The Gotham Burghal of Joker is a bald atom of a bulk removed from the New York Burghal of 1981, a time and abode Larry Sher knows well. The Hangover and Godzilla: King of the Monsters cinematographer grew up in adjacent Teaneck, New Jersey and would bastard into the burghal on the bus as a jailbait in the aboriginal 1980s. Sher channeled those experiences—as able-bodied as the seminal New York films of the era—to arm-twist the alienating burghal daydream of Gotham.
“My access for Joker was to augment a little bit off of what the burghal looked like in my memory. Certainly the movies of that time fed into that as able-bodied because they were so determinative aback I absolutely started belief film,” said Sher.
Also looming ample in Sher’s apprenticeship was a Nikon camera bestowed on him by his father, a accurate antiquity that served as the jumping off point for our conversation.
Filmmaker: Tell me about this Nikon that your dad gave you growing up.
Sher: It’s a 1967 or 1968 Nikon F, and it was a ample allotment of my own claimed apprenticeship in photography. Aback I aboriginal confused to Los Angeles I was an economics major. I absitively in my inferior and chief years to absolutely accompany filmmaking and that reawoke the photography bug in me. Aback then, you could absolutely put the Kodak chrism from a motion account camera into that Nikon. There was a lab aback in the day in Los Angeles on Highland alleged RBG that had a motion account ablution [to advance the film] instead of a acceptable stills bath. So I could booty every chrism that Kodak made, or alike Fuji or Agfa, go out on the streets and basically shoot analysis rolls to apprentice about acknowledgment and lighting. I took that camera with me to advance Joker, because aback we started basic we were activity to shoot film. Appropriate aback I landed in New York I alike went to B&H and bought a absolutely fast new 50mm prime lens for that camera, but afresh we absitively to shoot the cine [digitally] at the aftermost second.
Filmmaker: Aback you were accomplishing those tests to aboriginal apprentice your craft, would you go as far as putting the bang at 1/50th to carbon the archetypal bang acceleration of a motion account camera?
Sher: That’s absolutely right. I took the array out of the centralized meter, which wasn’t a abundant one, so I’d consistently accept to backpack a ablaze meter. If I didn’t accept my ablaze beat with me, I would assumption based on my adventures up to that point. I was aggravating to apprentice about acknowledgment and see how far over and beneath I could go. If I went two stops beneath on a day exoteric that was backlit, was that to my aesthetic, or was it one stop under? How far could I get afore it was too far? It was absolutely a abundant way to learn. I agitated that camera with me everywhere and took bags of stills. I still accept anchor of them. In a awe-inspiring way it abreast a lot of my aesthetic, which is array of an added realism.
Filmmaker: The cine is set in 1981 in a absolute New York-esque Gotham City. That seems like an era aback you would’ve apparently been venturing into the city, aback you grew up adjacent in New Jersey.
Sher: Yeah, I was. I acclimated to bastard in on the bus. I got beggared in Times Square aback I was 13 in 1983. I acclimated to alarm it as a apathetic motion robbery. (laughs) Me and my brother and a brace accompany went into the burghal to buy affected IDs. We didn’t absolutely apperceive we were accepting beggared until it was over. A agglomeration of guys amidst us and asked if we capital affected IDs and we said “Yeah, how much?” They said “Well, how abundant you got in your pocket?” They kept demography added and added money until we were absolutely ablaze out. Afresh they absolved away. And we were like, “Well, at atomic we’re accepting affected IDs.” Ten account passed. Afresh a bisected an hour passed. And assuredly we were like “Oh no, we aloof got robbed.” (laughs) I bethink we went to these badge admiral on the corner, as these 13-year-old kids, and said “Hey, man, we got robbed. Can you do commodity about it?” They were like “There’s a bus station. Go aback home to Jersey.”
Filmmaker: You additionally feel the access of the New York-set films of that aeon on Joker.
Sher: A lot of those films were appearance studies that focused on one or two characters, and one of the things that was so fun about abutting Joker was that we were absolutely application one character. Every arena we’re in, Arthur (Joaquin Phoenix) is our aqueduct to that scene. That was fun because, from a beheld standpoint, you accept to bulk out how to emotionally affix to that appearance via the lens position or the lighting. Aboriginal in the cine we capital absolutely advanced shots area Arthur is tiny in the frame, so bush he’s about invisible, afresh to mix those with absolute astringent close-ups. We capital to adverse those two beheld thoughts in the aforementioned scene. There was a absolute absorbed to try to jam Arthur in amid things and accomplish his apple feel a little bit claustrophobic, alike aback he’s amidst by people. After in the movie, as he’s transitioning, there’s an accent on shots that [feature him] abnormally to accord some of that ability aback to him in the frame.
Filmmaker: How abutting to day one of the shoot did you adjudge to about-face over to digital?
Sher: It was the aftermost accessible minute afore it was activity to bulk a crapload of money to about-face aggregate over—I appetite to say maybe two weeks out from shooting. I anticipate as [director] Todd Phillips started acumen the adaptability and the abandon we capital to accept with the camera, and how that would chronicle to the abandon and adaptability Joaquin capital to accept for his performance, that’s aback Todd said “Let’s accede (digital).”
The capital acumen we went agenda is that we absolutely admired the abstraction of cutting ample format. Aback Todd beatific me the calligraphy one of our aboriginal conversations was “Man, wouldn’t it be fun to shoot this cine on 65mm film?” Because [65mm film] cameras are absolutely adamantine to acquisition and it was a little added expensive, we were dissuaded from activity bottomward that road. So we went with the abstraction of cutting on 35mm [film]. The anticipation of cutting Arri 65 agenda accustomed us to go aback to that aboriginal absorbed of ample format. Todd said, “Let’s booty the 35mm [film] camera, let’s booty an Arri 65, and let’s go out on the streets in some of the environments that we’re activity to shoot in and see them ancillary by side.” It was absolutely close. I bethink sitting in a bump berth at Aggregation 3 in New York and watching the blur and the digital. It was aloof me, Todd and [Joker screenwriter] Scott Silver and you could accomplish arguments for both formats.
There are some abstruse aspects to agenda that absolutely helped in a cine like this. We knew that we’d be cutting a fair bulk of it absolutely loosely, and we wouldn’t be accepting rehearsals or putting marks on the floor, and agenda would acquiesce our focus pullers to cull off monitors with a absolutely aerial affection image. We would never accept commodity alarmingly out of focus or some abstruse botheration we wouldn’t apperceive about immediately. We had an amazing aggregation that apparently would’ve done abundant if it was on film, but there still would’ve been those scattering of takes area there was a area of it that was added out of focus than was useable. We knew capturing Joaquin’s achievement was generally activity to be done in one or two takes, and I anticipate that aggregate of factors accustomed Todd to accede digital.
Filmmaker: You’ve been a appealing loyal user of the Panavision Primos for a while, but you went over to the Arri Prime DNA lenses for Joker.
Sher: Frankly, a little bit of it had to do with money. Joker feels absolute uncompromised to me artistically, but on every movie— and this alike goes for $200 actor movies—there are all kinds of armament that accomplish decisions for you. Aback I attempt Godzilla: King of the Monsters, we attempt Arri 65—which you can alone hire from Arri, you can’t buy them—and acclimated Panavision glass, because we were cutting anamorphic and those old C and E Series lenses are so wonderful. But that was a $180 actor cine and Joker is a $55 actor movie. Alike admitting that’s a lot of money to a lot of bodies account this commodity )and it is to me too), the aberration mattered. Aggravating to accomplish a accord to mix and bout Panavision and Arri—because they both accept vested interests in authoritative money on the rental—pushed the accommodation against application Arri glass. We ultimately concluded up application a aggregate of altered lenses: four DNA focal lengths, afresh a agglomeration of added lenses that would awning the ample format.
I was attractive for three things aback I activated lenses. First, I didn’t appetite annihilation cool sharp. I capital the feel of earlier glass. Second, I bare faster lenses because I was activity to be cutting in absolute low ablaze conditions. And third, I bare lenses that could do abutting focus, because we were activity to be cutting these bound close-ups of Joaquin and I capital to be able to get absolutely physically abutting to him with the camera. Those belief basically collection my lens set.
Filmmaker: Aren’t alone a few of the DNAs faster than a T2?
Sher: Yes, the 80mm DNA is a T1.9 and that’s an alarming lens. I additionally concluded up with six lenses from this aggregation Cinoflex that rehouses old bottle to accomplish them afterpiece focus and faster.
We agitated two 35mm lenses. One had bigger eyes and one was faster. I agitated two 50mm lenses for a agnate reason—one was faster and the added was afterpiece focus. Afresh I agitated a 58mm [Nikon] T1.3, which was alarming and a absolute hero lens that we’d shoot like crazy. We additionally had a admirable 135mm Canon and this amazing 280mm Leica that was gorgeous. There’s a close-up of Joaquin at the end of the cine area he starts singing. The anatomy is like eyes to aperture and he’s aloof affectionate of staring into the lens. That’s on a 350mm lens at close-focus at appropriate about eight feet. That’s one of my admired close-ups of the movie. You usually booty out maybe 10 or 12 lenses, but you absolutely alone end up mainly application four or bristles hero lenses.
Filmmaker: I absolutely adulation the attempt of Joaquin in the aback of the badge car as it drives by the agitation clowns on the streets of Gotham.
Sher: That attempt is meant to actor the attempt of him benumbed on the bus in the alpha of the movie. It’s about the exact aforementioned position and size. We attempt that on the 58mm lens. That arena was allotment of night cutting we did in Jersey. We capital to actor the lighting of what was activity on out the window—which was like blaze and all this activity he’s declared to be attractive at—but we hadn’t attempt [those reverses yet] aback we did Joaquin’s shot, so we came up with a solution. You apperceive those big TV screens they put on the aback of trucks as advertisements? I alleged up one of those guys and asked, “Can you put whatever media you appetite into it?” So I cut calm a agglomeration of anarchism footage that had blaze in it and fed that into one of those LED screens. That barter collection abutting to the cop car with Joaquin in it to advice accommodate alternate lighting on his face.
In the cine he leans in to the window, afresh he leans into the metal affiliate amid him and the cops and goes “Isn’t it beautiful?” Afresh they get hit by a car. We did [the shots of him in the badge car afore the crash] with two cameras. I had addition camera car to the larboard that additionally had a agglomeration of affective lights on it to actor what Joaquin sees out the window, but it additionally had an electrician who could do the headlight [effect for the agent that crashes into the cop car] on cue. The added camera was sitting in amid the seats, so aback Joaquin leans in we could abduction it all at once. So the ad barter was on one ancillary of the car, afresh this added admit car with lighting on it was on the added side, so we could drive in absolute time like a three car armada.
We ran the avenue [once] and Todd said “Let’s aloof do this on stage.” I said “Let’s do it again. We’ll get it. It’s absolutely beautiful.” And he was like “Yeah, I know, but I anticipate we’ll aloof accept added ascendancy if we do it on stage,” because we already had to do [other shots from that sequence] on date anyway. But the shots that are in the cine are mainly from that aboriginal booty we did on the absolute street.
Filmmaker: Addition of my admired shots comes in the Murray Franklin bathrobe allowance appropriate afore Arthur goes on Franklin’s allocution show. The camera is abaft Joaquin and he leans astern in a armchair with a cigarette in his aperture and puts his anxiety up in bendable focus in the background.
Sher: That is an archetype of what was blood-tingling about authoritative this movie. Todd loves to cycle afore we bawl activity and he loves to accumulate rolling afterwards we alarm cut. On Joker sometimes we’d aloof accumulate rolling and it would go on and on until either Todd or Joaquin got bored, afresh we would assuredly cut the camera. For that arena we had two handheld cameras in the allowance basically cutting the added attempt over Joaquin as he talks to Murray Franklin. Afresh we aloof kept rolling after and that attempt was the A-camera abettor Geoff Haley befitting it activity as Joaquin sat in a armchair in advanced of us and leaned back. So that shot, which is wonderful, was aloof begin on the day.
Filmmaker: That’s all I’ve got on my account of questions. Is there annihilation that you haven’t been asked about yet aback you’ve been accomplishing columnist that you were acquisitive to get to allocution about? Any decidedly arduous scenes to cull off?
Sher: The alms killing was one of the best arduous sets in the movie. That accomplished arena was attempt with LED screens alfresco [the alms car’s windows]. It was a absolutely abstruse endeavor in affiliation with the beheld furnishings aggregation and my gaffer, Steve Ramsey.
There are a brace of accessible solutions for how to get what you charge alfresco the windows. One is to acquisition a asleep clue and shoot on an absolute alternation car. We did that a little bit for the arena area Arthur is artifice the cops and all the guys on the alternation are in antic masks. But cutting on a absolute track—besides all the resets—usually agency you’re activity to accept to blitz and shoot it with added accommodation and you’re activity to be in an ambiance that is beneath controlled.
Once you adjudge to shoot on stage, you accept three options. You can aloof put atramentous out there, but afresh you don’t absolutely feel like you’re affective through altered environments. Addition advantage is you can put bluescreen or greenscreen out there and put in plates later, but that’s activity to accommodation area you can put lighting. The band-aid that we came up with was to do it with LED screens, admitting the added bulk from activity that way meant we had to cut a day of cutting aloof to pay for it. So we put LED screens out there and not alone can you photograph those screens and the media on them, but they additionally accommodate alternate lighting.
However, we still had to acquisition a way to get the plates [to comedy on those LED screens]. Because of Homeland Security, you can’t absolutely put cameras on the alfresco of trains anymore to shoot acceptable plates. So the VFX supervisor, Edwin Rivera, and I would ride the subways at night demography pictures and video to try and bulk out a band-aid to get plates. What we came up with was, we absolutely attempt stills. We went into the alms stations and we actually would angle there and booty a anatomy and afresh airing one footfall to our larboard (and booty addition frame) until we’d created these massive panoramas.
Film is 24 still frames a second, which goes aback to what we were originally talking about how I got started in cinematography with stills. Here, we were application the aspect of filmmaking to actualize these alternate images alfresco the window. So, aback the car pulls up to the base and that woman gets off and Arthur is sitting by himself and afresh we booty off from the base again—that’s all stills out the window in a huge timeline, so that we can afresh access up the acceleration of the stills to [create the apparition of the alms car alteration speeds]. I could sit at a lath with a adviser and literally, in absolute time, hit a button and all the lights would go off central and a alms base would canyon by the windows. Afresh I could hit addition button and we would canyon a agglomeration of white light. Hit addition button and we’d canyon a agglomeration of tungsten light. It was like this little alive appearance I was accomplishing on the board. I’m cool blessed with the way it came out. There are assertive scenes in a cine that become a chat that you’re accepting every day to try to bulk them out. That was one of those scenes.
Matt Mulcahey works as a DIT in the Midwest. He additionally writes about blur on his blog Deep Fried Movies.
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