By Randi Altman
Cinematographer Jonathan Furmanski is no stranger to comedy. His resume is long and includes such projects as the TV series Search Party and Inside Amy Schumer, as well as Judd Apatow’s documentary, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling.
So when it came time to collaborate with director Gene Stupnitsky on the Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg-produced Good Boys feature, he was more than ready.
Good Boys follows three 12-year-old boys (Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams) as they discover girls and how to get in and out of trouble. Inspired by earlier coming of age films, such as Stand By Me, Furmanski aimed for the look of the film to have “one foot in 2019 and the other in 1986.”
We reached out to Furmanski to find out about Good Boys, his workflows, inspiration and more.
Tell us about Good Boys. How early did you get involved in this film, and how did you work with the director Gene Stupnitsky?
Good Boys was a great experience. I interviewed with Gene and the producers several months before prep started. I flew up to Vancouver about a month before we started shooting, so had some time to sit with everyone to discuss the plan and style.
Everyone gave me a lot of room to figure out the look of the film, and there was universal agreement that we didn’t want Good Boys to look like a typical pre-teen comedy. Each conversation about the photography started with the idea that, despite the story being about three 12-year-old boys in a small suburban town, the film should feel bigger and more open. We wanted to show the thrill and fear of adolescence, discovery and adventure. That said, Gene was very clear not to undermine the comedy or constrain the actors.
How would you describe the look of film?
My hope was that Good Boys would feel like it had one foot in 2019 and the other in 1986. We got a lot of inspiration from movies like Stand By Me, The Goonies and ET. I didn’t want the film to be slick-looking; I wanted it to be sharp and vibrant and with a wider point of view. At the same time, it needed some grit and texture — despite all the sillier or crazier moments, I very much wanted the audience to be lulled into a suspension of disbelief. So, hopefully, we achieved that.
How did you work with the director and colorist to achieve the intended look?
We were very lucky to have Natasha Leonnet at Efilm do the final color on the film. She locked into the look and vibe. We were immediately on the same page about everything.
I obsess over all the details, and she was able to address my notes — or talk me off the ledge — while bringing her own vision and sensibility, which was right in line with what Gene and I envisioned. Just like on the shoot, I was given a lot of room to create the look.
You shot in Vancouver. How long was the shoot?
We shot for about 35 days in and around Vancouver.
How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses this project? Can you talk about camera tests?
I spent a bit of time thinking about the best camera and lens combo. Initially, I was considering a full-frame format, but as we discussed the film and our references, we realized shooting anamorphic would bring a little more “bigness.”
Also, we knew we’d have a lot of shots of all three boys improvising or goofing around, so the wider aspect ratio would help keep them all in a nice frame. But I also didn’t want to be fighting the imperfections a lot of anamorphic lenses have. That “personality” can be great and really fun to shoot with, but for Good Boys, we needed to have greater control over the frame. So I tested every anamorphic series I could get my hands on — looking at distortion, flaring, horizontal and vertical sharpness, etc. — with a few camera systems. I settled on the ARRI Master anamorphic lenses and Alexa SXT and Mini cameras.
Ultimately, why was this the right combination of camera and lenses?
Well, I’ve shot almost every scripted and documentary project in the last five years on some model of Alexa or Amira, so I’m very familiar with the sensor and how it handles itself, no matter what the situation. And I knew we’d shoot ARRIRAW so would record an awesome amount of information. I’m so impressed with what ARRIRAW can handle; sometimes it sees too much. But really, there’s so much to think about while shooting, no matter how much you like the image in front of you, it’s reassuring to know you have heaps of information to work with.
As for lenses, I wanted a package that gave me all the scope and dimensionality of anamorphic without the typical limitations. Don’t get me wrong; some of the classic anamorphic series with all their flaws can be beautiful and exciting, but they weren’t the right choice for this film. I wanted to select how much (or how little) we had in focus, and I didn’t want to lose sharpness off the center of the frame or have to stop way down because we needed three boys’ faces in focus. So the Master anamorphics ended up being the perfect choice: a big look, great contrast and color rendition, lovely depth and separation, and clean and sharp across the frame.
Can you talk about the lighting and how the camera worked while grabbing shots when you could?
One of the challenges of working with three 12-year-olds as your lead actors is keeping things loose enough so they don’t feel fenced in, which would sap all the energy out of their performances. We worked hard to give each scene and location a strong look, but sometimes we lit a little more broadly or lensed a little wider so the boys had room to play.
We kept as much lighting out of the room or rigged overhead as we could so the locations wouldn’t get claustrophobic or overheated. And the operators were able to adjust their frames easily as things changed or if an actor was doing something unexpected.
Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of or that you found most challenging?
Without question, the most challenging sequence was the boys running across the highway. It was the biggest single scene I’ve shot, and it had multiple units shooting over five days — it was really tough from a coordination and matching perspective. Obviously, the scene had to be funny and exciting, but I also wanted it to feel huge. The boys are literally and figuratively crossing the biggest barrier of their lives! We got a little lucky that there was a thin layer of haze most of the time that took the edge off the direct sun and made matching a bit easier.
The key was sitting with our AD, Dan Miller, and coming up with the most advantageous shooting order, but not hopping around so much that we lose continuity or waste tons of time resetting everything. And almost every shot had VFX so our key grip, Marc Nolet, drilled small washers into the tarmac for every camera position and we took copious notes so we could go back if necessary, or second unit could come in and replicate something. It was a lot of work, but the final sequence is really fun and surprising.
Now for some more general questions. How did you become interested in cinematography?
I went to film school with the idea of being a writer/director, but I discovered very quickly that I wasn’t really into that. I was drawn immediately to cameras, lenses and film stocks, and I devoured all the information I could find about cinematography. My friends started asking me to shoot their student projects, and it took off from there. I’m lucky that I still get to work with some of those college friends.
How do you stay on top of advancing technology?
I don’t find it too difficult to stay on top of the latest and greatest camera or light or other widget. The basic idea is always the same, no matter how new the implementation, and when something truly groundbreaking comes along, you hear about it quickly.
Of course, many of my friends are in the camera or lighting departments, so we talk about this stuff all the time, and there are great online resources for checking out gear or swapping ideas. Probably the best place to learn is at events like Cine Gear, where you can see the latest stuff and hang out with your friends.
What inspires you artistically?
It’s easy to find inspiration almost anywhere: museums, books, online, just walking around. I also get great inspiration from my fellow cinematographers (past and present) and the work they do. The DP community is very open and supportive, maybe surprisingly so.
What new technology has changed the way you work?
The two innovations that have impacted my work most are digital cinema cameras and LED lighting. Both have afforded me a more lightweight and efficient way of working without sacrificing quality or options.
What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I credit my documentary work for teaching me to keep an open ear and an open mind. When you listen, you can prepare, anticipate or hear a key piece of information that could impact your approach. This, of course, leads to improvisation because maybe your idea doesn’t work or a better idea is presenting itself. Don’t be rigid. I also try to stand next to the camera as much as possible — that’s where all the action is.
Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It’s exactly that… a collaboration. I don’t want to be off by myself, and I don’t want to just pass information from one person to another. The best director/DP relationships are an extended, evolving conversation where you’re pushing a clear vision together but still challenging each other.
What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I think the ARRI Amira is the best camera ever made, although I’m a bit of a chameleon when it comes to cameras and lenses — I don’t think I’ve used the same lens package twice on all my narrative projects. The two things I must have are my own wireless monitor and a good polarizing filter; I want complete control over the image, and I don’t like standing still.
Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years.