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DP Ashley Connor on Filming Sundance 2018’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Madeline’s Madeline

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

In 2017, cinematographer Ashley Connor had films she shot premiere at Tribeca, BAMcinemaFest and Sundance. She returns to the latter festival this year having shot two features. The first is The Miseducation of Cameron Post from director Desiree Akhavan, a ’90s-set teen movie starring Chloë Grace Moretz and Sasha Lane of American Honey. The film screens at the festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. The second film, from the NEXT lineup, is Madeline’s Madeline from writer/director Josephine Decker. Connor spoke with Filmmaker about filming both titles prior to their premieres at Sundance.

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?

Connor: For Madeline’s Madeline, I’ve shot all of Josephine’s films and we’ve really built a common cinematic language together. So our collaboration continues on; I call her my work wife. For Desiree’s film, we met and had tea and were both already fans of each other’s work. The conversation flowed freely and we really saw eye to eye creatively. I think having mutual respect was a good building block for collaboration.

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?

Connor: For Madeline’s Madeline it was making the camera an embodiment of the main character’s mental state. We prepped for almost two years for Josephine’s film going to what I lovingly called Clown Camp. All the actors and I would be in a rehearsal space, doing exercises similar to those in the film – improvising and working on a lot body movement. I had shot a scene from a cow’s perspective in Josephine’s previous film Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, and she wanted to encourage a similar kind of play.

For Cameron Post, the spaces needed to feel oppressive. Desiree wanted the audience to feel the lack of character present in institutions like this, so the color palate had a lot of beiges and blues. We were also committed to showing sex in a more grounded way, privileging longer takes to let the scenes play out. It was very important to Desiree to show Cameron’s transformation through her sexual experiences.

Filmmaker: Were there any specific influences on your cinematography, whether they be other films, or visual art, of photography, or something else?

Connor: Cameron Post is set in the ’90s, so we had playlists going around and looked at a lot of photography from that era. We shared a lot of Instagram photography from younger girls today and how they view the world. We also looked at a lot of French cinema, specifically from women whose work deals with sexuality – mainly Celine Sciamma and Catherine Breillat.

Josephine works in a slightly more abstract way, so she sent a lot of colorful pictures of space and bright colors emerging out of darkness. She also wanted the way we see Madeline in her home to feel different than when she is with the theater troupe – in the rehearsal space we wanted her to always feel in the group, or when she is isolated from the group, for you to really feel the separation.

Filmmaker: What were the biggest challenges posed by production to those goals?

Connor: We were shooting Cameron Post during the election in a pretty conservative, rural part of upstate New York. We had all noticed a lot of Trump/Pence signs around, but when Trump won it was still a shock. I remember the morning after, the entire cast and crew were crying at breakfast and Desiree came out and gave an incredibly heartfelt speech that gave new shape and meaning to the film we were making. Mike Pence famously supports gay conversion therapy and suddenly this movie, which was a period piece set in the ’90s, felt more current and relevant than ever before. Film shoots require a lot of energy and focus and Desiree turned a disastrous event into a rallying cry that helped propel us through the rest of the shoot.

Filmmaker: What camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose the camera that you did? What lenses did you use?

Connor: MCP – Alexa with Cooke Panchro lenses. MM – Alexa with K35s.

Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.

Connor: My lighting approach on both films was very grounded in realism. For Cameron Post, we wanted the spaces to feel real and natural. For Madeline we were doing so much improvisation that most of my units had to be out of the space so I had ample space to roam and follow actors.

Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to realize and why? And how did you do it?

Connor: For Josephine’s movie, we were extremely limited on time and our page count per day was very high – so there were just days when we’d shoot something like 11-15 pages all handheld. On days like that, you just feel your brain dislodge and separate from your body. I think that’s when I do some of my more adventurous framing but also when I tend to make more mistakes. I’m lucky that Josephine pushes me so hard; she’s always the biggest cheerleader on set.

Filmmaker: Finally, describe the finishing of the film. How much of your look was “baked in” versus realized in the DI?

Connor: I’m so lucky to have the best colorist in the world, Nat Jencks. He’s done almost every film I’ve ever shot and he knows my style inside and out. I tend to bake it all in, so our coloring sessions are never full stylistic rewrites – it’s mainly sweetening what looks are already present in the footage. He’s also present from the beginning, helping to create LUTs so that on set I can already create a baseline image that I can stand behind.

TECH BOX

  • Film Title: The Miseducation of Cameron Post
  • Camera: Alexa XT
  • Lenses: Cooke Panchro
  • Lighting: Tungsten to HMI to LEDs
  • Processing: Digital
  • Color Grading: Nat Jencks at Goldcrest Films

 

  • Film Title: Madeline’s Madeline
  • Camera: ARRI Amira
  • Lenses: Canon K35s
  • Lighting: Tungsten to HMI to LEDs
  • Processing: Digital
  • Color Grading: Nat Jencks at Goldcrest Films

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