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Sundance 2017 — THEATRE & TIME & DATE & LOCATION — Walking Out and Santa Clarita Diet Cinematographer Todd McMullen — Interviews Sundance Film Festival 2017
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Sundance 2017 Q+A — Walking Out and Santa Clarita Diet Cinematographer Todd McMullen — Interviews Sundance Film Festival
David Alexander Willis: How did you meet up with the Smith Brothers for Walking Out? What was it about the screenplay that connected with you as your first feature length, visually and empathically?
Cinematographer Todd McMullen : I had known Alex Smith for many years through his wife Dana, who was an actress on Friday Night Lights, which I shot for 5 years. We had talked about working together but our schedules were always out of sync.
Walking Out was a story I resonated with for a few strong reasons. Growing up, I did a lot of hunting with my father and some of the same fears, anxieties and rewards I experienced were present in the script. Also, I love a challenge and working in Montana is full of wonderful challenges. The freezing temperatures, the short days and the remote locations.
I was Visually engaged in the story because I saw this as a chance to photograph a story that lent itself to an epic widescreen format. The mountain, the weather and the locations were a character in the story and we felt visually the scope of this world should be epic.
David Alexander Willis: What was the camera for Walking Out? Which Panavision lenses did you employ, and which ended up proving to be the most useful on this shoot, which I’m guessing, given the plot, included a lot of exterior work in very cold weather?
Cinematographer Todd McMullen : We captured the film on the Arri Alexa XT and Panavision Glass. Our staples were the G Series anamorphics. The 25mm was the go-to lens with 40mm riding shotgun. I also used the 3:1 and 11:1 zoom on the B camera. For the flashbacks I thought it would be a cool subtle visual change to shoot with Spherical lenses, framing for 2:39, so I used PV vintage primes, an old 70’s 20-100mm cooke and a Panavision 11:1 zoom.
All the lenses held up in the adverse weather due to Panavision knowing the conditions and prepping them for the cold.
David Alexander Willis: After plentiful episodic work, this is your move to feature length? How was the transition for you? I know that you’ve helmed camera for the majority of hour-long episodes on several television series, like The Leftovers, Friday Night Lights and Prime Suspect, as well as the upcoming Netflix show Santa Clarita Diet. Was shooting a feature length “less” demanding in any way?
Cinematographer Todd McMullen : It’s interesting because I feel that differences in the two formats are somewhat subtle. Speaking in terms of physical production and on the ground shooting schedules they both have the same challenges. Time, money and resources. In the case of Walking Out, we actually had very few hours of daylight to shoot in. The winter months are short and the locations we shot in condensed that time even more. As far as style and look, I tried to keep the look appropriate to the emotions and time of day of the scene.
I take this approach to any narrative story regardless of Length of the story. I think the one difference I worked on was the consistency of the shots and making sure they kept the same scope and creativity throughout the movie. Because part of the story of Walking Out was movement and exploration, I thought it might be interesting to frame the characters walking up the mountain going from frame right to left, and when they return down the mountain they go from frame left to right.
For this particular project I feel it was more demanding as far as physical production was concerned.
David Alexander Willis: The Newsroom and Friday Night Lights are modern television classics, and I’ve heard absolutely nothing but good things about The Leftovers. Will you be back for the third and final season of The Leftovers? I absolutely loved watching The Newsroom; it was shot as such a beautiful, clean, crisp show, for both interiors and exteriors. It must have been a dream come true to work with the floating-single-shot- and dialogue-master Aaron Sorkin?
Cinematographer Todd McMullen : Man I enjoyed all those shows so much. All creative in different ways. I felt like I was at home watching TV on set of the Newsroom. Many times I forgot I was actually working. The stories, the dialogue, the acting, the writing, the crew, the 6-10 page scenes in one take. It was a thrill, the material was relevant and I had a lot of different elements to juggle shooting The Newsroom. It was like a live play. It was the type of show that got me into narrative filmmaking. And of course Friday Night Lights was, and is, a classic Television series that is still culturally important and emotionally relevant. As far as the Leftovers, they moved to Australian for season 3 and I stayed in the States.
David Alexander Willis: Netflix just released teasers on Santa Clarita Diet, an episodic starring Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant. It looks a little dark! How did that project come about for you? I know that Netflix mandates a 4K workflow. What camera and lens system did you go with, and what were the decisions there?
Cinematographer Todd McMullen: Yes, good questions. I believe my agent was contacted by Ruben Fleisher, who was directing the first two episodes and he thought my look might be appropriate for the style of writing of Santa Clarita Diet. I resonated with the writing was definitely interested in changing palettes and shooting something with a little lighter subject material.
Yes, Netflix Mandates 4k and in particular this was the first Netflix show to originate in 4k and HDR. We ultimately went with Panavision and the Sony F55. I felt it was the shortest learning curve for myself after being so familiar with the results of the Alexa. I primarily used Angenieux Optimo zoom lenses on the A camera and had the Panavision 19-90mm on the B camera.