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“There Was So Much to Shoot in Such Little Time”: DP Matt Maio on La Leyenda Negra

Monica Betancourt and Kailei Lopez appear in La Leyenda Negra by Patricia Vidal Delgado (courtesy of Sundance Institute)

In Compton, California, a teenage girl named Aleteia copes with being the new girl at school by immersing herself in underground activism. Aleteia grew up in the United States, but as an immigrant from El Salvador, she suddenly finds her protected status under attack. During this tumultuous time, Aleteia unexpectedly falls in favor with one of the most popular girls at school, Rosarito, and as their friendship blossoms, Aleteia finds it more important than ever to find a way to stay in her hometown. DP Matt Maio talks about the advantages of working with director Patricia Vidal Delgado and the black and white style of La Leyenda Negra

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?

Maio: The director and I worked together on a previous film so we had a good working relationship. I feel like having a working experience with the director is a huge advantage for a cinematographer. It gives you a lot more freedom to push the image.

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?

Maio: We wanted to shoot the film in black and white to highlight the polarity in the film. Our main character has to deal with a lot of hard questions about her own identity and the society she lives in. We felt like shooting the film in black in white would really showcase these issues. We also wanted to shoot the film in a documentary style, which introduced handheld elements and a voyeuristic aesthetic.

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

Maio: The director brought a lot of foreign film influences. She’s from Portugal. We pretty much used those films as reference. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the names of the films. 

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

Maio: The schedule was the most difficult part of shooting the film. There was so much to shoot in such little time.

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

Maio: Canon C500. We used this camera because it had great low light capabilities and we had to shoot a lot of night exteriors. It helped out a lot. We used Cooke S4 mini lenses. 

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

Maio: I wasn’t involved in the DI.

TECH BOX:

Film Title: La Leyenda Negra

Camera: C500 & RED Scarlet Dragon

Lenses: Cooke S4 Minis

Lighting: Available Light

Processing: Digital

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