“I Was Aiming for a Stylized Naturalism”: DP Nanu Segal on An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn
EU-based cinematographer Nanu Segal has shot more than 30 shorts and features since 2001. She’s also DP’d commercial spots for UNICEF, Playstation and a host of other clients. Her latest project is An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn starring Aubrey Plaza and Emile Hirsch. The film marks a return to Sundance for director Jim Hosking, who premiered his debut film The Greasy Strangler at the festival in 2016. Below, Segal discusses lighting the film’s key locations and the influence of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul 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?
Segal: The script came to me via my agent. It was very funny, but also visually interesting, which, of course, is key for me. I met Jim and discussed his vision for the project, and I really took to that — a lot of shared sensibilities and visual references, etc. I really took to Jim, too. I think you get a sense early on if you are going to work well together. Actually, we had met once before, 15 years earlier, at a mutual friend’s wedding. That kind of thing can help. Similarly, I had worked on a commercial before with the production designer, Jason Kisvardy, so that link may have helped bring us all 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?
Segal: I was aiming for a stylized naturalism. The world Jim imagined for Beverly Luff Linn was totally unique, but also consistent — so it was important to create an atmosphere that always felt in synch with the choices Jim was making in all the other departments. For instance, I was very impressed by the outlandish beauty of the wardrobe [Christina Blackaller, costumer designer], and this helped me understand the tone of the film, and pushed me to find a style that was rooted in naturalism, yet not constrained by it. Within that, an example of the way I tried to light one of the characters, I really wanted Lulu to glow in each of her scenes. Her character triggers and instigates so much of the action that I wanted to embrace that visually, though hopefully in a subtle way.
Filmmaker: Were there any specific influences on your cinematography, whether they be other films, or visual art, of photography, or something else?
Segal: A key visual reference for us was the work of Hal Ashby, specifically Being There, which was shot by Caleb Deschenel. In particular, we looked at the camera movement and how the shots develop, allowing the scene to unfold with deceptive simplicity. Although we were not in a position to shoot on film (like Being There) it definitely influenced our desire to shoot with older, softer lenses. Jim also showed me Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul which was a revelation. I fell in love with the silkiness of Jürgen Jürges’ pans and, as a result, we incorporated a lot more panning into the Beverly Luff Linn than I have used in the past — so much so that I developed tendonitis in my shoulder! The use of red back light in the bar scene in Fear Eats the Soul inspired the color palette of the lighting of Lulu and Colin’s dance scene in Beverly Luff Linn.
Filmmaker: What were the biggest challenges posed by production to those goals?
Segal: Our key location was a working hotel that needed to be ready for “business as usual” on wrap, at the end of each day. Obviously, this needed to be done efficiently so as not to lose valuable shooting time. I decided to light the interior architecture of the hotel almost exclusively with practical lights and, as much as possible, using the existing fixtures. We had to source and change hundreds and hundreds of bulbs but, once this was done, going forward, we were able to wrap-out and set up quickly.
Filmmaker: What camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose the camera that you did? What lenses did you use?
Segal: We shot on the Alexa XT with Panavision Super Speed lenses. Jim wanted to work with gentler, older lenses, which was great. I really enjoyed going through all the vintage glass with Guy McVicker at Panavision, and loved the Super Speeds: they have a texture that felt instinctively right for the film. Also, the fact these lenses are fast was a big pull, as I knew I wouldn’t have access to large lighting units despite having quite a few exterior night scenes.
Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.
Segal: Whenever possible, I love to use practical lighting and window sources as the starting point. A number of the locations we chose had great practical lighting but, when this wasn’t the case, Jason was always able to provide a seamless alternative. We didn’t have anything bigger than a 4K in our lighting package, so I had a lot of fun using LEDs (more extensively than I would normally). I tried to keep everything as simple as possible, draping fabrics over the LEDs, then adding opal frames to the key lights as we came in for closer shots. I used atmos for most of the interiors as it seemed to make the lighting and production design gel and to create a less literal feeling to the images.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to realize and why? And how did you do it?
Segal: It’s hard to single out a particular scene as the most difficult to realize; it was more a case of a number of smaller on-going challenges that needed to be factored in. For example, a lot of the characters wore glasses, so there were reflection issues to avoid; or shooting on the 8th floor, trying to maintain continuity, without the equipment to control the ever-changing light streaming in through the windows.
Filmmaker: Finally, describe the finishing of the film. How much of your look was “baked in” versus realized in the DI?
Segal: I’d say the overall look of the film was pretty baked in – a combination not just of the lighting and the lenses, but the work of the other departments too: production design, costume design, make-up design, etc. For me, the colorist (in this case, Fergus McCall, who had worked with Jim on his previous film, The Greasy Strangler) is another crucial department, part of the same process, trying to create a unique, coherent world for Beverly Luff Linn.
- Camera: Alexa XT, Shooting 3.2K 16:9 sensor in ProRes.
- Lenses: Panavision Super Speeds
- Lighting: Small HMI package (up to 4K), Litemat package, small tungsten package.
- Processing: Rec 709 Monitoring on set
- Color Grading: Baselight, in P3 color space (using a proprietary Technicolor DRT that allows simple conversion to other color spaces). Monitoring was on Barco 4K projector and Dolby monitors.