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“Memories Were Very Important for Tara to Tell This Story”: DP Carolina Costa on Wander Darkly

Sienna Miller and Diego Luna appear in Wander Darkly by Tara Miele (courtesy of Sundance Institute)

After a life-altering accident, Adrienne (Sienna Miller) enters a state of disorientation. Her longtime relationship with Matteo (Diego Luna) must undergo a huge reexamination, and the future of her daughter remains in limbo. With only hazy, imperfect memories to guide her, Adrienne pieces together the events that led up to her current state of dissatisfaction. Director Tara Miele weaves together an intimate portrait of memory and its ability to distort reality in Wander Darkly. DP Carolina Costa talks about the presentation of image as memory for Filmmaker

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?

Costa: That is complicated to answer as I’m sure Tara would know this better than myself. But what I can say is that I had met one of our producers before and that’s how my name was in the pool at first. I have a feeling that from our first conversation we were on the same page about this very complicated balance between feeling real and creating something magical. I remember I made a messy mood board to show her and it was filled with little moments, the images felt like a little window to life, like memories. And memories were very important for Tara to tell this story.

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?

Costa: This was a challenging movie because of its internal and psychological aspect. Every shot had to feel that it was a thought from inside the character’s mind. And it didn’t mean fantasy or a literal POV. There were many transitions—from a hospital to a street to an old childhood bedroom. Adrienne had to walk from one memory to another in a seamless way and Tara wanted to shoot it as practically as possible. This was the biggest challenge but also what really attracted me to the project. At first the film is more static and then it becomes more kinetic. The camera moved freely with Adrienne and Matteo. And it went real up close with them. It’s such an emotional journey and it had such a specific visual style, I really wanted to make sure that the visual did not take over the story.

And what I mentioned before about memory—I remember I had this line from an Agnès Varda movie: “And the sea erases from the sand the steps of the parted lovers.” (It’s actually from a poem of Jacques Prévert). That’s how I felt cinematography should be in this film—the audience should be able to see the footprints right before they were washed away.

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

Costa: Tara and I would call the style of the film “I was there that day.” So our references were a bunch of photographs in which they felt like memories, like a slice of life, something you were lucky to witness. And we found them everywhere—from Instagram to Magnum. We also had some films that we watched at the beginning of prep, such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Jacob’s Ladder, Biutiful, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Blue from the Three Colours Trilogy.

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

Costa: We had plenty! Filming freely and close to actors almost 360 all of the time inside a small location can pose many limitations. But now looking back I feel that it helped define the style of the film instead. The lighting was designed based on that freedom with actors and the camera.

And the transitions—they had to be seamless and though post helped, they were shot mostly in camera. And now when I watch the film, I feel it really paid off. I’m glad Tara fought for this. It feels you are on the journey with the characters all the way, we cannot leave their side at any point. But it was hard to follow Sienna from a hospital location that led to a street that led to a church that led to a bedroom. Visually challenging when you are in all real locations, not a stage.

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

Costa: We shot on the Alexa Mini with rehoused Speed Panchros. The gear came from Panavision. They were so supportive throughout all of our optical tests. It took us a while to find the right glass for the film. This camera was ideal to allow us to move freely in the locations and the lenses were the ones we felt translated best the balance between reality and magical and they looked great when close to actors’ faces.

Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.

Costa: As I mentioned before, in many ways the lighting was designed to allow the actors and the camera move freely. That didn’t mean all overhead lighting, it meant that most of my sources were soft and from windows. It was in general naturalistic—I would try to reimagine or re-create what the locations offered.

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

Costa: That’s hard to answer. We had many difficult days—in particular the night shoots with completed camera movements. But I think the most complicated one, technically speaking, is the accident. But I can’t tell how we did it!

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

Costa: Nick, our colorist, was there from the beginning, so we created two LUTs during the prep. And that is how we monitored on set.

During the DI we definitely finessed things and helped all look seamless, but I feel because our collaboration with Nick started earlier on, it was a smoother process. It wasn’t like starting all over again during coloring.

TECH BOX:

Film Title: Wander Darkly

Camera: ALEXA MINI / 3.2K / PRORES 4444XQ

Lenses: COOKE SPEED PANCHROS

Lighting: A mix of SKY PANELS, ASTERA TUBES, HMI’S (LINE M) AND MAXI BRUTES

Processing: Digital

Color Grading: Nick Hasson at Light Iron

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