Shooting Lady Gaga by revealing herself as a realistic woman while focusing on a character of the rock star that Bradley Cooper was creating for himself were just two of the challenges faced by DP Matthew Libatique in the story of the lovers of Star Cross. The love story is screened at the EnergaCamerimage festival, competing for the main film award. Libatique confesses that Cooper was so busy acting in his directorial debut that the DP often stayed alone to decide on composition and shots.
He began his career working for Ed Lachman, a photography director and perennial mentor here at the festival. Were there lessons from him that you still use today in your shots?
The way I measure. It has this modified exposure zone system that it uses, which is not exactly the Ansel Adams zone system. It works in gray scale and total values, so I measure it in a very similar way to it, except that it overexposes. I sub-expose. The other thing is that it is so versatile, project by project. He is a great influence for me.
You said you did not shoot many cover images in this movie because you wanted to give Cooper and Lady Gaga the space to move around the halls and hotels where their romance is flourishing. Is not it so risky?
I was reacting to what they were doing, it was always a surprise. Like the wedding dress they found. Actually it was the wedding dress of the costume designer. It was that kind of basic mentality that the movie had. It's a Warner Brothers movie, but it had that sense of independence: there was no presence in the studio like a normal movie.
Record concert scenes in live performances, filming between live band shows. That requires an expert time, of course.
That was a source of anxiety. It was a bit relaxing to enter the narrative fragments. We started in Coachella between the two weekends. So we were able to obtain the production values of their scenarios and their illumination. Then, from there to something we organized, as in the Greek Theater during the scene of the song "Shallow", where she appears on stage for the first time. And then have the next level, where we were filming between acts in real concerts.
Then, Cooper, who is in front of the camera for much of the movie while watching the self-destruction of his character, singer and songwriter Jackson Maine, relied on you to decide how to film many scenes.
I can not say enough about how motivating I was. The process was very fluid. He was not too valuable for things and he had none of the anxiety that some directors have about receiving vaccines. It was the authenticity of the performances he focused on. He acted in this movie and did a wonderful job. His leadership skills were impressive for a director for the first time.
Did you feel under extra pressure as you became a bit of co-director?
I had never thought about it that way, I just wanted to support him. Between Lady Gaga – Stefani [Germanotta] – and Bradley, they wore so many hats. You know that at night they were making music, tracks for the next weeks.
He is directing and acting and evaluating his performance in a scene while acting with her. The least he could do was help him by paying attention to other things besides cinematography. And on the line, camera operators did more than they normally do. We all had to collaborate collectively.
So, do your dozens of acting roles in the camera seem to have prepared you well enough to direct them?
He is very persistent in terms of trying to improve it. And he has a great sense of editing when he films, which I think is the mark of a great director. Know how you are going to leave a scene and enter a scene. How do you learn that? I think it's just because he's spent so much time acting with both Clint Eastwood and David O. Russell.
In terms of deciding the look of the film, and the color of Cooper's concerts, you said that you prefer to decide the tones of your scenes on the set instead of modifying them in the post, right?
I really do not like reinventing the wheel in the subsequent process. I am very particular about newspapers. The newspapers have to be more or less what the intention is. So there is no confusion. And it seems to me that it is difficult to deviate from it. In exceptional cases, I've worked with directors who wanted to change the look of the movie. What is the point of that? I think it starts to look fake when you start to break it.
And what about the directors who want to film in neutral tones so that they can later decide on the color of the palate in the post?
Well, it's the same feeling I have about vaccine coverage just to get something different. You are only changing something for no other reason than to have editing options. I like people who have an idea of what they want to do.
Did you have more flexibility to record cover images in "A Star Is Born" than in "Mother!", Where were you in a narrow place, filming 16 mm for Darren Aronofsky?
Actually, the budgets were almost the same in both films. They are of average budget, the rare type of film of $ 30 million. It seems that today is more than $ 100 million or $ 10 million. So I've been lucky. It is a good place to be. It has enough tools to do something special, but it does not have the $ 100 million pressure.
Do you always handle the camera yourself as much as you did in "A Star Is Born"?
No, sometimes I take a step back, especially in events with several cameras to see all the pictures, so I can make sure everyone is on the same page. The last thing I want is like three different personalities that do three different things.
I learned to work with Spike Lee. It will use several cameras in very interesting ways and I have to get away from the operation of the camera because I have to look at all the frames to make sure that everyone is connected. But I love to operate, especially by hand.