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“We Wanted to Paint With the Light and Write With the Camera”: The THR Cinematographer Roundtable


December 19, 2023

DPs Hoyte van Hoytema ('Oppenheimer'), Rodrigo Prieto ('Barbie' and 'Killers of the Flower Moon'), Cristina Dunlap ('American Fiction'), Shabier Kirchner ('Past Lives'), Dan Laustsen ('The Color Purple' and 'John Wick: Chapter 4') and Lukasz Zal ('The Zone of Interest') discuss their “happy accidents,” cinematic shorthand and the Barbenheimer phenomenon.

We all hear the comment “That was great cinematography,” but how do you define great cinematography? What do you look for?

CRISTINA DUNLAP If you can make it beautiful without stealing the show. Sometimes you want to make it about the camera and making the shot as beautiful as possible, but if it doesn’t serve the story, then you’re distracting.

Cristina, let’s talk a little bit about American Fiction. This was Cord Jefferson’s first feature as a writer, producer and director. And you created different looks, including rom-com and action. Tell us a little bit about filming that.

DUNLAP It’s hard to talk about it without giving it away, but I’d say the film is very grounded, for the most part. It is a satire, but it’s also a beautiful family story and very heartfelt. And then there are bouts of surrealism weaved throughout the film. The main character is named Thelonious, and everyone calls him Monk. Right off the bat, we knew that we wanted there to be a sort of jazz to the way the camera moved, and we had this very large ensemble cast that was incredible.

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