From shooting in Jordan during one of the region’s hottest months and during Ramadan (when local crewmembers where fasting) to shooting a film that largely takes place in a small interrogation room and prison, Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, Rosewater, was not without its challenges. But cinematographer Bobby Bukowski was up to the task.
“Obviously I knew this project would have many challenges,” Bukowski tells ICG Magazine, “but what was most appealing to me, as a cinematographer, was that more than half the film takes place in an interrogation room and prison cell—not, inherently, the most visual places to tell a story. I had to go right to the center of intention of each scene and make critical choices about designing the visuals—handheld versus dolly, wide versus longer lenses, dark versus bright with high contrast—to help create a visual arc that would mirror the narrative. That was really exciting to pull off.”
Bukowski chose practical lights to illuminate the tight space. “Being in that small of a space with the actor creates an unspoken choreography where you anticipate each other’s moves,” he said. “My approach to cinematography is that the actors always come first. So in lighting these sets with practical lights, there were spots where [the actors] would go into complete darkness or overexposure. There were no marks on the ground for focus or the chance to carefully modulate any exposure changes. Lighting for a space is a given in documentary filmmaking, and that is definitely the example we followed here.”
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