“The Story Is Not about the Actual Shooting”: DP Patrick Scola on Police Brutality Drama Monsters and Men
One of Filmmaker‘s 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2015, Reinaldo Marcus Green makes his feature debut as a writer/director with Monsters and Men. The film tells the story of a police shooting and its aftermath in the community of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Green hired cinematographer Patrick Scola (Southside with You) to shoot the film, which screens in competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Ahead of the film’s premiere, Scola spoke with Filmmaker about how he sought to blend both “naturalism” and “heightened reality” in the film’s visual approach.
Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the cinematographer of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?
Scola: I’m not sure I can answer this; Rei would probably know better. I think Rei and I connected because most of my thoughts and feelings on the film came from a story perspective. I think aesthetics took a back seat to our first conversations; we were more interested in how the visuals were meant to make us feel, not what they would look like. I’m not positive, but I think that resonated with him.
Filmmaker: What were your artistic goals on this film, and how did you realize them? How did you want your cinematography to enhance the film’s storytelling and treatment of its characters?
Scola: Though it’s the major catalyst in the film, the story is not about the actual shooting. If the shooting is the rock in the pond, the movie is really about the ripples. The film is told in three acts, through the eyes of three individuals in the community. Each “ripple” is slightly further away from the center. Photographically, I wanted to use the idea of proximity to the event to define the language of the camera. For the characters closest to the event, the lenses are wider, and the camera is closer, the world is a bit more raw, rough and tumble. A reflection of being close to an event like this. As the film moves forward and we follow characters who are steps removed from the actual shooting itself, the lensing changes subtly, getting slightly longer, shots become more composed. The life of the camera becomes less noticeable. As the ripples get further away, they become calmer, and ultimately disappear. Obviously there are exceptions to all rules, but this was the basic thinking.
Filmmaker: Were there any specific influences on your cinematography, whether they be other films, or visual art, of photography, or something else?
Scola: There will always be things I admire and draw from. In this case I had built a pretty hefty look book of documentary and street photography. The work of Peter Marlow occupies a bit of that book. I would say that Soy Cuba (1964) was inspiring in the way the camera felt feather light. We tried to move the camera in handheld ways that felt unencumbered; that film was a great piece to reference for that.
Filmmaker: What were the biggest challenges posed by production to those goals?
Filmmaker: What camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose the camera that you did? What lenses did you use?
Scola: Rei wanted to capture a sense of naturalism through long choreographed takes. They were meant to sort of place you in the situation with the character; oftentimes we’d attempt to capture large moving scenes in one take. We shot on Alexa Minis and stripped the camera down to about 11 pounds with the lens and accessories in order to allow it to have a sort of “unencumbered” feeling. Because we were doing a lot of handheld work, I didn’t want the film to fall too much into a “documentary feel.” Though naturalism was a a key focus, we still wanted a level of heightened reality. So rather than go with detuned or uncoated vintage lenses, we went with Master Primes. I liked the idea of pairing a “rough” style of lighting and camera work with the cleanliness of that set.
Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.
Scola: Generally I like to light a space and prefer single source motivations. I like to give performances flexibility and the space for the camera to capture them. That often means relying on natural light and subtractive techniques like removing light and ambiance. I would say that we “lit” more than a few of the scenes with a roll of four inch paper tape and a fluorescent bulb. We used mostly natural and available light whenever possible. And when we were lighting, we made a pretty good effort to use practicals whenever possible.
During portions of the film I used wide lenses quite a bit. Some of the locations we were in were public housing apartments in Brooklyn; some shots were single takes that explored almost every room of the house on 14mm and 16mm lenses. Gaffer Cedric Cheung-Lau and key grip Austin Castelo were brilliant when it came to creating ways to light and cut light with very small footprints.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to realize and why? And how did you do it?
Scola: Our most difficult scene was probably our largest scene. A protest where 300 people march on police plaza downtown. It just had a lot of story beats that needed to be covered, lots of location, logistical issues, SFX, extras, etc. We only had one night to light it and get it done and get it out. It was sort of a perfect storm of all kinds of things needing to happen all at the same time.
Filmmaker: Finally, describe the finishing of the film. How much of your look was “baked in” versus realized in the DI?
Scola: I would say our look was pretty defined on set. “Baked in” isn’t a term I’d use, but everything had a strong idea of what it should be. I don’t think the overall looks strayed very far from our initial intent, but our colorist, James Tillet (MPC NY), really does elevate the film. He has a great ability to marry a rich cinematic look and naturalism.
- Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
- Lenses: Master Primes
- Lighting: Mixed
- Processing: Digital