Magazine article American Cinematographer

Deep Cover

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Deep Cover

Article excerpt

The Infiltrator - directed by Brad Furman, shot by cinematographer Joshua Reis, and based on the autobiography of the same name - tells the story of federal customs agent Robert Mazur (played by Bryan Cranston), who worked undercover to build a case that led to the indictments of 85 drug lords and the bankers who assisted them, and the collapse of a massive moneylaundering syndicate. At the center of this criminal empire targeted for demolition was Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, one of the most storied criminals of our time.

A graduate of USC's fine-arts program, Reis minored in film and had a knack for design and motion graphics, mastering programs like Adobe's After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator. After graduation, he found work at a small post house, where he introduced himself to Furman, who was trying - along with cinematographer Lukas Ettlin - to resolve an issue with keying a piece of greenscreen footage. "We had been up all night trying to fix the problem," Furman recalls. "It was like 4 a.m. and we had to meet a 7 a.m. deadline - and this kid came out of the shadows, super shy, and said, 'I can help you.' He takes the computer, starts punching buttons, and within three minutes he fixed the whole thing and saved us."

Reis was soon brought on to work "as camera loader and then 2nd AC on a handful of Brad's projects," the cinematographer says. He eventually moved up to operate on two Furman-directed features, The Take - on which Reis also served as 2nd-unit cinematographer - and The Lincoln Lawyer, both photographed by Ettlin. Reis also went on to shoot short films, more than 100 music videos, and lowbudget features such as the Furmanproduced City of Dead Men. "I threw him to the wolves on a small feature to see how he did," Furman recalls. "He not only passed the test, he surpassed it." When Furman was ready to prep The Infiltrator, the director approached Reis to be his cinematographer.

In developing the feature's look, Reis and Furman broke down the script, discussed their locations, and met with the real Robert Mazur to hear his stories and comb through his archives. Reis assembled multiple detailed look books with stills and color palettes from more than 20 movies, including period gangster films like Scarface (1983), the dark comedy True Romance, contemporary crime films Man on Fire (2004) and Biutiful, and the documentary Cocaine Cowboys.

Reis envisioned the movie to be laid out like a triptych, in that it employed three different cinematic styles, based on the three distina roles that Bob Mazur played in his own life. For the first look, "you have Mazur, who is struggling with his career, wife and money, so those scenes are mostly lit with low-light incandescent practicáis in his home," explains Reis. "It's very un-stylized, naturally lit and minimalist, with traditional dolly and mild handheld movement." The second look was employed when Mazur was involved in gritty, streetwise undercover work, often alongside his partner Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo). "We went with lightweight snap zooms for kinetic energy, delivering a more frenetic look," Reis says of this aesthetic - which he named "Mangione," after Mazur's undercover identity that he adopts briefly at the beginning of the movie. "The third look was used for scenes featuring [Mazur's primary undercover identity], Musella, a man of wealth and excess, and the broker between Escobar and the banks. We shot those scenes glossy and anamorphic, with flares, so the movie takes on a different aesthetic - more colorful and vibrant. There was also classic Hollywood movement with dollies, cranes and Steadicam throughout the film."

Of The Infiltrator's myriad complex produaion challenges, the most significant was shooting almost entirely in London for a story set in 1980s New York, Paris and Miami - with a firm resolve not to eschew exteriors. "For the Florida scenes, we just prayed for sunshine," Furman says with a laugh. "In the scene with the Miami bankers it was freezing out. …

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