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Alex Papaioannou, IN SESSION FILM

January 29, 2024

Celebrating its world premiere at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, Stress Positions is a chaotic film starring John Early and directed by Theda Hammel. Taking place in New York in early 2020, I was immediately taken by the look of the film and how well it captured that specific moment in time. Below, you’ll find a transcribed conversation with Director of Photography Arlene Muller in which we break down her approach to the film. We also discuss music videos, Early as a comedic legend, and the interesting challenge of not only shooting in a New York brownstone, but adding hurdles via shooting through environmental obstacles. Check out the conversation, and be sure to check out Stress Positions!

AM: Physical barriers and obstacles are a huge part of the visual language of the film. And that was something that Theda really wanted to come through. The idea was that things were difficult for people. And visually, those obstacles make the sort of tension of the film more apparent. That was definitely part of her plan. That’s a great observation.

AP: [Laughs] Thank you. Keeping with the visuals, there’s a lot of instances where light is just going off the rails. I think of the disco ball rolling down the stairs in the beginning, or when the camera is facing the projector and we just see bright, colorful light. How did you plan that? Did it come about on that day? Is that something you’ve had in your mind working over the years?

AM: I think a lot of that stuff came naturally. We were looking for ways to make the image a little bit jarring. In the beginning of the prep, Theda said that she wanted images that were really truthful to the feelings that the characters were having. She didn’t want to be precious, and that was something that carried through the film. We weren’t looking to create something that was like the perfect, harmonious world, because this isn’t a perfect, harmonious world. So all of that stuff, from the lens flare to the strong and jarring light, plays into that idea of “This is what the characters are feeling.” This is their point of view.

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