On the Record

By Witmer, Jon D. | American Cinematographer, May 2009 | Go to article overview

On the Record


Witmer, Jon D., American Cinematographer


Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC mixes anamorphic 35mm and high-definition video to explore the intertwining worlds of politics and the press for State of Play.

If, as the late Hunter S. Thompson suggested, "politics is the art of controlling your envi- ronment," then Rep. Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) could stand further training. At the moment, the congressman is pummeling publi- cist Dominic Foy (Jason Bateman) in a hotel room, and Washington Globe reporter CaI McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is trying to break up the fight.

Director Kevin Macdonald calls "cut" from just outside the set, and as Affleck and Bateman step to the corners of the room, director of photography Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC passes the Panaflex Millennium XL to 1st AC Zoran Veselic and makes his way to the director. It's day 38 of 60 on the feature State of Play. The crew is currently set up at Culver Studios in Culver City, Calif., and in a few days, they will move to Washington, D.C., for a month of location work.

Based on the 2003 BBC miniseries of the same name (shot by Chris Seager, BSC), State of Play seasons the mingling worlds of politics and journalism with cloak-and-dagger intrigue, following McAffrey's investigation into the death of Collins' assistant, Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer). McAflrey, Collins' former college roommate, supported his friend's bids for public office, but now, his reporting runs the risk of sinking the congressman's career.

After delivering his marching orders for the next setup in the hotelroom set, Macdonald speaks about the project's genesis. "I come from the world of documentaries, and I always try to take the authence into a world they're unfamiliar with, where there's something anthropologically interesting. The world of this film is very familiar - it's Washington, it's politics, it's on TV all the time - and to make that fresh, I wanted to work with people who had a foreigner's view, as it were." He therefore sought the collaboration of Prieto, a native of Mexico, and production designer Mark Friedberg, who has focused on independent fare such as Far From Heaven and The Darjeeling Limited.

When Macdonald contacted Prieto about the project, the cinematographer was unfamiliar with the BBC miniseries. "Kevin didn't want me to see it or have that influence in my mind, and I didn't want to try to depart from or be faithful to it," he says. Approaching the project as a blank canvas, Prieto took full advantage of his 21A months of prep. "Several things kept pushing the project, including the writers' strike, and that was great for me," he says. "I did a lot of testing, and Kevin and I were able to shot-list. Every prep is like film school in a way; you get to re-learn and experiment."

Many details of the film's visual landscape became clear when the filmmakers visited real journalists and politicians at their offices. Prieto recalls, "The journalists' desks were very cluttered - I couldn't believe they could work in such a mess! - and at the congressional offices, everything was organized and clean." To emphasize this disparity, the filmmakers decided to assign McAffrey and Collins their own color palettes, camera styles and even capturing media: McAffrey's scenes have a handheld aesthetic and a cool palette and were shot on anamorphic 35mm, where- as Collins' scenes feature smooth camera moves and warm colors and were captured on high-definition video. "We wanted to establish two different textures, but we didn't want the separation to be obvious," says Prieto. "We see politics on TV all the time, so in our minds, it's a video world; we thought the best way to represent that was to shoot digital and have those images look a bit video-ish and crisp. To represent Cal's world of journalism, we decided to enhance the film grain and shoot handheld."

After testing Panavision's Genesis, Thomson's Viper and Dalsa's Origin, Prieto decided to shoot the HD material with the Genesis, which he describes as "the most suited to our needs. …

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