Tag Archives: Kostas Theodosiou

DP Chat: Cinematographer John Grillo talks Westworld, inspiration

By Randi Altman

HBO’s Westworld ended its third season in early May, and it was quite a ride. There was anarchy, rioting, robots, humans, humans who are really robots, robots who had other robots’ brains. Let’s just say there was a lot going on. This season took many of our characters — including Dolores, Maeve, Bernard and the Man in Black — out of the Westworld park and into the real world, meaning the look of the show needed to feel different.

John Grillo on set

Cinematographer John Grillo has shot eight Westworld episodes spanning Seasons 2 and 3. In fact, he earned an Emmy nomination for his work on Season 2. His resume is full of episodic work and includes TNT’s new series Snowpiercer, The Leftovers and Preacher, among many others.

We reached out to Grillo to find out about his process on Westworld and how he found his way to cinematography.

The most current season of Westworld has completely different locations than in previous years — we are now in the outside world. How did this change the look?
We introduced more LED practical fixtures in both interior and exterior sets. The idea was to create more linear patterns of illumination. Production designer Howard Cummings created sets that incorporated this futuristic motif, whether built on stage or added them to existing locations.

We relied much more on the art department and post VFX to help us eliminate certain elements in the background that would bump against the story. Beyond that, we endeavored to find locations in Los Angeles, Spain and Singapore that either already had a futuristic vibe about them or that we could touch up with VFX. There were some that needed no extra work, like the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, which became Delos Headquarters, and another location in Barcelona called La Fabrica, which used to be a cement factory that architect Ricardo Bofill converted into his offices and living quarters. This would become the character Serac’s home. In the near future, not everything has changed so dramatically, so we focused on key elements like vehicles and buildings.

DP Paul Cameron, who shot the show’s pilot, directed Episode 4 this season, which you shot for him. Tell us about working together on that episode.
I’ve known Paul Cameron for many years and assisted him on a few occasions, most notably on Collateral. I’ve always admired his lighting, so needless to say there was a healthy mix of excitement and fear on my part when I heard I’d be shooting his directorial debut!

I have shot episodic TV for other DP-directors and I’ve been in that situation myself — recently directing episodes for Preacher — so I came in with a new appreciation of how difficult it is to direct.

Working with a fellow cinematographer makes the communication a lot smoother; if he asked me for a specific look or feel we were able to speak in shorthand. He was very respectful of my opinions and let me do my thing, and at the same time I was able to help him like I would any director. He came up with some great ideas that were not in the script, particularly for the opening sequence with Ed Harris. Anybody directing for the first time with actors of the caliber that we have in Westworld would be a nervous wreck, but Paul was very much in control, and we managed to have fun in the process.

What camera was Westworld shot on? What about lenses?
We shot on Kodak 35mm stock with ARRICAM ST and LT, 435 and 235 cameras using ARRI Master Primes serviced from Keslow Camera. They were very helpful in securing HD video taps for us, which were invaluable. We also shot anamorphic sequences with Cooke Anamorphic primes. We did shoot a little bit of digital here and there for wide-angle night exteriors of skylines just to make the buildings pop. For that we used the Sony Venice camera with ARRI Signature Primes. We also used the Rialto extension on the Venice to create a camera rig we mounted on a DJI Ronin-S that we called the Hobo Cam. This allowed us to shoot in the crowded streets of Singapore unnoticed — the idea being that it was a one-man operation with the body of the camera in a backpack and the sensor module mounted on the Ronin. We used Zeiss Super Speeds to keep the weight down.

Tell us about the color grade. How do you work with the colorist?
I worked remotely with Kostas Theodosiou, who was our final colorist at FotoKem. He is new to the show this season, so we had some conversations over the phone early on. I would send reference stills to dailies colorist Jon Rocke after each shoot day in an effort to lock down the look we were going for ahead of time.

We were tweaking as we went along, even retransferring some dailies when we didn’t feel they were right. For me skin tones are very important. We spent a lot of time correcting them. Film is amazing in that respect, but when you transfer it to the digital domain, it takes a lot of know-how from the colorist to dig for them.

You also shot TNT’s new Snowpiercer series. Both shows feature a lot of visual effects. How does that affect your work?
It’s like working with a ghost. You know it’s there, but you can’t see it. I’ve worked with some great VFX artists, so I depend on them to keep me on the right track. Sometimes I affect what they do by suggesting a certain look or vice versa, but it’s all worked out in prep, so usually we are on the same page when it comes time to shoot.

It used to be more complicated when I was coming up in terms of the execution, locking down cameras with 20 C-stands and such. Now they’ve come a long way, and there’s nothing they can’t do. I usually don’t even see their work until the show comes out, so it’s always a pleasant surprise.

How did you become interested in cinematography?
It was by happenstance. My dad is a jazz guitarist, and my mother is a painter. Growing up, I was surrounded by music and painting. There were plenty of art books in my mom’s house in Acapulco, where I was raised, so early on I had an interest in the visual arts.

When I was living in Mexico City, I got a job on an American film that was shooting in town. After working as a PA in various departments, I ended up with the VFX crew, and that was my first time being near a film camera. The assistants began teaching me how to load the old Mitchell and VistaVision cameras, and after principal photography was done, they offered me a job in LA as a loader.

After that I worked as an assistant for many years and was lucky to work for some of the best cinematographers around. What really turned me on to the art of cinematography was discovering the connection to my childhood interests and seeing how certain cinematographers were, in fact, painting with light. Vittorio Storaro, Sven Nykvist, Nestor Almendros and Conrad Hall were channeling Rembrandt, Vermeer and Caravaggio. I began paying more attention to the craft as I continued assisting DPs and then decided to make the leap.

What inspires you artistically?
I draw a lot of inspiration from the other arts. Paintings, photography, music and dance are great tools for learning about color, composition, rhythm and movement. For example, music is very helpful for camera choreography. How slow or how fast the dolly moves or how long a focus rack takes is always linked to the rhythm of a scene, so it becomes a beautiful dance with the actors. That’s why we always talk about beats in a scene like we do with music.

Looking back over the past few years, what new technology has changed the way you work?
Probably the advent of LED lights. It’s been a game-changer, particularly on tight schedules. Having a dimmer board able to control not just the intensity but also color and angle has freed up time to think about the other dozen things that go into creating an image.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
For me it’s about paying attention. Having your antennas up. Listening to the director. Working on a film is a group effort and I like being involved in the process and want my crew to feel the same way. We spend more time with each other than with our families, so it’s important that everyone is inspired to do their best work but also have fun doing it. The rule is always to serve the story and the director’s vision.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
It all depends on the project. Lately I’ve been impressed with the Sony Venice camera. I love the high ISO setting for low-light scenes. Also, I’ve grown quite dependent on the Astera Titan tubes for lighting. They are like Kino Flos but wireless, battery-powered and color-controlled. They can quickly get you out of a jam.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Hands of Stone DP and colorist weigh in on film’s look and feel

By Randi Altman

“No mas! No mas!” Those famous words were uttered in desperation by legendary fighter Roberto Durán, putting an end to his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard. But before that, Durán had impressively defeated the charismatic Sugar Ray, capturing the WBC welterweight title. Durán’s story — along with that of his trainer Ray Arcel — was recently told in The Weinstein Company’s feature Hands of Stone.

Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, the film’s DP was Miguel Ioan Littin Menz. He worked very closely with director Jakubowicz and FotoKem colorist Kostas Theodosiou to develop several different looks for the film, including for the different decades in which the story takes place, boxing versus training scenes in different locations (New York, Panama, Las Vegas) and flashback scenes.

Robert De Niro and Edgar Ramírez star in HANDS OF STONEThe film stars Édgar Ramírez as Duran, Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray and Robert DeNiro as Ray Arcel.

We were lucky enough to get some time from both Littin Menz and Theodosiou, albeit separately, for questions. First we caught up with Theodosiou.
Enjoy.

How early did you get involved with the film?
Theodosiou: Prior to my involvement in the project, FotoKem’s nextLAB was on location and involved in dailies acquisition and management. However, I started working with the filmmakers at the editorial stage, after the shoot was finished.

What kind of overall look/looks did the director and DP have in mind for the film, and how did they share that vision with you?
Theodosiou: Both the director Jonathan Jakubowicz and the director of photography Miguel Ioan Litten Menz were very hands-on. They supervised each session to make sure we created looks that best suited all the different time periods, as well as the variety of locations used in the production. The story involved multiple locations, including Panama, New York and Las Vegas.

Nearly every scene was shot on location to maintain authenticity, and it was important that we were true to the look and feel of each location. Jonathan and Miguel explained in detail what they wanted to achieve visually, so we created a unique look for each location.

kostas

Kostas Theodosiou

In addition, the story took us through many different time periods that spanned Roberto Duran’s life — from childhood through his entire career. Each time period also required a different treatment to establish its place in time. Every look we created had a purpose and is in the film for a reason. As a result, there are many different looks in this movie, but they all worked together to help tell the story.

You called on Resolve for this film. Can you talk about the tool and how it helps you in your work?
Theodosiou: Resolve is a great platform and allowed me to mix footage that was shot using a variety of different cameras, lenses and aspect ratios. The tools in Resolve helped me blend the footage seamlessly to enhance the filmmakers’ vision, and the results surpassed their expectations.

You mentioned that both the director and DP were in the room with you?
Theodosiou: Yes, Miguel and Jonathan were supervising the color correction from beginning to end. We all had great chemistry and worked together as a team. This was Jonathan’s passion project and he was very invested in the film, so he was deeply involved in the finishing process. And Miguel flew in from Chile to make sure he was here with us.

In the final stages of making the film, additional scenes were added and both filmmakers returned to FotoKem to work with me to make sure the new extended scenes fit in with the mood they were trying to portray. It was a very hands-on experience.

Now let’s hear from DP Miguel Ioan Litten Menz:

What were your first meetings like with Kostas?
Littin Menz: I was very pleased to hear that the color correction was to be done at FotoKem in Los Angeles. We chose Kostas because of his background — he’s worked for Paul Thomas Anderson; Robert Elswit, ASC; Christopher Nolan; and Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC. Since the first meeting, the connection and conversation about aesthetic was immediately understood. Our ideas and feelings about how to adjust the palette of colors for the final look of the film were in sync. He did marvelous work.

director-and-dp

Jonathan Jakubowicz and Miguel Ioan Littin Menz.

What was the general overall look the director had in mind for the film and how did he communicate that to you?
Littin Menz: In general, Jonathan talked about creating different looks between Panama and New York, and at the same time creating a look where you can feel an epic and intimate story at the same time. We want the audience to feel the wild, powerful and sensual colors around Roberto Durán’s life in Panama, and more plain, elegant and sober colors around Ray Arcel’s life in New York. In our research, we looked at thousands of photographs from sports magazines from that period, and also many documentaries.

And for my personal research, I again read Norman Mailer’s book “The Fight” and Jack London’s “The Mexican.”

How would you describe the different looks and feel of the film — decade by decade, location by location?
Littin Menz: I worked very closely with Tomás Voth, the production designer, who did amazing work. We described two very different worlds — Duran’s life in Panama and Ray Arcel’s in New York — so as a general concept we tried to create eclectic and powerful palates of colors for Duran’s life, to mimic his real personality.

For Ray Arcel, we used colors that were more serene and elegant, like he was throughout his entire life. Sometimes I used warm colors to evoke nostalgic times for Ray Arcel, and sometimes cool colors appeared in the sad times for both Duran and Arcel. Decade by decade, from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, we created different looks for timeline reasons but also as part of the intimate space for each character.

What cameras did you use, and why did you opt for three different ones? How did that affect the look and the grade?
Littin Menz: We relied on two Alexa XTs, one Alexa M and three Blackmagic cameras for VFX purposes. One of the Alexas, the B camera, was always prepared for the Steadicam. The C camera and the Alexa M were used for the fights. Also, we used Anamorphic Hawk V Lite Lenses. Kostas was thorough in making sure everything from the different shoots matched.

Can you talk about the shoot? Was there a DIT? If so, what role did they play? And what kind of on-set monitors were you using?
Littin Menz: The DIT was there mostly for making the back-ups and dailies. It was a lot of material every day. We also created LUTs for some scenes. The monitors were Asus VS197D-P 18.5-inch for video assist and a Flanders Scientific for the DIT station.

Was there anything unique or challenging about it that you are particularly proud of?
Littin Menz: On the technical side, it was very challenging to reproduce the big spaces and fights, in places like the Madison Square Garden in New York through three decades, the Olympic Stadium in Montreal and the Superdome in New Orleans, but I think we did it successfully.

Some of my favorite scenes were those of Durán when he was a kid in “El Chorrillo,” the poor neighborhood where he lived. We never forgot that the principal idea for the film was to tell the story through the clear and transparent eyes of that child — the story of a child who came from one of poorest neighborhoods of Latin America and became a world champion. I’m very proud to have been a part of this project.