All Of Us Strangers Cinematographer On Maximizing The Movie’s Emotional Wallops [Exclusive Interview]

EXCLUSIVES

I’m always curious when talking to DPs about how much intentionality goes into matching the thematics of the movie with the visuals of the movie in terms of light and shadow and how that plays. Are you guys actively thinking about, “Okay, let’s make sure that a shadow casts on this character’s face because that represents the inner turmoil that he’s going through at this moment?” Or is that just all stuff that is applied to the movie afterwards by critics and audiences?

Do you know what? There’s always happy accidents, Ben, but I’m a big believer in you create those happy accidents because you’re prepared for them. So what I would say is that, for instance, there’s a scene in the nightclub where it’s after they’ve gone to the bathroom and they’ve taken the ketamine. We really wanted the lighting design to transition from heightened club lighting to something that was completely not believable within a club environment. There’s a scene where the two of them come together and they kiss, and there’s this low-angle backlight that comes through them, almost like a heavenly gate that’s opened up.

And obviously that’s not going to be there in a nightclub, but I knew that I wanted the fixtures that could do something like that because I knew there would be this moment and it sort of came together. For me, I really feel that moment of them together and pushing in on the zoom of them kissing there, it’s for me how you would ultimately imagine that moment to be. So yeah, happy accidents do happen, but I think you have to be prepared for them, and that comes with understanding and preparation, right?

That’s awesome. Was there a scene or a moment that proved to be the most difficult for you to capture?

Yeah, I think one of the hardest scenes, and for me, actually, was one of my favorite scenes, is when he leaves the club and he comes home to his parents’ house and he climbs in bed with his mom and his dad. And after a lot of discussion, Andrew and I, we wanted to do it as a single-take shot. What was really tough about that is that it was a location. It was Andrew’s old parents’ house. It was a location in London. The rooms were tiny, the ceilings were super low, and we are shooting on big old 35 mil gear, so it needs proper rigging and proper operation. 

And it was really tricky because first and foremost, it was a physical ballet between all the cast members. It was a ballet between my amazing grip, Kevin Frazier, to move the camera above them silently and as unobtrusively as possible. And then it was me operating the zoom to kind of get out of shots and go into clean shots and all of that whilst adding police lights, whilst transitioning into different moments. I think it was probably like a five-minute ballet. And then on top of that, the actors had to perform. So that was really tough, because when actors need to perform, the last thing I want to do is have to do this physical ballet on top of it. But they all kind of believed and they all bought into it. And for me, it’s one of the most beautiful scenes because it is truly the one that exhibits the tragic loneliness of the story, because ultimately there he is alone in bed as a little boy in his pajamas with both of his parents gone and the lover that he thought he had wasn’t there anymore. So right there and then, that’s the movie.

Yeah, absolutely. When you look back on making “All of Us Strangers,” is there a shot or a moment, different from that one, that you’re personally the most proud of or that resonated with you the most?

Let me think. You know what? I really love the opening shot of the film, which is … you’ve seen the movie, but it’s a sunset landscape of London, and the sun happens to catch the glass on a building and throw a beautiful glow into the lens. And ultimately, it turns out to be the reflection in the window and Andrew sort of appears in the glass there. The reason why I love it so much is because the way that feels is, to me, it exhibits that bizarre feeling of loneliness in a busy space.

Some of the loneliest moments I’ve ever had is when I’ve been in the busiest cities in the world. You have all of these little spaces and you have a single person in a window, and you look at them off the street and you look up at them in the window and you wonder, what is that person’s life? And then they’re looking down and they’re probably wondering. It’s this sort of forced loneliness that busy crowds create. And I just think the metaphor that exists in that shot is beautiful and it’s deep, and I think it’s probably one of my favorite.

I love that. Is there anything you can tell me about projects that you have coming up? Anything that you’re working on that you’re excited about?

Yeah, so I’ve just finished a film called “William Tell,” which is as different to “All of Us Strangers” as it possibly could be. But it’s a period costume drama about the emancipation of the Swiss during the Austrian occupation in the 1400s. [laughs] So it’s very, very different, but it certainly exhibits a different side of a DP’s skill, in terms of scale and multiple cameras and big scenes and all of that sort of stuff. So it’s challenging in its own right, and I think it’s going to come out beautifully. And then, yeah, previous to that was a film I did in Los Angeles with an amazing director named Hallie Meyers-Shyer. And it’s called “Goodrich,” with Michael Keaton, and I think that’s going to be beautiful as well. That was also a wonderful working relationship, too. So yeah, there’s a couple coming out, and I’m certainly most looking forward to seeing how the world’s audiences feel about “All of Us Strangers.”

Definitely. I’m excited to share it with the /Film audience because I think this one … I mean, if it hits people the same way that it hit me, it’s going to leave a significant mark on folks. So I’m excited to have had the opportunity to talk to you today, and thank you so much for your time.

Ben, thank you so much. I’d just love to say as a last thing is that, as filmmakers, especially for me as a DP, my main aim with what I do is just to leave that mark in some moment, in some way. And if I’ve achieved that, then that’s success for me.

“All of Us Strangers” is in theaters now.

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