"It had to look like no other film that he had done before."

 

Let's start with your background...
I come from a family of cinematographers in Australia. My dad was a cinematographer, pretty highly respected cinematographer. And my oldest brother as well got quite a bit of respect around the world, he shot films for Kevin Costner, Renny Harlin, and Jackie Chan, he just shot the latest HBO / Steven Spielberg / Tom Hanks series called THE PACIFIC. That's where I come from so I've never been to film school, I grew up in a family of filmmakers so yeah that's it I guess!

So you were born into it...
I was born into it, yes absolutely! I mean I grew up on set, my memories of my mum taking me to see my dad's sets, movies and commercials they made.

So it wasn't really a question for you to become a cinematographer...
Yeah well I think it kinda was but, you know I'm one of seven children and I'm the second youngest, and my oldest brother Steve was the only one to directly follow my dad's footsteps, my brother is older than me, he is a focus puller. But, I mean early on in my life I wasn't too interested in filmmaking I was looking at becoming a professional golfer. You know I trained really hard at that and spent a lot of time doing that. But then I was about fifteen, I got into filmmaking because I went in and visited my brother in Mexico when he was shooting a film called DEEP BLUE SEA for Renny Harlin, and it was when I saw that I realized that I wanted a filmmaker too. So I started making shorts and all that sort of stuff with a friend of mine back in Sidney, and we eventually made quite a few shorts together and eventually broke into the film industry together, and my friend is now an editor and I'm a cinematographer. So I guess that's when it came from so it was later on in my childhood, it wasn't at first you know, even though I was exposed to it very early on. It was only later when I was 15 or 16 even 17 years old that that's when I realized what I really wanted to do.

And which directors and films were you influenced by?
Stanley Kubrick was a massive influence and still is. He only ever made thirteen films in his lifetime and he deserves a lot of respect for that because those films are pretty incredible films. I'm sure that a lot people around the globe respect that, I mean he was a major influence. The next one was Wong Kar-wai, who's a Hong Kong filmmaker and he's been a pretty massive influence on the way he actually photographs films. And I think that that's maybe probably why Dolph was into me because that was a major influence, that Asian style of filmmaking. And that's what I really love and when Dolph approached me and I described in my treatment how “I” perceived the film COMMAND PERFORMANCE to be, I was talking a lot about Asian cinema and that sort of stuff and I think that's what he liked about the way I wrote it [the treatment].

Dolph had Ross Clarkson, his Director of Photography from THE MECHANIK, already lined-up but couldn't hire him due to scheduling conflicts, so how did he take a chance on you?
Yeah well it was through another Australian who's an editor, Kate Hickey, she's based in Los Angeles. She had worked on Dolph's previous two films [Note: DIAMOND DOGS new cut and MISSIONARY MAN]. And she basically put him onto me on DP-ing so it was through her that we got in touch with one another. I think that's where it all sort of happened because after that he asked me to read the script and write a treatment on how I would do it if I was to photograph the film and collaborate with him. It seemed to work out well, so that was how that happened.

Prior to that you had shot several feature films that were more low budget?
Yeah like independent Australian films, I'd shot a film called COURT OF LONELY ROYALS which I won an Award from the Australian Cinematographers Society. That got me a little bit of recognition, and then I shot a horror film called THE GATES OF HELL with a bigger budget ($2 million range), and then I shot a black comedy called $QUID which is more like a Cohen brothers style film. I think having that sort of versatile resume was probably a good thing to Dolph, you know? Because I had three very different films under my name to help him make a decision on who he wanted to be his cameraman to the film.

Which is interesting because all the films Dolph directed so far all have very distinctive styles of cinematography...
Yes, and that's where he wanted to go because he very much into films like HEAT, MAN ON FIRE and UNFORGIVEN, films that are like visually extremely interesting. And that's what he really, really wanted a lot from myself, for this film. It had to look like no other film that he had done before. I think that's what I was able to offer him was something that's not sort of standard you know. Maybe even at first he was a little bit insecure, I mean the first couple of days of dailies was a little bit questionable because the way the film looked because it was a bit unusual. But once he saw sequences cut together that was sort of undeniable, around the studio and around the production. So you could spot a different style to what you'd normally expect from a Dolph Lundgren film, or most films I guess.

Did it take a lot to convince the producers to approve you?
Well, I myself I didn't have to do any convincing but, I believe that Dolph may have had to put forward the case because I'm very young, I'm only 25 years old. And I think that for a production company like Nu Image, to take on somebody like myself was a bit of a gamble, and I think they had to really listen and trust Dolph on his instinct of employing me. I think it was a gamble yeah absolutely. I mean my credibility is only as extensive as the Australian film industry it doesn't reach outside that, prior to doing this film you know. A lot of producers would be very skeptical about hiring somebody like myself, unless you know them personally you know?

How long before filming were you on board?
I think I was first approached about three months before we started shooting. And by the time I had left Sidney and I was in Bulgaria I had five weeks of pre-production.

"When Dolph was on the stage playing the drums, we needed to make it feel like he was playing in front of thousands of people"

What was Dolph's approach for the preparation and what he wanted the film to look like?
We brainstormed a lot, we looked at a lot of movies together, we spent a lot of time watching other films and saying where we wanted to go. From a lighting perspective, we looked at some Tony Scott's movies like MAN OF FIRE and we looked at some Michael Bay films like THE ISLAND and TRANSFORMERS. So that was the lightning approach because we wanted to have a very commercial feel. Then from a camera and lensing perspective, we looked at the BOURNE SUPREMACY. And THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, which is the second film out of the BOURNE films, was a major influence for us because it feels very realistic, it has a very interesting kind of documentary approach to the photography. That was a film that we studied quite a bit, and also western films, particularly Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone films like UNFORGIVEN, THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, the character. We looked at a lot of those and we ended up coming up with a term which we used on the set called a "Bourne western". We felt that's what we were making: the film was like a western but almost in that BOURNE style so we called it a "Bourne western" and that was our short term reference to what we were doing and we understood visually what that meant: a film that was lit like a commercial film that was lensed like a Bourne film, and the camera had to look at from a western point of view, like a Clint Eastwood film.

It's a quite complexed high concept film logistically with the concert and the action, and without a huge budget, how did you approach it?
We didn't have a lot of time to make the film, I think we only had 5 weeks so it was about 30-36 days shooting. What we decided with Dolph that I'd seen at concerts that lightning wise, all our lights could be incorporated into the set. Because it was at a concert we spoke with Carlos [Da Silva] who was our production designer, and him and I see if we could incorporate our light into his designs. So movie lights become practical lights and that allowed us to shoot with 360 degrees sets so we could shoot very quickly, and shoot a lot of screen time, with three or four cameras at one same time. Rather than lighting each close-ups separately, I could light four or five close-ups at one time, just by allowing our movie lights actually being visible in the frame so we had our lights always in the frame, and they looked like concert lights, so concert lights you could see at a concert on stage, or fluorescent lights you might see in a hallway, or death lights that you might see in the Kremlin. That was the approach we went with to allow that to happen in that short period of time.

Did you discuss music videos?
We didn't really look at music videos because we wanted to sort of steer away from that, even "American Idol" we wanted to keep away from that, because we wanted the film to have a documentary feel so we actually looked at some footage from the 60s, like there's a concert by The Doors in England, particularly interesting to us because the camera really felt like it was there, and it was amazing to see The Doors playing for so many people, and that was the feel we wanted. So when Dolph was on the stage playing the drums, we needed to make it look or feel like that he was playing in front of thousands and thousands of people and I think that's the result we've got. And even with Melissa, who was playing the Venus character in the film, we didn't wan it t to have that music video or "American idol" feel to it where you got with sweepy crane shots and all that. The camera had to be hand-held, it had to be gritty, it had to be part of the location itself. That's we went with so we looked at Doors footage, even some Led Zeppelin stuff, and recently stuff like Metalicca concerts, Guns 'N Roses concerts from the late eighties: they were huge influences on the way we shot the concert footage. Because we wanted that feel, that when they're watching the film we wanted them to go "holy shit, that's actually Dolph Lundgren, in front of thousands of people, playing in front of them!" That was the feel that we wanted, we didn't want it to look like a music video. Because music videos tend to have that feeling like it's staged and that wasn't the feel that we wanted, maybe for a different film but not for this one.

You don't want it to look fake especially since the film is a thriller with a lot of tension going on...
That's right, that's exactly the look we were going for, I mean again the reason the BOURNE SUPREMACY was a major influence on us was because the film was so realistic, like it felt like a realistic situation, and that was totally the feel that we wanted. So we wanted it to have that feel like it is a real situation, the hostage takeover was real. We didn't obey the basic principles of cinematography in the film: we crossed the line all the time, the script supervisor was on my back about it. But in a realistic situation that happens, things aren't perfect. In a standard film, in every shot the make-up is perfect, the hair is perfect, the eye lines are correct and the background is great and all that. We didn't want it to be bad, but we wanted it to be real, so we would shoot rehearsals quite a lot of the times as well. So Dolph and myself would stand aside and be "ok well let's shoot the rehearsal and just let the camera department know about it, and they'd do a silent turn over. But the actors never knew we actually rolled. So when we shoot the rehearsals it's very realistic because suddenly the cast don't feel the pressure of the director and camera operators, the focus puller. So that's the approach we looked for, to get that realistic feel of what happens at that hostage situation, as if it was actual real footage from a scenario like that.

So did you work with storyboards though?
Well we did, we storyboarded quite a lot of the film. But we didn't obey the storyboards because, one of the things about documentary-style filmmaking you have to let things happen naturally, and storyboards gave it a general indication of what we wanted. But it wasn't the be all and end all because if we were shooting the rehearsal, often the rehearsal was not like the storyboard is set. But storyboard is a great reference for the crew to understand what we are trying to do.

When you're on the set you want to get to make the most out what you have and improve it…
Yes, the storyboard is a depiction of how you envision the film at first. With a film like this, which is unconventional photographically, you can't live by the storyboards. For any other film like HEAT or THE DARK KNIGHT, I'm sure those guys probably would have stick very closely to their storyboards because they had made theirs practically needed to tell the story. And the way we were telling the story was from a realistic point of view so, storyboarding was only used as indication for what we wanted, but it wasn't exactly what we were shooting. You never know exactly what you're shooting with a film like this until you have the cast on the set, and you're on the set itself and the cast are in their environment, they're dressed in their wardrobe, they have their make-up on, they look the way the way are. Things are very different to what you may have to see from when you did the storyboards.

"COMMAND PERFORMANCE is certainly a very high-profile film for Dolph."

Did Dolph had a particular idea of how where he wanted to make the cuts or was it open so that he could have as many editing options as possible?
We wanted to allow a lot of editing options yes, so we had a minimum of two cameras we ran all the time. Sometimes we ran three, five, sometimes we even ran seven cameras, and that was to get that documentary feel. Because let's say you're in a real world situation, and you are actually shooting a documentary, you only get one chance to shoot something, you don't get seven times to do it. That's why sometimes we ran seven cameras, if we ran three cameras, for that very reason. You don't get three takes at a lion jumping out of a bush in Africa and attacking a crocodile, that happens once! That doesn't happen three or four times, so that was the idea of how we wanted to shoot this.

And it helps giving a more organic feel to it...
Absolutely yes! We didn't want it to look staged, we really wanted to get away from that. And you know a few outsiders, personal friends of Dolph, were looking at it and going: “Wow it's almost realistic, it's not a film about Joe Reynolds, it's a film about Dolph Lundgren, that's almost what it felt like, it was that real”. And that was the earlier response we got and that's when we knew we were on the right track.

How much did you collaborate with the production designer?
Quite heavily, Carlos [Da Silva] and myself spent a lot of time working together, on the concert particularly, which was a huge set up, the military sequences which was massive as well. And also all the underground sequences were the location and the corridors of the film are set in, were quite long and narrow, we had to do a lot together to work in lighting and cameras. We worked very very closely together, I think I worked more closely with Carlos than anybody, I mean I worked very closely with the costume department as well but Carlos more particularly than anybody. And I think that for any film the person the cinematographer is working with more than anybody aside from the director is the production designer.

Especially for a movie like this one!
Yeah totally. I think Carlos did an amazing job and I feel very fortunate to have worked with him, because he was able to do what Dolph and myself wanted and we were able to work with him very closely and I think the three of us made a good team.

And he's used to work in Bulgaria with Nu Image on tight budgets and making the most out of it...
He's very good at that, I thought he was incredible with what he did. He gave us a lot of stuff which is great, a little bit unexpected but very good.

What were the most difficult scenes?
The most difficult was the concert. We had Dolph and his band CMF, which was performed by D2, we had Melissa doing her sequence, we had Piligrim and Irson from Russia and those two were big set-ups too, so we spent quite a lot of time photographing all those elements to get them on the screen. The next biggest things were the military elements, in terms of scale, so you had tanks and armored vehicles, hundred of extras and all that sort of stuff. That was quite challenging. But also I mean the intimate stuff as well was very challenging. Trying to get that documentary feel on intense dialogue is very difficult. We spent a lot of time doing that, we could play the scene, we'd look at the dailies, we'd look at the edit, we decided we needed something more, we'd go back and re-shoot, we'd look at it again, we'd get back and re-shoot. We spent a lot of time re-shooting and I think that that was a major benefit doing all those re-shoots, because we wouldn't stop until we got what we wanted, and what was to have that realistic feel about it.

And yet you didn't go over schedule?!
We didn't go over schedule, we finished two days short I think so we finished two days early, and we finished on budget so that was good!

That's what is amazing, you managed to both shoot the footage schedule and still had time for re-shoots in a 12-hours day.
We had an extremely good first assistant director Mark Roper, who just offered up that. Some days we'd even finish an hour or two early and go home, and with half page extra off script chopped. So Mark was a huge asset to the production, he was such an efficient firs assistant director. Dolph and myself could get what we wanted, plus more. That's a very very rare circumstance to get these days in filmmaking.

So you didn't have to make too many compromises?
I think it was pretty rare that we compromised. On most films, occasionally you will make a compromise some way here or there, but it was extremely rare on this film. Having a good team like that, a good director, a good 1st A.D., was really important to that.

Are you planned to do some work on the post-production like color correction?
Yes but I don't think it needs any drastic changes because the film stock I used I was very happy with, and all the Kodak stock, which is the first diffusion stock, 5279. It's 500 ASA and it's got beautiful contrast, beautiful latitude and saturation, so I'm very happy with the results of that. When you look at the edit of the film, the film looks very nice the way it is. So yeah I always do play part in the color correction. I don't know if color correction is the right term, it's a grading process. Wherever it feels you need to match things up because we shot a lot of stuff, we picked up a lot of stuff...

How was the shoot in Moscow?
Haha! (laughs) Moscow was interesting, it was a shoot like I've never experienced before, we had a lot to do in a very short period of time. We had a lot of material with Dolph riding around on a motorcycle, we had to film in Red Square, we had to film at Kremlin, it was a very very tight schedule. I think we just pulled it off and I'm pretty happy with it, pretty happy!

I think it was planned as a one-week shoot that became one day?
It became two days, yeah, it was tight (laughs)! It was tight that's for sure. But it was good, I'm happy with the results!

Coming back to working with Dolph, you're quite young did you grow up watching his movies or did you have any preconceived ideas about him before you met him?
I didn't have preconceived ideas, but I did grow up watching his films. When I was young I watched MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, ROCKY IV, THE PUNISHER, that was his film in Australia, and even UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. Those are films that I enjoyed a lot as a kid, and I was very young I was when I watched those movies, I was only 10 years old. Still I'm only 25 years old, so you know I'm still quite young to be doing what I'm doing. But it was quite an honor for me to be able to work with him because, 15 years ago when I was 10 years old I had a lot of respect for the guy, and I really loved his work. And I've always loved filmmaking even though I didn't want to get into the industry such as Dolph, but I never forgot who he was and always loved what he did, particularly UNIVERSAL SOLDIER and THE PUNISHER, they were great films for me as a kid, and it was such an honor for me to work with the guy who was in those films. It's hard to explain but I've got an immense amount of respect for him, because I think he's incredible at what he does. And I think he's actually a fantastic director, he's a great filmmaker. I can certainly see him make some even more impressive films in the next twenty years. And I know that COMMAND PERFORMANCE is certainly a very high-profile film for him, it's incredible, I think it's great for what it is.

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