“I Was Careful to Always Have Darkness in the Frame”: DP David Devlin on Monster
Anthony Mandler makes his directorial debut at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival after having spent a career directing music videos for the likes of Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Drake and many other artists. The film, Monster, is an adaptation of the hard-hitting young adult novel of the same name from Walter Dean Myers. Mandler tapped his longtime collaborator David Devlin to shoot his first feature. In addition to his music video work with Mandler, Devlin has worked as a 2nd unit cinematographer with Janusz Kaminski on 12 Steven Spielberg films. The Montana-based DP spoke with Filmmaker about using vintage anamorphic lenses and the influence of Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio on the film.
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?
Devlin: Anthony Mandler and I have worked together for years on commercials and music videos. Monster was our fist feature film together.
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?
Devlin: We wanted the reality of the world that Steve Harmon lives in to feel enhanced by the cinematography by using vintage anamorphic lenses and lush lighting.
Filmmaker: Were there any specific influences on your cinematography, whether they be other films, or visual art, of photography, or something else?
Devlin: Caravaggio offered a lot of inspiration. Specifically The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, The Taking Of Christ and Calling of St. Matthew.
Filmmaker: What were the biggest challenges posed by production to those goals?
Devlin: The 21-day schedule was a challenge to keep on target while giving Anthony the time to work on performances with the actors.
Filmmaker: What camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose the camera that you did? What lenses did you use?
Devlin: We chose the Red 6K Weapon with Cineovision Anamorphic lenses because of the rapid workflow of the camera and the way the lenses fall off and concentrate the viewers to the actors’ eyes and expression.
Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.
Devlin: I was careful to always have darkness in the frame. Steve feels the slow progression from bad to worse as his situation changes. As much as his family was his safe space, he is pulled into a world that is foreign to him and feels bottomless.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to realize and why? And how did you do it?
Devlin: One of the most emotional scenes is Steve being arrested in his home. Watching Jeffrey Wright and Jennifer Hudson react to the shock of their son being cornered by the police made the scene deeply emotional. Using a subtle top light with handheld camera offered the ability to move with them and see into their eyes and then follow Steve out into the street.
Filmmaker: Finally, describe the finishing of the film. How much of your look was “baked in” versus realized in the DI?
Devlin: Tom Poole at Company 3 worked with Anthony and I to bring a visceral look to Monster. He has worked with us on commercials and music videos for years; having the shorthand with him made the DI a pleasure.
- Camera: Red Weapon 6K
- Lenses: Cineovision Anamorphic
- Processing: Red Digital Cinema, R3D Files
- Color Grading: CO3 Tom Poole