I got to talk with Director Of Photography Sean Porter, a second time, in regards to his latest film 20th Century Women. You may know his work from Eden, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, The Trust, and/or Green Room, but I'd be impressed if you spotted an obvious throughline in his ouevre. Watching 20th Century Women I was unaware he had shot it til the credits rolled. As a cinematographer who hopes to adapt/evolve entirely to the given material, he surely takes that news as a compliment of the highest form.
Sean Porter photographed two of my favorite films of 2016. Released first was Green Room, a brutal siege horror exercise, which we talked about earlier in the year, and the other is 20th Century Women, which, during comparison, he describes as “a coming of age, sun-drenched, family dramedy”. They could not be more different. Although, in terms of his approach to exposure, are relatively same. Sean deflates the conceptual stigma surrounding a fluid, less controlled set (and their practical limitations) and brings to light their ability to let intuition breathe.
- Sean Porter opted for a camera package similar to the one he used on Green Room, albeit an Alexa Mini for it’s smaller form factor and the same Cooke S2’s + S3’s
- Lit primarily with Litemats rigged to the ceiling of all the rooms, Sean shaped with natural light for daylit scenes and practicals for night.
- Sean started the days off with his meter rated at a 1600 ASA and The Alexa at 800 -- he still likes to beat the image up
Sean is thorough in his answers. Sometimes to the point that he’ll somehow answer questions I haven’t even asked yet. Those questions are included, and are struck-out with a line through them.
Q.Could you go over the camera package you used on 20th Century Women?
I know this movie is much different from my other ones in some respects. And I think that everytime I approach a project I try my best to stay open minded about the gear I use — because I don’t want to make decisions before I get to know the material and the locations, or before seeing the talent and seeing what the director wants to do with it… But, at the same time, I don’t know, I guess it’s hard to teach an old dog a new trick. Predictable outcomes are a big deal on a movie, especially a movie like this…
I think commercials or super low budget indies are a good place to experiment. On a bigger movie, there’s a certain predictability in your toolset that I think is important. Nevertheless, on Green Room I did full camera tests. I tested the newer REDs, all the Alexa’s, the Amira, even some Sony Cameras — all kinds of lenses, we had Leica’s we had S4’s, we had the older Cookes… And I think it was really to give me a sense of how all the cameras would perform under those particular circumstances: how are they gonna do under a lot of black light, or in all these dark hallways? All these things we had on Green Room.
Ultimately we made a lot of those decisions based on how the camera was rendering in these locations and the lighting we wanted to use. On 20th Century Women, same approach… I didn’t do formal camera tests like I did on Green Room, I already kinda knew where it was heading. Mike and I talked early on about the overall effect of the film. You know it’s cool because we didn’t talk tech too much. Mike is very capable in every department, but it was nice not to have to get into the nitty gritty technically. We got to talk in much broader and artistic terms, like the way things feel, or how the images would complement or contrast the story, rather than let’s talk about lighting ratios, or sharpness.
I think with Mike, the movie's set in 1979, so clearly there’s going to be a vintage, vintage isn’t even the right word, it’s more of a timelessness — it’s going to be dated anyways because of the locations, the hair, and the wardrobe… There’s a risk with a film like this, where, I could have hopped on board this vintage bandwagon and shot on really old lenses, used lots of diffusion, and put sepia tone filters in front of the camera. I think what can happen is that you create a barrier between the audience and the film. You let them write off the fact that this is a period film, so they might think “none of this really applies to me”. We talked about the importance of the film being present feeling, feeling relevant now just as much as it did then, because people are doing the same things they did 20 or 30 years ago. So I wanted to avoid those period movie clichés.
To me, this did not feel like most period dramas, and in those films I think the aesthetic can become limited to recreating that. Here, I felt the aesthetic was more contemporary and less bound by that, what did you guys talk about in terms of creating a look for the period/time?
At the same time, of course, you want the actors to look beautiful, and the sun to have that hazy quality to it. And that’s what’s amazing about these lenses. I used the same S2’s S3’s I used on Green Room to completely different effects. I had essentially the same exact camera package. In this case I used an Alexa Mini, just to have a smaller form factor, but basically an Alexa platform with the Cooke S2’s S3’s. But now, instead of using them for a thriller/horror movie I’m using them for a coming of age, sun-drenched, family dramedy. And it was really cool to see that same toolset, on one hand, be so predictable, but also so flexible.
Mike and I talked a lot about, yeah of course, Annette Bening, she is getting older. How is she going to be represented in the film? At first, it was a concern, and knowing the way Mike wanted to work wouldn’t allow for glam lighting, and it also didn’t seem to suit the story. This is about real people, and the more vulnerability, humility, and respect we can bring to these characters the more audiences will engage with them. If they were more like iconographic versions of themselves, again same issue, period. If it’s too cliché people aren’t going to relate. But there’s nuance and idiosyncrasies about these people that make them real. So with Anette, Mike didn’t want use any makeup, we had a makeup team of course but he wanted to be super minimal.
We weren’t really sure exactly how it was going to go down. Then one day Mike called me, and he has this really beautiful sunlit studio office space… And he says: Annette’s here and we’re having a meeting. And I was just looking at her, wearing probably no make up sitting in this naturally lit studio space, and she looked amazing. I knew we had nothing to worry about. Which was freeing because we could make the movie we wanted to and just put her in it. And I think she appreciated that. It was very freeing. But I think the lenses, those Cookes - they have the resolution so that’s not an issue - but they also seem to really soften faces and make people glow. And when you have people like Elle Fanning, Greta, and Annette, in front of these lenses they kind of glow by themselves and they don’t need much help.
So one thing to help that cause early in prep: I took a couple of lenses and my still camera, an a7 with a PL mount adapter and went to the locations with Mike’s assistant, who acted as like a stand-in or a body double, and took her around and just took a bunch of photographs. Not really for any particular scene, it was just to explore the house and the locations and the natural light that we were getting. It was also a good way to see how the lenses were going to perform. Mike wanted to shoot basically in sequence, he didn’t want to do any night for night unless we had to. So it was all day for night, and we would switch back and forth all the time and basically give him a universal lighting plot that could look every direction; which meant I couldn’t light through the windows like I usually do. So it was a real challenge in that respect. It took some time to get used to the natural light in the house and get a sense of how we could use the place. Like, these are the times of days we can be on this side vs this side, which really brought it all together without using a ton of equipment.
Q.You’re unafraid to allow contrast and darkness in the faces, do you think this a more honest way of lighting actors? On this film, did you light a face differently based on the emotion of the scene or was it all practical?
Yeah, that’s a good question. You know, it’s funny, in film school — Well, it wasn’t really a film school. I went to University of Washington and they didn’t have a film school, but I took a lot of visualization, animation, film theory, and video arts stuff. You come out of there with a very ideological view of things. I thought I had a style coming out of school, and I definitely got to watch that completely break down when I started making movies.
I think the reason I’m allowed to do a film like Green Room and turn around and do a film like 20th Century, is because I try not to be beholden to any style, and I don’t want you to be able to watch my work and think “clearly this is a Sean Porter thing” because it has this stamp on it, or because I use some crazy filters all the time…. And I don’t like that kind of work, because I feel like in a way it’s putting the cinematography before the storytelling. If I had more time and more resources would I have done 20th Century Women a little differently? Maybe, but with Mike, he really wanted to give the space to the actors, and so you end up doing a hybrid. So of course you have to light the environment, because he wants to look in every direction and he doesn’t want to wait for a relight. So you’re forced into certain decisions. If I know I’m going to be looking this way and then looking this way, then I can’t light from the floor. So what other options do I have? I’m lighting from above.
So on a certain level practical considerations are dictating stylistic choices. And that seems very backwards, and not like something you’d want to hear in cinematography school, but it’s kind of true. If I put my foot down and was like “Mike, we have to do side lighting for this whole film” I’m gonna be setting up book lights whenever I turn the camera around — maybe that would create images that would serve the story, and maybe even make ones that would serve it better. But I would have been negatively impacting the making of the movie, and I wouldn’t have allowed Mike to make the movie the way he wanted to, and that’s a bigger issue.
So as a D.P you have to weigh all these things before you make a decision about how you’re going to make a movie. On this I knew that I had to make it work for Mike, first and foremost, I gotta give him the most time with the actors as I can. We have to light basically every room in the house all the time and have it ready, we have to build day for night, any room in the house, not necessarily on a whim, but plan for it, like when we’re shooting upstairs it’s daytime and when we go downstairs after it’ll be night. All this stuff has to work on a daily basis. So you have to adjust your lighting plan to suit that. My gaffer and I came up with these simple solutions — we didn’t have a lot of money, and we didn’t have a lot of gear, so you have to put all your resources where it’s gonna matter.
We ended up settling on these LiteMats which were great. They’re very thin and very lightweight. We basically put up large LiteMats in the center of all the rooms. They were all color controlled, all dimmable, and we put very large diffusion above them depending on the room and how big it was. And that was basically the plot. Then you’re really working to augment the natural light. So during the daytime we would have those fixtures up at a brighter level, they’d be daylight corrected, and they’re just giving the room ambience so that — like your saying in terms of the shadow — what’s nice about working that way is that you control the shadow level. So you could be like, okay, it’s a particularly bright day, I’m getting a large stop coming from the windows, then we can crank the LiteMats up to get the ratio I want, and then you can just go.
And then when night falls you switch all the color temperatures to something warmer, turn on some practicals in the room and shape that way. Now all the lights coming from above in terms of your key light. So to answer your question, part of me feels like it’s a little bit of both. In some ways my hands were tied [laughs]. If I can’t have any stands in the room then I can only put the lights on the ceilings. But it also just felt right, and that’s when things get tricky because you’re working intuitively, and emotionally, and you’re working with the director. Even if I could have done whatever I wanted to, top light felt right, it felt like that’s where the sources would be coming from at night time. And when you see a movie that’s completely side lit all the time, well, life just doesn’t look that way! I like to be able to play in both of those worlds
Of course at the end of the day we’re still shooting close ups on these people, and when you work in this intuitive way where you just work with whatever’s available to you, more often than not things do fall into place. Working with that toplight that could adjust the ambient level in the room, wasn’t traditional Hollywood backlight, but it did give people some separation and definition in the background. Naturally things in the center of the room were hotter than things on the outside, so you’re already getting tonal contrast from front to back. You’re building a lot of things that you might’ve otherwise spent too much time thinking about naturally. You’re just making these very simple decisions and then it comes down to blocking.
If we put the actor here she’s gonna be front lit, if we put her here she’s gonna be backlit with a low ambient glow. So you just kinda work around the space. So you light people, but in a more fluid way.
It’s funny. As much as I could I gave Mike as much freedom as possible, but there was one time in the movie where I said “Well, Mike, it would be a little better if we just had them stand like 4ft closer to camera for lighting.” And he kinda razzed me about it and it was really funny because I had created this environment, where, clearly, it was so flexible to him, that it never even came up. It came up like once or twice. Which felt, even though he was giving me a hard time in that moment, I felt it was actually a victory because it was kind of working.
So I think in a lot of ways your practical decisions are going to dictate at most, and at the least influence what your style’s going to be for that movie. And if you’re willing to roll with that, it can give you something you’re happy with, rather than fighting against it.
Q.Villeneuve Talks more about what Bradford Young’s light does for a set(Arrival) vs what it does for the look of the film, like when he talks about his work with Deakins. Are there films in which you think more about creating a space for the actors than aesthetic?
The best case is when everything’s working in harmony. So if you have a location or space that you light to function in a certain way, you can tune your actors into that, either directly or through the director. A good example was on Kumiko, with the Zellner’s. They kinda worked the way I imagine a Coen brothers film might feel like. They’re so particular. They didn’t have storyboards per say, but they knew every shot of the movie. You could talk about a scene in prep, and be like ‘how were you guys thinking about photographing this?’ and they would know the shotlist.
I had never worked that way before, and it was amazing. It’s not like they weren’t open to some things on the day, but it was nice to walk into a project where I knew there were these storytelling decisions that were focused on making the storytelling really good. It can still be a collaborative effort. So there’s one scene in that movie where she’s in her Tokyo apartment, she’s getting dressed while on the phone with her mom, and I kinda lit the environment, knowing the blocking and that it was going to land a certain way. Then I talked to Rinko about it, and it was like here’s the shot… Here you’re off camera, here you’re in the reflection, here you’re in silhouette, and here you’ll be in a closeup that’s lit a particular way. Not giving her blocking notes, but just giving her that information. Some actors can’t handle all that, but others internalize that and use it in their own storytelling. It was amazing to watch, she knew where all of those places were, and she integrated all of them into the scene. So now you have one shot that gives you a wide, gives you this abstract thing where you don’t see anybody, a wide with her in a reflection, gives you a closeup, gives you a silhouette…. All of these things.
That one shot becomes so alive because you’ve empowered your actors to use the space. It would be different to work on a film where the actors just like “This is what I’m going to do, you guys figure it out” and that happens too. An actor will come in and say this is how I want it, this is what I want to do, and the director’s like cool looks good to me and then looks at the D.P — like what are you gonna say? Oh it’d be better if there was this other thing? It doesn’t work like that, so you just now have to figure out how to make that work for the story. To me, it works so much better when everyone is working together to make a particular shot work.
When working with Mike it was so in between, it was much more fluid. It was the same principle but even more fluid. And I think someone like Annette who has worked in film so long intuitively knows that stuff. This is another trick I learned, and I think I read this, and it really stuck with me.. We might’ve even talked about this in the Green Room interview, but lately, when I light a scene, I almost always put myself where the actor’s are going to be. I just sit there for a second and try to experience it. Is there anything super distracting? Is there some weird stray hard light that I’m not noticing on the camera but that’s actually affecting the performance — looking for things that are not going to help the moment. When you work from that space you take you and your ego about lighting out of it for a second, and ask yourself how you create a space that’s inviting for a performance to work.
And typically that means using a lot less equipment. When you put Annette in a room she knows where there’s no lights and she’s aware of all this stuff. She knows where she’ll go into silhouette, she knows where she’ll go into a close up, and she knows when she’ll be backlit. So I think just giving them those tools to make those decisions can be incredibly liberating for everybody. And now, all of a sudden, they do a rehearsal and they do something amazing that actually works, and the director’s super happy with the lighting. That’s because it was a collaborative effort. If Annette had just stepped into silhouette and delivered all of her lines there Mike would be looking at me like “WTF are you doing?” but if she does it for a minute and knows to use it, then comes in for a close up everyone’s like “this is great”.
It’s so interesting to hear about what you’re saying between Bradford and Deakins because I’d love to know their answer to those kinds of questions. How they’re working on set, how collaborative is that world? I think that for a while I was lighting people, and really focused on people, and then I realized that there wasn’t really a separation. There really isn’t a separation between your environment and your talent. They’re part of that environment and the whole thing has to work together.
Q.The film has no obvious, plot trajectory, but still maintains an impressive sense of forward progression and deliberateness. Something about these shots of Jamie skateboarding, or the shots where characters or the car become highlighted in rainbow colors and slightly sped up… Was there a sense, in early talks, that you had to build a solid visual throughline?
I think that’s a good question… You know, I think the more and more I do this the more I realize that — I was talking to another person about this, about 20th Century, and they came up with this whole really rich, really interesting explanation for the way we photographed the cars. And I was just laughing to myself thinking ‘wow this makes us sound really smart’ and like Mike and I know what we’re doing as filmmakers. But the truth of it is: you’re working in this organic intuitive mode for so much of making a film. In prep you can talk ad nauseum, you can watch movies, you can make storyboards, and you can visit locations, but on the day you have real crew, real natural light, real actors, and everyone’s just trying to make the shot happen. Granted sometimes it might show up the way it does on the storyboard, but rarely, it’s now alive, it’s something else, and it’s how you respond to that that’s interesting to me.
You have a highly focused group of people that are only thinking about the movie, and you take all of that human energy that is not robotic and calculated or predictable, and you put ‘em in a room… Something’s going to come out of it that has some underlying meaning that is much larger than anyone can explain in that moment. It’d be sloppy to say that I just count on that happening [laughs] as if I don’t have any prep. But I think the prep leads to making those discoveries. We certainly did talk about the dolly work. We always saw this movie having these z-axis pushes and pulls. This was something that was going to be part of this language for sure, bringing a lot of dynamism to the movement and the blocking. But at the same time sometimes there’s no blocking, and it’s just people sitting in a room and we’re just pushing in on them or pulling out on them.
Then the camerawork is what’s giving you more information, or is zeroing in on a piece of information. And I love that about these moves. They’re so simple, sometimes you’re giving context, and other times you’re taking context away. You have a wide shot of this big empty house, but then you zero in on an emotion or a thought change. Or you’re starting on a thought and then pulling back on the context of this moment that’s much bigger. Or Annette’s thinking to herself and you realize, in a minimal move, that you feel really isolated in this big house.
Q.Certainly there’s a distinguishable pattern of pushing in and out on these characters in their corridors. What was the impetus to these dolly moves?
With Jamie’s stuff, that was something I was pitching in terms of using — here’s something about Mike that’s really charming and makes making films with him really interesting. He doesn’t like using any fancy gear. Like, he really just wanted to use a plywood dolly on skateboard wheels, he didn’t want a chapman or a fisher around. He just wanted it very simple, as if we were making a french new wave movie. So it was a little bit of a push to suggest these driving shots that’d require a stabilized head, griptrix [golf-cart-sized camera car], and all this fancy gear. But the effect is so simple and that’s what I liked about it. We’re not trying to do some crazy technocrane shot, we’re just following Jamie skateboarding, or following someone driving a car. There’s a simplicity to those that I like.
Specific to the car work, what I found so interesting - I don’t even know if this happened in the shooting as much as it did crafting the film in the edit - but the first couple of times we’re shooting Jamie in a car, we’re looking back towards Santa Barbara. And it’s during a time in the movie where the future is unknown, unknown for Dorothea (Annette Bening), unknown for Jamie, unknown for all of these characters. Their past is anchoring them, the city of Santa Barbara is both the ball & chain and the source of their life, their friendships, their home, and everything they have. So they can’t really escape it, and I love that shot of Jamie trying to go to L.A to escape this thing as it’s looming in the background. And we always shoot cars that way.
Again, I think this is probably intuitive, I don’t think we’re talking about this on the day. Then towards the end of the movie is the first time we’re behind the car, it’s when Jamie and Julie are driving up the coast, now we’re behind them and they’re entering a tunnel. It’s such a literal metaphor for going into this unknown space, but they’re looking forward and they’re not looking back. I think that was really amazing. Had I been able to show you a journal where I wrote all these ideas down I’d look pretty clever, but no, this stuff just happened. You just roll with what feels intuitive and what feels right in this moment. So of course you want to see the tunnel, you want to see them heading into this place, but then you see the movie and it actually makes perfect sense. So I think a lot of that’s happening. You might have a couple of rooted ideas like the dolly shots in the house or following him on the skateboard, and then you build on that. You’re not making random arbitrary decisions about how you photograph the rest of the scenes, you’re using these visual anchors you do know, even if you don’t know why, to find things that stand out as important. Then you build a film on top of that, and you have something that’s cohesive and makes sense.
Q.There’s that quote by Ingmar Bergman: “I throw a spear into the darkness. That is intuition. Then I must send an army into the darkness to find the spear. That is intellect.”
[laughs] I think it’s kind of like that! At a certain point you have to let go. If you’re so controlled you’re not going to let there be room for any magic, you’re not going to give room for your intuition to make decisions better than you could have thought about. I think it’s important to find the spirit of the movie, but then it’s like that old adage, if you love something let it free. Let it go, and see what takes you, rather than trying to hold it down. Mike was very good about that. And that’s part of your job. If I come onto a set I have to anticipate that things will change, and I have to be open so things are smooth to change. I can’t be like “Mike we can’t look that way because I’m not lit for it, or because there’s a bunch of trucks in the way”. That was my job, to protect Mike’s storytelling, and then, all of a sudden, the movie blossoms because you’re not fighting it the whole time.
Q.It also feels more epic in scope, it begins with this bird’s eye shot of the ocean, then sweeps over Santa Barbara, and then we’re looking down on this car in flames? Was there an impetus to create a scope here, or has that naturally come about by the material?
Yeah, I think Mike’s movies in general tend to bring in this social context, or the sociopolitical context of a moment. I think it really enriches the work and it makes me think of Lynne Ramsay and Ratcatcher, I don’t know if you saw that film. That’s one I keep coming back to personally and professionally, it’s just really inspiring. It’s a story about a boy coming of age, but it’s placed against the backdrop of very real shifts and changes, I think it takes place in Scotland, and had you taken that stuff away and just made it a story about a kid, it wouldn’t nearly have the impact. It’s because you see him in situ with this craziness going on, and it’s always played down and it’s so subtle.
One day the streets are littered with garbage bags, because there was a union strike and no one’s picking garbage up, and if you take that stuff away — for one, what an amazing visual, what an amazing thing to be like: I’m going to take what was really happening at the time and, if for any reason, just to make the shot more interesting. It makes sense to know where your movie is taking place because it’s going to give you these ideas that you wouldn’t have otherwise. I think Mike’s really in tune with all that. We weren’t always that literal about things, but I think his understanding of that time and place definitely influenced the way we shot it, the performances, the set design, all of these things. So it was never about just one kid, one mom, in this one moment, it’s about what’s happening on a global level. What’s happening with industry, art, music, politics? In some ways very obviously in the movie, like with the Jimmy Carter speech. And I think that by itself gives it depth, and then just pulling back and realizing this is a microcosm landscape, both visually, and politically and socially — economically and emotionally.
It would be too much to be like “...And here’s planet Earth!” but this is what’s happening for everywhere for everybody, and it just happens to zero in on this one family. Even starting at the ocean, in a non human realm, gives the film a little bit more scale and intention, instead of just being like here’s this domestic drama that really only applies to these people. I think you need that stuff, and I think pulling back literally and figuratively -- I think it’s funny, again, that we were talking about that, but those aerials have a visual weight to this concept that we’re supposed to be pulling away or pushing in. We’re either gaining scope or reducing scope in almost every moment of the movie. So the aerials set you up for that idea that we’re going to look at things at a macro and a micro level at the same time.
Q.Last we talked on Green Room, you mentioned you had an affinity for beating up the digital image to give it some life… Would you say you maintained that tendency for the look of 20th Century Women?
For sure! To the point that during the camera tests, I actually did a couple of tests where I thought [laughs] maybe I should go the opposite direction. So I did some tests where I overexposed and then pulled it back, and Mike wasn’t really liking it. But then we looked at some other examples where I exposed it more in line with the way I did in Green Room and he just immediately had a visual connection to it. Which was really great to see, and I imagine part of the reason I was even on the lists of D.P’s he was considering. My use of visual technology tends to oppress the digital-ness of the image. I think part of that is working in the heel of that curve rather than the toe. You wanna preserve those highlights really as much as you can, and if you need to go big for something then you go big for it.
Honestly, why I’ve probably been leaning towards Alexa for so many years now is that -- with Red, if I expose it properly I get to a place I’m somewhat happy with, but if I go digging around it’s just not there. At least not in the way that I want it to be. But with an Alexa, I can secretly rate my meter at 1600 and put the camera at 8 . So I’m underexposing a stop just walking in the door and that’s kind of where I live. And then if you need to go in and do a power window on someone then do it, but the environment, the ratio, everything, the quality of that image, just works so much better for me personally, and I think clearly with Mike as well.
I think here, maybe I was a little bit more conservative. Obviously it wasn’t as dark of a film, so I didn’t have any reason for really getting in there. But like you said, there’s some real ratios in there, some real moments of darkness, and then it’s just trying to protect highlights and letting everything else fall where it goes -- and then digging that out. It ends up looking more sculptural and more interesting, than having everything exposed properly.
Q.I know the last time we talked you mentioned that adaptability is key to you, but, can you say you’ve noticed any personal preferences sneaking their way into your work?
Yeah, I don’t know man. I think maybe in the long run, not even me, but maybe someone else can point at something and be like “this is clearly a throughline”. After I did Green Room I got a bunch of thriller/horror style films coming at me… And I think, it turned me off, you know? Not to say that “I’ve done it! I’ve achieved the Genre to perfection”, but I also feel like I’ve got to feel that world and play in it. From there I wanted to do something very different, I want to challenge my preconceived ideas about film, and I wanna turn over another rock and see what’s over there. And I think that was probably the reason that after Green Room I did this buddy cop movie, The Trust, which was an interesting thing, and then I did 20th Century. I guess I just feel very lucky that these opportunities have been presented.
It’s weird that the guy who did Green Room would be on any list to shoot 20th Century. Maybe that’s where a little bit of luck plays in, but if you look at my work you can see a style that you like, but you can also see that I’m capable of going a very different direction with it. And then to come off 20th Century, which was still a very indie movie, and then goto my next movie which is a crazy studio black comedy is so different. Totally different budget, completely different crew… completely different expectations for how the film was going to be made and produced, and what the product’s going to be. It’s much more of a product.
I think I could be that indie D.P and be like “I only wanna do these types of movies”, but you write off a lot of those experiences. Not that I can say Rock That Body is going to be my magnum opus of creativity, it’s not, but it’s flexing muscles that will benefit me down the line in other ventures. So I don’t want to shy away from that stuff just because it might not fit in with my other work. So at first when I heard studio comedy I thought, oh, I’m just not the right guy for this. But the fact that the director was like “we think you are”, that’s intriguing, it’s like okay, let’s see what happens.
Let’s see what happens when you take the guy who shot 20th Century or Green Room and drape ‘em over a broad studio comedy, and I guess we’ll see [laughs]. I think I want to keep heading in that direction, I think it’d be great if the next film were even more different than the last, and just see how far I can push that… I think you’re right, at a certain point -- the throughline is probably just people with a voice. I love working with directors that have a vision for a movie and really want to see it realized instead of fumbling our way through it. And there’s a very grey line there, because of course there’s an intuitive way of making a movie, but that’s different. That’s very thought-conscious. Instead of just being like “come on man we gotta get this done, we gotta get it in the can” [laughs] and that moment might happen on every movie, but it’s nice to walk into a movie where the director has a strong sense of how it should feel.
Q.How’s it feel… Your career blowing up… 20th Century Women getting Oscar buzz…?
You know, Mike worked with Kasper for years. Like seven years with the same crew doing Beginners and working on commercials together. And you know, I don’t think I even would have had that choice if Kasper hadn't last minute taken something else. I think at the time he was doing Sea Of Trees which is huge for him. But I think that Mike probably had access to just about anybody, and I feel incredibly lucky that I’m ever on anybodies list. And I can never point to a particular thing or film as to why I’d be on that list, but I’m grateful I’m there. A lot of that could just be the working part of it. At the end of the day you might be a great D.P, but the fact is, these directors have to put so much faith and energy into you for a good 2 or 3 months… So to be an asshole, or not be completely engaging -- that’ll wear somebody out pretty quick. So I hope first and foremost I come with an energy and a certain aptitude for wanting to make something work, that is appealing to somebody.
Q.I look forward to Rock That Body… Just the one sentence plot synopsis on IMDB…
It’s going to be outrageous. I think the director’s really smart, really funny, she’s been doing Broad City for many years now… When I first saw it, I thought it was so ridiculous, it’s something you haven’t seen anywhere else before. So it’s like okay, if I’m going to do a comedy, let’s do it with someone who’s willing to go for it. And she got all these amazing actresses in the room for it, so we’ll see what happens… It should be interesting.
See 20th Century Women when it releases January 20th, and keep an eye out for Rock That Body coming later this year. Thanks to ANNAPURNA pictures for BTS stills. My interview with Sean Porter On Green Room.