“Shoot Wide and Close!”: DP Jeremy Prusso on Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out
When high schooler Itsy (Emma Tremblay) moves to Pebble Falls with her family, she befriends the neighbor kid Calvin (Jacob Buster) who has a strange obsession with outer space. Soon, he reveals the true root of his fascination: Calvin believes that his parents have been abducted by aliens, and he desperate watches the skies for an opportunity to join them among the stars. Jake Van Wagoner weaves a tale of adolescent anxiety and adjustment in Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out.
Cinematographer Jeremy Prusso discusses the process of shooting the film, which premiered in Sundance’s Kids section.
See all responses to our annual Sundance cinematographer interviews here.
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?
Prusso: Shooting the film Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out, was a great opportunity that came about after years of experience and fostering relationships with incredible filmmakers, including Jake Van Wagoner. After working on various projects together from commercials to live shows to feature films, Jake and I have come to a place where we speak the same cinematic language. As simple as it is: shoot wide and close!
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?
Prusso: Early on, in the early phases of making Aliens, Jake and I decided we wanted to make a film that leaned hard on the films we grew up loving: E.T., Goonies, Back to the Future. Because of those influences, we knew we wanted to go anamorphic. By the nature of who the character is, we had the idea of shooting Calvin initially alone in his coverage. But as the story progressed and Calvin allowed others into his life, they were also allowed to enter the frame with him.
Filmmaker: What were the biggest challenges posed by production to those goals?
Prusso: There are always challenges when making a film. For Aliens, the biggest challenge was time. We didn’t have a lot of days to shoot this film, especially on the days with our biggest talent. We had to move quickly and efficiently to make it all happen. Another big challenge was cold. I mean, arctic cold! We shot in the mountains in Utah during the winter. Besides keeping people warm, we struggled to manage the temperature of the equipment to keep it running!
Filmmaker: Were there any specific influences on your cinematography, whether they be other films, or visual art, or photography, or something else?
Prusso: When working on a new film, I often rely on a myriad of influences. During pre-production we found ourselves, again and again, emulating that look of those Spielbergian classics we grew up loving. We attempted similar lighting styles as well as blocking and camera movement. I shoot a lot of film that doesn’t always allow for simple coverage leans on longer lenses. In this film, I was able to choose the lenses and Jake had a lot of fun blocking setups that allowed us to get the look and vibe we really wanted.
Filmmaker: What camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose the camera that you did? What lenses did you use?
Prusso: We shot this film on the Alexa Mini LF. This camera has been my preferred camera for a while. The Alexa Mini has the ability to give looks of lovely, deep black to a contrasting bright white, without being distracting. We chose the Xelmus Apollo lenses for this film. Honestly, before shooting Aliens, I hadn’t shot much anamorphic, but this film demanded to be shot anamorphic. The Apollos have the ability to fit the full frame, have a fun character, and are pretty affordable.
Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.
Prusso: Obviously, lighting is one of the most important components of a film, which is why an artistic and expert gaffer is imperative. I was able to bring my friend and colleague, Skyler Sorenson, on as my gaffer. Together we worked hard to lean on our inspiration films, to light in ways that felt stylistic, yet natural and motivated. That means playing with hard light when it made sense, but also not being afraid to use very soft and natural feeling light either. My main goal with light is this: always (well, almost always) put the subject between the light and the camera.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to realize and why? And how did you do it?
Prusso: Every scene has its challenges and hurdles to overcome. In Aliens, by far the most difficult scene was the opening scene of the film. We had a technocrane that was completely out of our budget. It was a night shoot with a child actor and Will Forte. We wanted to start wide titling down out of the sky and then into dialogue of the characters, but that meant lighting for an extremely wide frame into a very tight, two shot. We didn’t have the time, means or budget to spend a lot of time on this super important scene and so the pressure was on. Plus we were working at night, in the cold. I’ve found that, despite the stress, the best thing is to work through the shoot as quickly and with as much professionalism as possible, even when the cards are against you.
Filmmaker: Finally, describe the finishing of the film. How much of your look was “baked in” versus realized in the DI?
Prusso: As far as the realized and finished product, I find that trust in other contributors to the film is paramount. In my films, I always try to shoot in a way that gives us as much latitude as possible for finishing the film. We were then able to turn it over to our colorist Drew Tekulve who is amazing. Both the director and I gave him carte blanche. We trust him because he’s an artist and a craftsman who really lent his skills to this film. And you can absolutely see it in the finished product.