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Spotlight: Christopher Blauvelt, Cinematographer, ‘Night Moves’

Well meaning but naive environmentalists get in over their heads with an act of eco-terrorism in Night Moves, an independent feature directed by Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy) and starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard. Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt worked with a very small crew and budget to bring a realistic feel to the film. Shot with ARRI Alexa cameras and Zeiss Super Speed lenses over just 22 days, the film captures the beauty of the landscape without neglecting the details. Blauvelt also incorporates a focus on the characters as the consequences of their violent act become clear to them.

Jesse Eisenberg in

Night Moves


A key scene takes place in a boat at night. That must have been challenging to shoot.

Christopher Blauvelt: Yes. Water work is always more difficult by its nature. Also it was important to keep our look [grounded] in the real world, so I was motivating light from the “moon.” We came up with an overhead rig that bounced LED light strips up into Ultrabounce cards and back through shower curtain material. I have to give a huge amount of credit to our gaffer, Jeremy Mackie, and key grip Garrett Cantrell for designing and building the rigs.

How did you approach lighting for the rest of the film with such a small budget?

Most everything during the day was a manipulation of available light. For the night shoots, we brought out the small amount of lights we had. We carried a small assortment of tungsten lights—ARRI 150W, 200W units, LEKO LITE and PAR cans—and some tungsten-balanced Kino Flos. Our daylight-balanced sources consisted of two ARRI M18 HMIs and also 400W and 800W Jokers. And we had some LED units that could go either way [daylight/tungsten].

Christopher Blauvelt.

The truck they’re in during several scenes was a big “character” in the film, and a lot of the film was shot at night in the forest. We designed and built an overhead rig that would give us a subtle and understated look based on moonlight, along with the effect of the reverberation of other cars’ headlights.

So many indie films these days go for a very handheld look. But there are a lot of locked down shots in Night Moves. Is that something you set out to do?

Kelly and I agree that a forced camera shake is something to avoid. We didn’t do many handheld shots, and when we did, it was always motivated by the feeling and movement of the characters in the frame.