My good friend Wilfred Galila and I have collaborated on many creative projects in the past year and beyond, and so I was very excited to have him on board to be the Director of Photography for ‘Nuclear Family‘. I knew he understood the concept of the film as much as I did which would make the imperative communication between director and DP that much easier. The whole process from initial conversations about the visual style I wanted to achieve, to now the final tweaks to color correction have been a smooth process – and one that has resulted in ‘Nuclear Family‘ looking the way I had imagined it back in the writing stages.
Wilfred answered some questions about the process of creating the ‘look’ of Nuclear Family, working with the Canon 7D, and the state of Digital Filmmaking:
Q: How would you describe the look of “Nuclear Family”?
The look of Nuclear Family is one of decadence that is almost devoid of soul. It is a watercolor sketch of the story that is told.
Q: How was this ‘look’ achieved?
It was achieved in different stages and through other cinematic elements such as production design and wardrobe. The house that was used as the location amazingly had the right color palette that worked to our full advantage. Dominic, who wrote and directed it, wanted some sort of desaturated look with a certain amount of contrast. By shooting it with this direction in mind and doing the appropriate color correction during post production we were able to achieve this look.
Q: Describe your process for conceptualizing how you were to visually approach this film.
By painting with watercolor in my mind. The frame is a piece of paper and the images appearing on it are, in some parts opaque and some parts transparent as with the consistency of mixing pigment with water.
Q: What thoughts and/or emotions motivated you during the creation of these images?
Watercolor as it is being absorbed on paper.
Q: How was your experience working with the Canon 7D?
Working with the Canon 7D was an interesting experience. I have worked with it on another project prior to shooting Nuclear Family and have become used to it since then. I’ve enjoyed filming with it and would use it again. At first I had to get used to shooting a moving image with a still camera. Not that this process was something that was entirely new to me. It also included getting used to the shape of the camera. I have been used to shooting moving images with cameras specifically made for shooting motion pictures. It was a paradigm shift.
The usual answer would be that I enjoyed shooting the whole film and while this is true, there are a couple of scenes that come to mind right away because they were also, at the same time, an adventure. One is the opening scene in the car. We shot this with a mount for the camera that we stuck to the hood of the car using the suction cups that came with it. I have never done this before and I thought to myself that with a camera that size, I guess suction cups would suffice. We shot the master shot and a couple of close ups of this scene in several takes. The car with the actors and the camera stuck to its hood followed another car where I was with my camera operator riding in its open trunk. During every take we would try not to imagine the camera falling off the hood of the car. That car mount rig worked really well in the end. Another scene is the one that involved non-human subjects in the form of a beetle and a caterpillar and Dominic has already told this story before.
Q: Has this project offered any new challenges to you as a Cinematographer?
Yes, the challenge of coming up and achieving the look that is specific to this film.
Q: What is your take on the current Digital Revolution of Cinema?
I do not know if we should call it a revolution if what it means is to revolt. To revolt against what? A certain medium of telling our stories? Then we would just be revolting against our heritage. If what is meant by this revolution is a change in ways then I would rightfully call it the Digital Evolution. We are evolving in our ways of telling our stories through the medium of the moving image. Advancements in technology have given us access to an alternative medium. A medium that is also readily available to anyone who can afford to buy the equipment. Just as oil paint in tubes made painting accessible to the masses or roll film made photography available to everyone. We do have to remember that these are just media that are at our disposal and that the plethora of choices that is available to everyone does not make the entire planet full of Picassos nor does the accessibility and supposed easy nature of digital filmmaking has spawned a million Kubricks. On the other hand, and this can be the only thing that is worthy of the term revolution, this accessibility to the digital medium, including the internet, has freed the storyteller from the clutches of the powers that be that regulate the stories and dreams that each and everyone of us could potentially share and have access to. Finally real stories can be told and a myriad of dreams can be shared. Whether the medium is film, digital video, or, possibly in the future, holography; as we evolve with our ways of telling our stories it should always hearken back to our purpose of sitting around the fire to listen, to see, and gain insights into what it is to be a human being.
Q: Having seen a close-to final cut of the film, do you have a favorite shot and/or scene from the film visually speaking?
I really like, what I would call, the cerebral interludes of the main character in the film. The juxtaposition and layering of images that instantly makes sense.