Cinematographer Rachel Morrison talks Mudbound

Check out my Filmmaker Magazine interview with Rachel Morrison regarding her work on Netflix’s Mudbound. Set in post-World War II rural Mississippi, Mudbound was shot on Alexa Minis using Panavision PVintage spherical lenses and Panavision B, C, and D series anamorphic glass.

Continue onward for a few set pics and a snippet from the interview in which Morrison breaks down the pros and cons of working with film vs. digital.

Filmmaker: The film vs. digital debate typically takes the form of an aesthetic argument, but I’m interested in your thoughts on how the different formats effect the environment on set. What are the pros and cons or working in each medium?

Morrison: I do think film streamlines the process and tends to make everybody step up their game a little bit because every take counts.

So I would say the pros of film:

-Ups everyone’s focus in the moment

-Enables intimacy and communication between director and DP

-Inherently tactile

-Eliminates having people judge off the monitor, which often leads to too many cooks in the kitchen

-Screening dailies TOGETHER

-Happy accidents

-Better handling of highlights and more natural skin tones

-Tendency to use fewer cameras or even just one, which means you can get the right eyeline and lighting without compromise

The cons of film:

-Can be cost prohibitive (depending on many factors, of course, such as how much you plan to shoot and how far the lab is, etc.)

-Labs are few and far between, so often (shooting film) involves shipping the film, which means it can be days before you see your dailies

-Not all lab technicians are as skilled these days as they once were, which can lead to inconsistencies and scratching in the processing

-You don’t get to sleep as well at night (because you don’t) know exactly what you’ve captured and you don’t know that no mags will come back scratched

The pros of digital:

-Higher ASA, so you can light with more practical lights and candles

-Camera bodies like the Alexa Mini or Red are small enough to use on a MoVI and mount in a variety of cool places

Digital aspects that are both Pros and Cons:

-Because media is relatively cheap, you roll more freely. This can create lazy filmmaking and too much content (con), but sometimes you get a gem of a moment that you might not have captured had you been censoring yourself (pro).

-You can see basically what you are getting (on the monitor). It helps DPs rest well at night (pro), but also eliminates some of the ‘magic’ of what we do and makes everyone think they are cinematographers (con). Also, (on set monitoring) can lead to too many cooks in the kitchen because everyone has an opinion and that can cause people to focus on too many myopic details such as a hair out of place or a wrinkle in a blouse or the curtains not being perfectly straight instead of just focusing on the actors and performance, which is really all that matters in the end.

-More affordable often means more cameras, which is both a pro and a con. Sometimes it’s a great asset to capture two sizes of a performance (with multiple cameras in one take), but other times it leads to more compromise than it’s worth. And there’s a tendency for producers to add cameras and lose days in the shooting schedule, which will never look as good as taking your time with one camera.

Rachel Morrison behind the scenes of Mudbound.Rachel Morrison on the set of Mudbound.

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