Immerse yourself in the creative, experimental and highly subjective cinematography of the renowned DP Matthew Libatíque.
At the age of twenty-five, when Matthew Libatíque graduated from the AFI Conservatory with his MFA in Cinematography, he was working with fellow AFI student Darren Aronofsky on a short film entitled Protozoa. This initial partnership would result in six feature film collaborations and the start of one of the greatest film careers in modern cinema.
Since his first time behind the camera with Aronofsky, Libatíque has received critical recognition for a number of Aronofsky films, including Requiem for a Dream, The Well, Black Swan, and Mother !. He's also worked with fellow writers and successful commercial directors several times, including Spike Lee (She hates me, Inside Man), Joel Schumacher (Tigerland, Phone Booth) and Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2), as well as one -offs with major ones Names like Liev Schreiber, F. Gary Gray, David Fincher and Bradley Cooper.
How did a young New Yorker who learned photography from his late father with a simple Nikon camera become a movie superstar? And how did Libatíque's early collaboration with Aronofsky make him one of the most explorative and innovative DPs in business right now? Let's take a look at Libatíque's unique sensitivities and learn how you too can use cinematography to traverse the unknown.
The first thing most people mention when they talk about Libatíque's cinematography – or even just Aronofsky's filmmaking in the context of their collaboration – is the innovative camera tricks and techniques. You can see these in Libatíque's projects and trace them back to his earliest days when he experimented with various variable speed controls and double exposures with reverse shooting.
Libatíque looked at some of his earliest films – like Requiem for a Dream – and gained much recognition for his creative approaches to implementing time-lapse montages and jittery frame rates, as well as for some of the best uses of SnorriCam footage of any DP in recent history.
Reversal film and reflective lighting
What has really struck me throughout my career is the effect of reflective light. Because I was going to light something and thought I was going to light it the same way, but it was a different kind of reflectivity. And when your into reversal filming, you are dealing with the short leeway. So the reflectivity actually contributes to how much brighter you are in your highs or how deep you are in your lows. So all of a sudden I was just using a reflective meter, and I've been using a reflective meter throughout my career.
A look back at Libatíque's career reveals that he made the majority of his films on reversal film, which explains how he created such characteristically grainy and raw images from frame to frame. His focus on reflective lighting also shows how precise his control over the ups and downs of his shots needs to be, especially when it comes to the often hand-held and high-motion sequences from films like Black Swan.
In the ARRI clip above, Libatíque admits that even on his digitally recorded projects, he still uses a reflective meter and uses a “waveform that reflects a person's skin tone” because that's how his eye processes the light and colors for each shot . And while the reversal film may not be suitable for every DP and project, by this point its appearance has almost become synonymous with Libatíque's cinematography.
Subjective camera and close-ups
Libatíque's camera often talks about his work with Aronofsky, but also about a style and theme that can be found during his collaboration. She is often very subjective and focuses on characters and their emotions up close. You can see this mostly in films like Mother !, Schumacher's Telephone Booth and Lee's Inside Man, in which the often shaky and hand-held camera puts you in touch with the characters whose emotional state is clearly visible – sometimes for a painful amount of time.
In these cases, Libatíque works with the director's parameters to paint these frames and provide the lighting and composition necessary to bring those emotions to life. Or, as Libatíque puts it, working within the “four corners” of the framework while direction and action fill in the rest.
Manic movements in time and space
It's always interesting to delve into the films that inspired some of your favorite cinematographers in their early years. Libatíque's love for Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (as described in the Fandor video essay above) certainly explains a lot about how Libatíque developed his own sense of movement in his compositions.
We covered his innovative and creative approaches to dealing with time, using both slow and slow motion to distort our expectations. Libatíque also uses the space in its projects to involve the audience in the story through the generous use of handhelds and steadicams. The infamous SnorriCam is another example of how wild movement can be in a libatíque sequence. Inclined angles and jerky whip pans increase the energy and emotions in his recordings and scenes.
Perfecting the basic principles of filmmaking
Finally, it might surprise many to learn that Libatíque is indeed a more than capable director who could possibly have pursued it as a career if he hadn't gotten into cinematography so successfully.
Libatíque is known for preferring film to digital, but when it comes to his own projects he has quickly adapted to more DIY and indie film styles, including shooting his most recent film, A Different Beyond, with a Fujifilm X- T3.
You can see Libatíque at work on the set in the featurette above. It's actually a fascinating look at how a well-known cinematographer can run a $ 1,000 camera through many of the same processes as he would for a big blockbuster like Iron Man or A Star is Born.
From focusing on composition, lighting, and innovative techniques, it really shows how rooting in the basics while you're still looking for something more can turn any project into a career starter movie.
You can find more DP profiles and notes on cinematography in the following articles.
Cover photo of A Star is Born (via Warner Bros.).