Released in November in the US, Doctor Strange is still one of the hottest movies out now. Overall stunning visuals, writing, acting, direction and subject matter make the movie a must-see. Not too long ago, I had a chance to participate in an in-depth conference interview with the cinematographer, Ben Davis, conducted by MixKnowledgy Producer Erman Baradi. (MixKnowledgy was co-founded with Brandon Waites.) Read a few highlights from the event after the movie clip below.
When asked about YouTube and the changing landscape of cinematography, and when someone can call themselves a DP, Davis had this to say:
“When can you call yourself a DP? As a DP you’re in charge of various departments. A cinematographer is out shooting stuff. You don’t have to go to school, but it takes a long time to acquire the skills to be a good cinematographer. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m still learning.”
In response to a question about the art design of the scenes in #DoctorStrange:
"Most of the design was in pre-production. It came from Charlie Wood and the Art Department. A lot of that work was designed very early on. And then most of that is given to myself and Charlie and the special effects team. It’s my job to worry about how we’re going to achieve this technically. The artist can do anything. Then we embrace the images from that and we try to figure out how we’re going to execute that. It’s not all special effects. You have to deliver. Motion control, movement, lighting. In terms of the technicality, 'Strange' is probably the hardest movie I’ve done."
Erman also asked what was the most difficult shot of the movie:
"The most difficult sequence was the [inaudible] sequence. Slowing down and stopping, forward motion ... Things have to be shot in various sequences ... Every shot had a different set of rules applied to it. That was the most challenging sequence."
“I guess I did a good job. I’m a hard worker. Marvel movies are tough in terms of the schedule. I wouldn’t have been ready to do one of their films early in my career. They’re a huge undertaking.
I’m a collaborator. Marvel likes collaborators. I try not to go about it with an ego. One thing I’ve learned throughout my career, it’s about the final product. I can go out there and make it all about my cinematography, but if you’re trying to make a good film, that’s pointless [to make it all about yourself]. The primary thing is to make a good film. And that's what I try to do, I approach everything I do trying to see the bigger picture. The question has to be, ‘Is this shot telling the story? Is this shot beneficial to the film we’re trying to make?’ And I think Marvel appreciates … anyone in the Marvel network that works to that principle. Make the film good. It isn't about you, it's about the bigger picture, it's about making a good movie.”
In response to what attracts him to a project:
"It's the script ... With 'Strange' I knew it was going to be the most visually challenging and most interesting. It can also be the director."
A conference participant, Aaron, asked what Davis would like to receive from the director in pre-production:
"Mostly you need the director’s time. I’ve found that if you can sit there in the time before the film and talk about every single scene and what it’s going to be before [that works]. What everyone looks for from a director is direction. That’s what everyone's after."
Interested in a follow-up regarding a previous interview I read, I asked about the changes in technology and if that's influenced how things have to proceed with crew members:
"I think the basic structure of the film set hasn’t changed. It’s been described to me as the Court of Henry the VIII, with the director being Henry the VIII. There is a structure to the film set that has been built over time that works, and no matter what technology comes in that structure probably won't change. A few of the sets require various different crew members, but I don’t think the overall structure changes at all."
See Doctor Strange in theaters now.
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