Friday, December 16, 2011

Deviant Interview: Marco Cappetta


Marco Cappetta is a talented cinematographer. You can see his work currently in Stevan Mena's new film Bereavement now available on DVD/Blu-Ray. He's a busy man as I'm sure his keen eye for expansive beauty is in high demand from several directors out there, so we are very fortunate to sit down and talk with the man behind this new vision of horror.

Film Deviant: As your work on Bereavement is being widely recognized, your name is becoming associated with the horror genre. Are you a fan? Argento, Fulci, Bava?

Marco Cappetta: When I was growing up, Dario Argento was mainstream. His movies were big box office hits in Italy and everyone went to see them, even people who were not necessarily into horror. Later in life, my taste drifted more towards drama. When Bereavement was presented to me, I watched Malevolence and Halloween to do some research and these were the first horror films I’ve watched in many years. You would think that to be proficient at shooting horror one would have to intimately know the genre, but low-key lighting and dramatic composition are my forte, so it was a natural growth for me. I really enjoyed shooting horror, but I like to keep my work varied and conceive different visual styles, so I am always looking for projects that appeal to me, regardless of genre.


Film DeviantBereavement won the Best Cinematography Award at the New York Horror Film Festival and the film’s cinematography received a lot of great press. John Anderson, chair of the New York Film Critics Circle, described the film as “almost flawless visually”, the Los Angeles Times called it “evocatively photographed” and The Hollywood Reporter “stylishly filmed”. Some critics even described Bereavement as one of the best-looking films of the year. Did you expect this success or were you surprised by it?

Marco Cappetta: You always hope that your work will get recognized but you never really expect it. You see, independent films often fly under the critics’ radar, or sometimes a movie may get praised in general terms, but without specific focus on its technical and artistic merits. I’ve been shooting films for more than fifteen years and I have shot movies in the past whose cinematography was well-received, but nothing really compares to the accolades I’ve received for Bereavement. It’s very flattering, I have a page on my website that is dedicated to reviews of my work and most of them were written about Bereavement! This success proves that you don’t need big budgets to produce quality cinematography. It was a very satisfying project for me; the money made shooting independent films doesn’t last very long, the satisfaction one gets from awards and critical praise lasts forever.


Film Deviant: We actually took a poll here at Film Deviant through our Facebook page and Bereavement won “Best Cinematography” in our “Best of 2011” list. It edged out films like A Horrible Way To Die, Stake Land and I Saw the Devil. We'll be posting all of the results after Christmas.

Marco Cappetta: This is great! Thanks to Film Deviant and all the horror fans, I sincerely appreciate it.


Film Deviant: You were born into a family of artistic creativity. How did that influence your work?

Marco Cappetta: Looking back, I definitely see a great influence coming from my father being a painter and my mom being a teacher and a writer. Both are extremely artistic and well-educated people in spite of having being raised during the hardships of World War Two. They really tried to instill in me and my brother a sense of appreciation for beauty. Growing up in Italy, there is so much classic art and natural beauty that it’s definitely a great influence, even if on a subconscious level. I can’t stress enough how important it is to “see things” with a personal point of view for a cinematographer, that’s what makes your work unique and it’s much more important than what camera you use. Nowadays, many aspiring cinematographers are drawn to technique and technology because they can be learned with a mathematical approach, however these things will give you technical competence but no aesthetic direction. For me, cinematography is about emotion and mood, it’s a more subjective and conceptual approach. An image that is technically exact, yet is completely devoid of emotional substance, is not fully expressing its narrative potential.


Film Deviant: What made you want to become a cinematographer? How did you start and how did you arrive where you are today?

Marco Cappetta: As far back as I can remember, I was always drawn to images. When I was a kid, I liked to draw, take pictures and shoot movies. My father owned a wind-up Canon 8mm movie camera, a small moviola and a splicer and I loved to shoot and edit little films. Later in life, video replaced film as I continued shooting, fascinated by the image-making process. I never thought that shooting movies could be a profession, though, it was a passion. In 1990, after some important changes in my life, I decided to move to Los Angeles to follow the dream of working “in the movies”. After film school, I did an internship on a movie set and when I saw the Director of Photography at work my infatuation with images was rekindled. I worked my way up through the ranks of the camera department, starting as an assistant cameraman, something that few people are willing to do nowadays because it’s very hard work with no instant gratification. When I eventually started shooting, it took me many years to ‘find my voice’ and become confident in my craft. I studied light in all its manifestations and how it influences human perception. In movies, the power of light can be used to induce particular emotional states, it’s fascinating stuff.


Film Deviant: How did you hook up with director Stevan Mena?

Marco Cappetta: Stevan was looking for a DP for Bereavement and had placed an ad online. Usually, these type of online searches are flooded by hundreds of applications, so the odds of being noticed are very slim. Fortunately, Stevan was impressed with my work and called me up. Since he’s NY based and I am in L.A. our initial conversations were strictly telephonic, but we hit it off, we talked about his project at length and our taste in movies was similar, so eventually he decided to hire me to shoot Bereavement.


Film Deviant: How was the shoot itself?

Marco Cappetta: It was a very tough shoot with a lot of night work in freezing temperatures and in hazardous environments. In these type of situations it’s easy to get overwhelmed by physical exhaustion and it’s very difficult to stay focused. But hardships are eventually forgotten while images live forever and this is something I always remind myself when I am cold, exhausted and ready to throw in the towel. When a movie is finally released, images are all a cinematographer has to show.


Film Deviant: There are such breath-taking shots in Bereavement. I seriously found myself re-watching certain scenes just to soak in all the beauty. What was the creative process?

Marco Cappetta: Some people may find it strange that you talk about “beauty” in a horror film, this is something that makes Bereavement unique. There are two distinct story-lines that run parallel before eventually converging. The story following Allison moving to Pennsylvania is filled with melancholic beauty, while the story of deranged Sutter is very dark. The juxtaposition of visual elements that are inherently opposite makes them resonate more powerfully than the same elements taken individually, it makes natural beauty look more stunning and gloomy places look more frightening. Some people, like you, have taken notice of the beauty, perhaps because they expect darkness in a horror film and are surprised by the presence of beauty. Others have taken notice of the hallucinatory and claustrophobic cinematography of Sutter’s slaughterhouse, which is more complex on a technical level. In the end, both looks are part of an overall aesthetic design that hinges on visual contrast.


For most day exteriors, I exploited the widescreen frame to enhance the sense of isolation and I utilized sunset and dawn light, in order to lend a melancholic feel. It’s a great look, but it requires a gentle touch and careful planning since this type of light lasts only for a very short time. Adding movie-lights is sometimes necessary but also tricky because you run the risk of destroying the delicate beauty of natural light. In Sutter’s slaughterhouse, conversely, I kept large areas of shadow within the frame, because darkness gives shape to our deepest fears. I created a surreal “chiaroscuro” style with saturated colors and an hallucinatory feel, a technically complex look because I wanted darkness, yet the action needed to be visible. Lighting and exposures therefore had to be extremely precise to create that look, while avoiding the grain that is typical of underexposure. In the final grade, I tweaked the gamma curves a little so the final images are dark, but also rich and polished.


Film Deviant: What kind of equipment did you use and do you have a favorite preference of camera?

Marco Cappetta: I shot Bereavement on 3-perf Super 35mm with two Movicam cameras, Zeiss lenses and Kodak film stocks. The film was eventually graded in a Lustre DI suite at Technicolor NY. While I fully embrace new digital technologies, I always love to shoot film. Nowadays independent movies shot on 35mm film are becoming rare, so I am glad that the opportunity to shoot film presented itself on this project.


Film Deviant: Which film are you most proud to be a part of making?

Marco Cappetta: Bereavement would be the obvious answer, but I have to say that it’s a tie with a little known independent film called Dark Heart. I shot that film at a very particular time in my life, when I was questioning my own desire to continue working in the movie business. I shot that film as if it were my last, making very bold stylistic choices. I was inspired by the work of German photographer Uta Barth at the time, and I designed a visual style that incorporated many unusual elements, unbalanced framing, compressed spatial dynamics, prowling camera, sickly saturated colors and the creative use of focus blur as a narrative tool. This created a very surreal feel, more abstract than descriptive, that was very effective on an emotional level. Kerry Lengel of The Arizona Republic described the look of the film as “stylized imagery, melancholy blurs and artful angles. The turbulent colors of a Jackson Pollock painting”. I dig the Pollock reference!


Film Deviant: Who are some of your influences?

Marco Cappetta: It’s hard to reduce one’s influences in a short list. There are the more obvious ones, but anything that catches my eye can be source of inspiration. Other films, naturally, are a source of inspiration; the cinematographers whose work I admire are too many to list: Toland, Deakins, Storaro, Doyle, Beebe, Spinotti, Prieto, Lubezki, Deschanel, Elswit, Kimball, Khondji, Miranda, Kaminski, Almendros, Willis, Hall, the list goes on and on. I am also inspired by graphic design and magazines like How Design, Communication Arts and Eye. I enjoy studying the work of still photographers like Sebastiao Salgado, Uta Barth, Saul Leiter and paintings by George De La Tour, Vermeer, Caravaggio and… Jackson Pollock!!


Film Deviant: What are some tips you can share with our readers who would like to get into cinematography?

Marco Cappetta: Be passionate about images and light, naturally, but I would also recommend working on movies as a crew member in the camera and grip/electric department for several years and learn by observing experienced technicians at work. This is particularly helpful to learn how a set is run. Cinematography doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it has to relate to other departments and fit in the overall filmmaking process. Aside from the creative aspects, there are managerial, organizational and interpersonal skills that need to be learned.


Film Deviant: If you had a choice, what type of film would you like to do next? What are your goals and dreams?

Marco Cappetta: I’d like to shoot a candle-lit Victorian era movie, an epic western, a black and white film ‘noir’ set in Prague, a big-budget FX movie, a horror classic, a psychedelic film for Gaspar Noe and an introspective movie about mid-life crisis for Alexander Payne. In no particular order. As for dreams, I would love one day to have AIC (Associazione Italiana Autori della Fotografia Cinematografica) and ASC (American Society of Cinematographers) after my name. That would be the highest honor!


Film Deviant: All of us here at Film Deviant absolutely love your work on Bereavement. We wish you all the luck in the world and hope to see more of your talents in the genre.

Thank you so much for your time!

Marco Cappetta: Any time! Thank you so much for your kind words, Bryan!



Marco's stylized images have been showcased at prestigious festivals such as the Festival Du Cinema de Paris, Rome Independent Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, Slamdance, Brussels International Film Festival and many others. His work has screened at legendary venues such as the Academy of Motion Pictures Theater in Beverly Hills, Cannes' Palais du Cinema, Hollywood's Cinerama Dome and the Egyptian Theater.


Marco Cappetta is an Italian cinematographer and photographer based in Los Angeles.


His website is Cinemarco.com









Thanks for reading,

bryan.


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