anything Earth-like and chose a location about an hour outside of Cape Town, South Africa.
Ross grew up in Sydney, Australia. His father was a documentary filmmaker, but he wasn't drawn to filmmaking until he was in his 20's. He began working in documentaries himself, then transitioned to shooting music videos, where he met director Alex Proyas. Alex then hired Ross to shoot second unit for the film Dark City. Ross found that working second unit was a fantastic place to be- it's a smaller crew tasked with shooting more action and visual effects sequences, with less oversight and less pressure than being the principal director of photography. After Dark City, Ross was asked to shoot second unit for The Matrix, and met with DP Bill Pope. The storyboards looked amazing, drawn by comic book artist Steve Scroce, and it became a matter of figuring out how to shoot something that hadn't been done before. As the second unit DP of The Matrix, Ross was responsible for shooting bullet time, the helicopters, and the fight sequences. In 1998, computer visual effects were not yet advanced enough to truly capture what was shown in the movie. Most of the shots were actually practical effects done with real actors, multiple camera arrays and real bullets. The Matrix was the hardest film he'd ever worked on, and Ross wasn't even sure if the film would be any good until the crew saw the finished product. Once it was a hit, Ross had a huge budget and every tool at his disposal to shoot sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.
Ross Emery is currently shooting second unit for the upcoming Marvel movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
You can find all episodes of Raised By Wolves on HBO Max.
Find Ross Emery
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IT'S A BOOK GIVEAWAY! LAST WEEK to Enter to win Don Coscarelli's book, True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking.
TO WIN: SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel, LIKE and COMMENT on the "Don Coscarelli" video version of the podcast we just posted! We will randomly select a winner from the comments. We're expanding and adding to our YouTube channel,
Don Coscarelli, indie horror director and screenwriter of Bubba Ho-tep, Phantasm, The Beastmaster and John Dies at the End
The Cinematography Podcast Episode 98: Don Coscarelli
Don Coscarelli is a master of the horror-comedy. He believes that even in the most horrifying times of your life, there are also moments of levity. His films explore the idea that there is another world, it's terrifying and dangerous, and it's also hilarious. Don has always preferred to just go ahead and make his own films, and feels you lose a sense of fun and exploration on big studio projects. The great thing about making indie movies is that anyone can pick up a camera and go make a movie over a few days or even a few years. Don shot and directed all three of his early films until The Beastmaster, which was shot by John Alcott, a frequent director of photography for Stanley Kubrick. Don wanted to make an epic “sword and sandal” movie after making his third film, Phantasm. The Beastmaster was still a low budget indie film, but he wanted to use a great cinematographer to give it a real sense of grandeur. Don felt he had to sell his soul in order to get enough money to shoot The Beastmaster, and the producers even threatened to fire him, but fortunately John Alcott stood up for him.
Prior to The Beastmaster, Don directed Phantasm, about a mysterious grave robber called the Tall Man. After the first week of shooting Phantasm, he decided to shut down, choosing to only shoot on the weekends and taking the time during the week to scout, rehearse and rework scenes for about a year. Don thinks it's helpful for indie filmmakers to pad their schedule with pickup days to give enough time to go back and get better shots, special effects or reshoot scenes if necessary. For his film, John Dies at the End, Don once again decided to take his time and made the movie on an intermittent basis, which luckily worked for the actors, who were all inexperienced, with the exception of Paul Giamatti. Mike Gioulakis was the cinematographer who also acted as the gaffer. Don went on to make the sequels Phantasm II, III and IV before writing and directing Bubba Ho-Tep. Elvis, played by Bruce Campbell, actually lives in a retirement home, and he and a fellow resident, played by Ossie Davis, have to fight a reanimated mummy who is killing the elderly. Don had a delightful time working with Ossie Davis, especially directing him to realistically fight a rubber mummy. Part of the horror of the movie was making the old folk's home truly scary- a place where people are abandoned and alone.
Currently, Don has been on a quest to find the original negative of The Beastmaster in order to remaster it, and set up a website for tips on where it might be located. Luckily, a perfect interpositive was found in the vaults of Warner Bros. which will be used for the remastered version.
You can read Don Coscarelli's book about his experiences called True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking.
Find Don Coscarelli:
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IT'S A BOOK GIVEAWAY! Enter to win Don Coscarelli's book, True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking.
TO WIN: SUBSCRIBE to our a href="https://www.youtube.
Director Ángel Manuel Soto on Charm City Kings, working with young actors, and directing a stunt-heavy film
The Cinematography Podcast Episode 97: Ángel Manuel Soto
When director Ángel Manuel Soto received the script for Charm City Kings, he found a connection in the story of disenfranchised youth growing up in a marginalized community like Baltimore- he himself grew up on the streets of Santurce in Puerto Rico. The movie is a coming of age story centered on a young teen named Mouse and his two buddies, who are determined to join the subculture of dirt bike stunt riders. The film, with a story by Barry Jenkins, is based on a documentary called 12 O'Clock Boys. Ángel wanted the film to be authentic to this rider culture. The bikers in the movie were all real and did their own stunts, which look amazing. His biggest inspiration for the film was Baltimore: shooting on location, working with locals as extras, and keeping it authentic. Ángel worked with cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi to create a raw and naturalistic look. He found it a pleasure to be able to work with such talented actors like Teyonah Parris, Will Catlett, and hip hop artist Meek Mill, who were proactive and prepared with what they wanted to bring to the characters. Ángel had to work within the limited hours for the young cast, but Jahi Di'Allo Winston as Mouse was very natural and intuitive, and all three child actors had chemistry from day one, which is hard to find.
You can watch Charm City Kings streaming now on HBO Max
Find Ángel Manuel Soto
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IT'S A BOOK GIVEAWAY! Enter to win the Video Palace book, Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man Collected Stories signed by our host, Ben Rock, who authored the story “Ecstatica.” The book expands the world of the Video Palace podcast that Ben directed for Shudder.
TO WIN: SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel, LIKE and COMMENT on the "How To Vote" breakdown we just posted! We will randomly select a winner from the comments. We're expanding and adding to our YouTube channel, so look for new content there, too!
Close Focus: Star Trek: Discovery is the first TV series to do post production entirely from home, which is something that has been possible for a long time but has only become a real possibility with today's reality and our current technology. Our interview with past guest Jeff Sengpiehl goes into great detail about this.
Illya's short end: Wireless video can now stream from your camera to your phone or tablet without a lot of delay, with the Accsoon CineEye 2 Pro Wireless Video Transmitter & Receiver Set. You can buy one at Hot Rod Cameras.
Ben's short end: In an episode of the web series, 20 Seconds To Live called “Astaroth,” Ben wanted to create a swarm of flies, but lacked the ability to do it at the time. He finally found a company called Creation Effects that has a plug-in called Swarms that can create swarms of different insects, birds, or fish.
Customer ReviewsSee All
The only Cinetog podcast you should be listening to
Only jumped in this Pod a week ago but already the best content & even better guests. I’m by no means involved with film or video but have recently found a lot of inspiration from Movies and Cinematography that I’m trying to apply to photography. Would love to hear you guys chat with Emmanuel lubezki... keep in mind if your have already please ignore this and I’ll get to that episode eventually keep up the great work!
A solid, industry relevant show
Ben and Ilya do a solid job, wrangling A-class guests and keeping things interesting, relevant and helpful for working DPs.
solid. are there more episodes coming?