Penélope Cruz in the wasp network
Wasp Network's sunny tide over a gnarled network of anti-Castro groups and remnants of the Cold War is a relief from the blue skin, suits, and shadows of heavy political thrillers. After all, it is an Olivier Assayas film (Irma Vep, Personal Shopper, non-fiction) that was shot in Cuba, Miami and the blue sky and ocean in between. As with Carlos, Assayas & # 39; DPs Denis Lenoir (Cold Water, Disorder) and Yorick Le Saux (Personal Shopper, Nonfiction) shot their own half of Wasp Network. With Carlos, Le Saux started the film and chose the footage, lenses, etc. At Wasp Network, Lenoir turned the first half and chose the Sony VENICE to move the brighter end of the curve of the film (hot exterior, sand, sky and reflective ocean), a choice that Le Saux may not have made (he would have chosen an Arri Alexa to make Assaya's first digital film).
One might assume that Lenoir and Le Saux were anxious to exchange notes or methodically ensure that the two halves of Wasp Network did not look like two separate films, but the opposite is the case. As in Carlos, they hardly discussed it. Years later, they can hardly remember who shot what. If you didn't know that Wasp Network was shot by two different DPs, you will never notice. I saw the film twice and could not determine a pattern of who made what. Both spoke separately with both DPs – first Lenoir, then Le Saux – and attributed consistency to the fact that the film was much larger than themselves. Although they have completely different tendencies in terms of lighting and philosophy, the director, the actors, have , the script, the locations, etc. the pictures so well informed that neither of the two DPs in the film can be distinguished from the other.
Filmmaker: Olivier told me that you decided to shoot Sony VENICE.
Denis Lenoir: Yorick, the other DP, is an Alexa type. I used to be an Alexa type, but I think the Alexa is a little out of date now. I love the recording, I have used it for so many films that I happily switched from film to digital so that Alexa will always have a certain place in my heart. But I used the Sony FS7 and learned to love photography and color science. In tests, I found that the Sony VENICE had a wider dynamic range than the Alexa. I knew that we would need this range outdoors in tropical countries. I've also decided, and I know that it doesn't sound intuitive, that the best thing to do is to overexpose a stop. The reason for this was that over the years I have learned that in the same way that you overexpose films, it helped to clean up the image in digital form. It's good unless you want that grain or noise. I wanted a very clean picture, so I overexposed everything with a few exceptions. In the scene where Ana (De Armas) is driven home by Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura), it got too loud at night and I didn't like it. We shot 4K. We couldn't afford 6K, so we didn't use all of the coverage.
Filmmaker: It looks like you haven't used filtration to handle these hot highlights.
Lenoir: First, I would say we were two DPs and I wasn't the one who shot Penélope Cruz, so I can't answer that I filmed them. That's a question for Yorick. Then it's a two part answer. One thing is: yes, it looks natural, it is digital, it is the pictures that Olivier wanted, which does not mean (as DP) that you make no choice, have no direction and have no personal taste. On the other hand, it's an action film (a kind), there are normal people played by fancy actors, they're all pretty young and soft. The two women I filmed, Ana and Penélope, are young and beautiful and didn't need filtering. There was nothing to hide.
Filmmaker: Olivier said he tried to shoot as much as possible in bright outside areas. The film is also generally refreshingly bright. They work at the top of the curve, everything is clear, faces and background.
Lenoir: Yorick may think otherwise, but it is true that I loved finding bright pictures that clearly show the faces of the actors. It may have something to do with my failing eyes (laughs). I don't know, I don't think that's it. But it's true that when I was a young DP, I thought it was so cool to put my chic actor in complete darkness for 30 minutes. In a way, I was inspired by the work of other cameramen.
It's cool, I love it when I see it. At the same time, over the years I have become more and more convinced that a large part of what the actor does in acting goes through a series of emotions and forms of expression that are themselves like a landscape that changes time. If you don't give it to the audience, you betray the actor and steal something from the audience. In the scene where Ana hears live on TV that Wagner's character has returned to Cuba and left her behind, we stay with her all the time. We don't cut to the TV and it doesn't have a single line of dialogue. What she did throughout the scene, which is quite long, was incredible. Obviously, this example is extreme because it's only up to her and she has no dialogue, but I'm becoming more and more careful about getting actors into the dark.
I had to cheat a film called Righteous Kill with De Niro and Al Pacino. It's not one of her best films, but the producer and director wanted to keep their faces shining. So I wondered how I could maintain a thriller effect without putting her face in the dark. What I did was put something very light in an otherwise dark background so that the audience's eyes stopped in a way and turned off their iris. So this feeling was achieved even though their faces were totally bright.
Filmmaker: There is another scene with Ana De Armas in which we follow her through a dance floor and do not look away from her face or show what she sees until the end of the move that reveals her husband.
Lenoir: To be honest, it was a lot of fun making this film in general, but especially working with Ana and the actors I hadn't met before, and also for Olivier. I hadn't known about Ana before. I would almost beg for another shot because it was so much fun filming it. This scene is such an explosion, and yet it is only with her, with her, all the time.
Filmmaker: Do you generally prioritize actors more these days?
Lenoir: I am absolutely convinced that the film is not about the DP and its work. It's about something totally bigger than her. Yes, they have a part and a creative part, but they should never try to be interesting or anything. I've always been in the service of the director, but maybe because of my years in the US I also felt more in the service of the actors, which doesn't mean that I think there should be so much light time. I can hardly do it (so), so it is.
But I remember crying twice because of acting, not sobbing, but tears in my eyes behind the camera twice in my life, and both times were at the beginning of my career. The first was actually the first film Olivier made, Disorder, it's a one-line character in a graveyard (laughs), so in a way I was always sensitive to the actors.
Filmmaker: Did you give Yorick a solid foundation to follow?
Lenoir: Not at all. I will go back to Carlos because it was the same director, the same two DPs who each made about half of the film. Yorick was the one who brought Carlos to the market, so he chose the footage and the one diffusion filter that we would or would not use. That was about it. I spent a day on his set when he finished his time. I looked at the way he turned on the light, and like every time I went to a college movie set, I had no idea what he was doing. I loved what I saw on the video tap, but how did he do it? I did not understand it. I hardly looked at the daily newspapers. There were probably too many daily newspapers, probably several hours, so I didn't look and Olivier didn't say anything. At that point we had worked together many times. The result is that no one can say who shot what. It was exactly the same with Wasp Network. I chose the camera because I started the project this time and told him we would overexpose it. I don't know if he did, but I shared it with him. We decided not to use filters, but he could use them if he shot Penélope. I don't know what he said and what he didn't say. And I don't know if he saw daily newspapers – maybe he did, but I don't know. In the end it will be the same. When I watch the film, I can remember what I was doing because it was fresh, but maybe I'll watch the film in ten years and I don't even know. While editing Carlos, Olivier told me that he couldn't tell who shot what. He had to find out who was behind the camera that day to find out who had shot which scene.
What is the lesson? It's not that Yorick and I are completely interchangeable clones. In my opinion, the film has its own schedule, script, actors and locations. If we were to shoot Wasp Network in North Korea, it wouldn't look the same at all. So half of the Wasp Network that I shot doesn't look like my last feature. And it doesn't look like Carlos, even though he's the same director, the same DPs, and a common actor.
Filmmaker: Not even a conversation about how you would start the dialogue? There seems to be a single language there.
Lenoir: No. There are so many scenes that span multiple pages with dialogues between two characters at one table and in the same place. Olivier does something he likes to do when he crosses the border in the middle of a scene to change the background and keep the pictures more interesting. I am not enthusiastic about it myself – in dialogue I prefer what they call "walking and talking" in the United States. But Olivier doesn't like it, so no walking and talking. Personally, I find it livelier. Yes, it's a cliché of American television, but I would say for a reason.
Filmmaker: Is there a project you can imagine where you could take this transition more rigorously?
Lenoir: In the script master class at the New York Film Festival, Olivier talked about what he learned between his first and last film. He has become more eager and improvisational, less to constantly try to control everything.
Filmmaker: I just want to make it clear that you understand that VENICE has more depth in its highlights than Alexa?
Lenoir: I would say that the choice Alexa made in the internal software offers a more natural overexposure – what they have called a nice shoulder since the film days. The Sony VENICE is not a pleasant way to switch from some information to pure white. I'm not talking about clipping yet. But I would say it has more dynamics, which means that it has more information before it becomes white.
(A few hours later, I spoke to Wasp Network's co-cinematographer, Yorick Le Saux.)
Filmmaker: Denis says you like the Arri Alexa more than the Sony VENICE.
Yorick Le Saux: Denis chose VENICE. But for budget reasons we didn't shoot 6K, we shot 4K. I think VENICE is better if you shoot 6K and I would have preferred an Alexa, but whatever, we shot it.
Filmmaker: How did VENICE handle these brighter highlights?
Le Saux: Denis says VENICE contains more information and reach in the highlights, but I'm not sure if that's true. I was not there to prepare and therefore could not run any tests alongside the Alexa. But I think the VENICE has less of that range when it captures in 4K.
Filmmaker: Have you overexposed a stop like Denis?
Le Saux: I had never used VENICE before, so I got used to it in those five weeks. I didn't stick to it like a rule, but I kept the idea that we would enjoy the hot highlights and the burning sun, things like that.
Filmmaker: What do you think about your and Denis’s decision not to be too rigid about the transition?
Le Saux: I don't know why, but maybe because of these variations, the viewers are somehow invested more in the scene. Did you see the film at the New York Film Festival?
Filmmaker: I did the new cut.
Le Saux: What did you think? Do you think it is better
Filmmaker: I think the material is approached in a very interesting and strange way, but I only saw the new cut. I have nothing to compare. Did you see it?
Le Saux: I only saw the footage separately. I haven't seen it in the movie yet.
Filmmaker: How exactly did you and Denis split the shoot?
Le Saux: It was more on schedule than for technical or conceptual reasons. He did the first five weeks. The only rule we followed was that Penélope would only be shot by a DP. We thought that was better for them.
Filmmaker: Denis wasn't sure if you used filtering. Did you?
Le Saux: I didn't use filtration.
Filmmaker: What do you think when two different DPs have been awarded for the film?
Le Saux: I think it would have been much better if there had only been one DP. But this film was a lot. There was a lot to shoot every day, there were a lot of problems and I don't think I could have done it.
Filmmaker: Do you work more with actors over the course of your career?
Le Saux: No. For me, the priority was Olivier. There's a lot going on in this film. There is action, there is drama, a lot of juggling for Olivier, and my job was not to spend too much time with the lights to give him as much space as possible to do what he needed. But of course I love the actors. I have to be there for the scene. I don't care about the light. I have to find my way into film, my way into filming, which should work for the actors, the scene and the director – not in favor of photography.