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“A Balance Between Look and Ergonomics”: Cinematographers Logan Triplett and Allison Anderson Triplett on As We Speak

A young Black man wearing a white t-shirt and hoodie sings into a microphone at a recording studio.As We Speak, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Issues concerning freedom of speech and the First Amendment intersect with the world of rap music in As We Speak, the directorial debut from J.M. Harper. The documentary follows Bronx-based rapper Kemba as he unpacks how legal battles involving rap lyrics, both in the U.S. and abroad, might shape the the future of his craft.

Married cinematographer duo Logan Triplett and Allison Anderson Triplett discuss the challenges and rewards of collaborating on this project as a unit—the first time they’ve done so on a feature film—with Logan penning answers for both parties.

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?

Triplett: J.M Harper and I have been long time collaborators on a number of projects. We had always wanted to do a film together. Out of the blue I received an email from him asking if myself and my wife, Allison Anderson, would be interested in lensing a film for him. Allison and I had never collaborated together on a project (minus the occasional second unit), much less a feature. To be honest we were both reluctant at first, but as we discussed the project more, it artistically made sense. Ultimately the project needed a team of collaborators that could work very very quickly, sometimes independent of each other. Allison and I have a deep love for each other’s creative sides, ultimately it was this love that helped cary us through even on the toughest of days. 

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?

Triplett: Our director J.M Harper wanted the film to blur the lines of what was scripted and non-scripted. Together we would have long conversations about the film’s structure, and how best to accomplish this ambitious approach. We decided early on that locations and pre scouting/planning would be key to unlocking J.M’s vision for the film. The film can be broken down to a series of unscripted conversations between our main character, Kemba, and some of hip hops greats. These conversations required us to pre-plan every angle and every scenario that might warrant jumping to a particular angle. We were always interpreting during the conversations: Jason and our entire crew would be on head sets, and he would direct us in the moment. This approach was extremely ambitious but artistically satisfying for everyone involved. Each one of these we did became easier and more intuitive, allowing us to take our pre planning and capture a truly unique level of spontaneity.

We mixed a lot of different expressions when filming more traditional “b-roll.” Allison, J.M and I would play a game we liked to call “leap frog,” where Jason would shoot a shot with one of us and immediately run to the other camera where the other would have a new shot set up. This allowed us to work very quickly in an almost competitive manner, each unit trying to create a new photographic expression for what J.M wanted.

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

Triplett: J.M came to us with a number of influences for the project ranging from obscure old documentaries to paintings, to music to films like Limit of Control. J.M actually flew to our farm in Portland, Oregon for a weekend of prep where we tested various lenses and camera formats. In the evening we would sit in front of our projector and each take turns showing bits of films that would come to mind. We also looked at photo books for influence. We loved the work of Alec Soth, Bieke Depoorter and, of course, Gordon Parks. Eventually these influences dissolved into what would become our film: I’ve always been interested in how a film will ultimately take on a life of its own.

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

Triplett: This production was full of challenges. We had many locations, and very little time. It’s hard to believe that the film was shot, cut and finished within a year’s time. This would only have been possible with the trust of our producers and the leadership of our director.

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

Triplett: We shot on two Sony Venice 1s and Panavision Ultra Speed primes as well as several PV19-90 zooms, while day playing the occasional 12:1 zoom. We spent a day testing various cameras and ultimately felt the Venice’s was the best choice for what we wanted to achieve. For us it was a balance between look and ergonomics: the Venice gave us a good mix of both. 

Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.

Triplett: Lighting was always a challenge with our long conversations. The lighting for these sequences needed to be nearly 360 with very few changes in between card swaps. Most of the lighting was pre-installed in the form of practicals and tubes. Occasionally we would play a vortex or a HMI from outside, but ultimately we had pretty small, but intentional, fire power for this. We also never wanted to make these sequences feel too “lit” but we also wanted to say something with the lighting. We learned a lot after our first conversation with Killer Mike. Although we felt we had what the film needed, we knew we had to seriously rethink our approach. A lot of this came down to time of day that we filmed, and location. Things became much more efficient as production went on; sometimes we just needed a bounce, other times we took time to really construct something that wasn’t there.

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

Triplett: The most difficult scene for us was the conversation with Sha Ek. We were scheduled to shoot in a NY street location but three hours prior we discovered that the permitting office had double booked us with a local market. We were forced to use another location that we permitted but not scouted. The entire team had to quickly come together and make that scene happen. While it was going off we felt a little out of control and had to really think on our feet. I think in the end this led us to make some of our most intuitive decisions of the entire film. 

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

Triplett: From the onset the team wanted to finish with one of our long time collaborators, Ayumi Ashley, at Rare Medium. Ayumi is a unique talent as a colorist: she is subtle and selfless in her approach. During the film we started with a Lut that she had created, and then during color we spent a lot of time prior to the session discussing different references. We all loved Gordon Parks’s Atmosphere of Crime, but when put into practice the look felt too forced. In the end we discovered what we liked most about his images was how honest each image was without sacrificing atmosphere. After this discovery we found a direction that really felt right. In some ways it wasn’t too far from what we shot, and in others it was an entirely new approach. Ultimately we discussed a lot of things in photo chemical terms despite it being digital. J.M has a deep love for film so it’s always a good place to start.


Film Title: As We Speak

Camera: Sony Venice 1

Lenses: Panavision Ultra Speeds, PV19-90 zoom, PV 12:1 zoom, Panavision Portrait Lenses

Lighting: Creamsource Vortex 8s, Arri M40s, Par Cans, Astera Tubes, Light Mats

Processing: 16mm and Super 8mm from FotoKem, and Metro Post NYC

Color Grading: Ayumi Ashley at Rare Medium with DaVinci Resolve and Filmbox

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