Home » How Rodrigo Prieto Turned Hollywood’s Most-Trusted Cinematographer

How Rodrigo Prieto Turned Hollywood’s Most-Trusted Cinematographer

by NatashaS
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When Martin Scorsese was making “Silence,” his 2016 drama a few pair of Jesuit monks spreading the gospel in Japan, a hurricane hit the realm, bringing with it biblical showers. As the filmmaker braced himself for information that the unhealthy climate would imply he’d need to abandon plans to shoot that day, there was a rap on his trailer door. There stood Rodrigo Prieto, Scorsese’s long-time cinematographer, outfitted in heavy rain gear. Despite the deluge, he was radiating optimism.

“We’re nearly prepared,” Prieto reassured the director. “Just just a few extra minutes.”

Prieto’s calm demeanor and his dedication to getting the work performed, irrespective of the fundamental hurdles, left Scorsese speechless.

“He all the time delivers — he interprets what I’m asking for and he brings it to life,” Scorsese marvels. “He’s all the time constructive and he thinks and works rapidly. And completely nothing stops him.”

That’s actually the case on “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Prieto’s newest collaboration with Scorsese. It’s a ripped-from-history saga, one which depicts a rich Osage group that’s systematically murdered for and robbed of oil rights. Making the film left the duo laboring for 100 days within the oppressive warmth of the Oklahoma plains. It was a difficult shoot, made extra sophisticated by its narrative daring. Prieto and Scorsese embraced a fiendishly creative method to telling the story — one which mixes in scenes of surprising violence with newsreels and radio reveals which might be straight out of its Twenties setting. It’s additionally a piece that seamlessly strikes between epic vistas of the wide-open prairie with intimate home scenes of a pair who share a harmful bond.

Dan Doperalski for Variety

“With Scorsese, issues are very intuitive,” Prieto says throughout an extended chat in a utilitarian West L.A. convention room that’s devoid of any form of cinematic grandeur. “We’re very technical, and we’re very cautious with our selections and our choices, however then generally issues are a intestine feeling. And I discover that thrilling.”

Prieto’s work on “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which he shot back-to-back with certainly one of final 12 months’s largest hits, “Barbie,” landed him his fourth Oscar nomination (he’s by no means received). It additionally highlighted his standing because the go-to director of images for cinema’s main auteurs. This soft-spoken, decorous household man has been tasked with serving to the likes of Ang Lee, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Spike Lee and Greta Gerwig discover contemporary and thrilling methods to inform tales. And when Taylor Swift was on the lookout for somebody to assist her discover the appropriate photos to bolster her lyrics, she tapped Prieto to shoot music movies for evocative songs like “The Man” and “Cardigan.” Like Scorsese, these creatives flip to Prieto due to his painterly method to composing pictures, in addition to his unflappability.

“He’s emotionally supportive,” says Ang Lee, who labored with Prieto on “Brokeback Mountain” and “Lust, Caution.” “There had been occasions the place I used to be having a meltdown, and he was simply there for me. There’s a lot stress whenever you’re making a film and there’s this expectation that it’s essential to be in management, telling the crew to do that or that. And he helps me assume issues via and construct out what I see in my thoughts.”

Lee suspects that Prieto serves a special function primarily based on the individuals he’s working with, and that he’s capable of adapt to their particular wants and personalities. That often is the case. Certainly, Prieto’s vary behind the digicam is huge — transferring effortlessly from the gritty, hand-held depth of Iñárritu’s early work to the swooningly romantic compositions that Lee favored in “Brokeback Mountain.”

“He not solely has full mastery of his craft but additionally a deep understanding of the emotional territory to which he should subordinate all his extraordinary approach,” says Iñárritu.

And in “Barbie,” which Prieto shot proper after “Killers of the Flower Moon” wrapped, he gave the photographs a candy-coated sheen that made Barbieland such a scrumptious place to go to. That cinematic confection offered its personal difficulties, nevertheless.

“Rodrigo had in all probability the toughest job making an attempt to diffuse the pink,” Margot Robbie, the movie’s producer and star says. “Every shot of Barbie is backlit or inside lit, which supplies you a stunning impact, however it’s important to be a really proficient form of cinematographer to have the ability to play with mild in that means. He needed to maintain masking all the things that was out of body in grey felt to cease it bouncing off all of the pink.”

Of course, enjoying with mild, manipulating its gradations and studying to grasp its mutable magnificence is what’s left Prieto so in demand. But even together with his busy dance card, he’s nonetheless discovered methods to embrace challenges which might be exterior his consolation zone. He’s deep into post-production on his characteristic directorial debut, “Pedro Paramo.” Based on a seminal work of magical realism by Juan Rulfo, which in flip impressed an influential 1967 film from Carlos Velo, the story was a favourite of Prieto’s, who had been trying to transfer behind the digicam.

Dan Doperalski for Variety

“I see myself as a filmmaker and storyteller even when my function is just being accountable for the cinematography of a film,” he says. “Directing offers me further instruments to specific how I understand and expertise the world round me, and the way it makes me really feel.”

“Pedro Paramo” follows a person who guarantees his mom on her deathbed that he’ll meet his estranged father. He encounters him in a village that could be a literal ghost city, one populated by the spirits of the lifeless. It’s a tricky story to adapt for movie, each due to its cultural significance and its fantastical storyline, which made Prieto resolve that he wished to place all his concentrate on directing as a substitute of making an attempt to additionally function his personal cinematographer. He turned to Nico Aguilar, who had labored on movies like “Witch Hunt” and “Phobias,” to be the movie’s DP. But he nonetheless felt some nervousness as he discovered himself on the Mexico City set on the primary day of taking pictures, getting ready to name the pictures on his first characteristic as a director.

“It was scary and thrilling,” he says. “We had loads to attain even on that first day, so we jumped proper in, together with a really emotional scene. The efficiency of the actors was wonderful, and proper there I believed: ‘OK, we have now a film.’”

The 58-year-old Prieto’s love for filmmaking started at an early age. As a younger boy rising up in Mexico, he was fascinated with the extraterrestrial guests who routinely contact down on Earth in science-fiction tales. He nonetheless remembers one of many first photographs he took, a little bit of pre-digital trickery impressed by the films he liked. Prieto threw a Frisbee up within the air, captured it because it hovered in area and ran in to inform his mom that he had photographic proof that UFOs exist. The hoax didn’t work.

“I believed she was going to be cool, however she stated it was a Frisbee,’” he remembers. “I noticed then that it’s important to be just a little extra refined if you wish to idiot anyone. I assume it’s turn into a life quest to make issues like that look increasingly reasonable.”

Prieto spent his spare time taking pictures stop-motion films on his father’s 8mm digicam. impressed by traditional movies like “Jason and the Argonauts” and “Clash of the Titans,” he and his brother Antonio would collect their miniature monster fashions constructed from clay or Plasticine and make movie dioramas. Looking again on it now, Prieto quips, “Perhaps I might have gotten into visible results.”

Prieto later attended Mexico City’s Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica, having the nice fortune to get an schooling in moviemaking whereas the nation’s movie trade was experiencing a renaissance.

Killers of the Flower Moon
Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone
Credit: AppleTV+


Several brief movies adopted, as did promoting work, which was how he met Iñárritu, a part of a rising technology of Mexican filmmakers. “I liked working with him as a result of he did very unusual and out-there commercials,” says Prieto. “But I noticed at a sure level that he began shifting the writing of his commercials to be extra dramatic. They was bizarre comedies that had been slapstick, and weird. And now they had been little dramas. I bear in mind considering, ‘He’s going to do a film.’”

So when Iñárritu made the leap with “Amores Perros,” he requested Prieto to deal with the camerawork. “I couldn’t have imagined anybody else,” says Iñárritu. “He is the proper collaborator. An entire artist and an exquisite human being. Two issues that these days are uncommon to coexist.”

When it got here time to shoot the automotive accident that ties the movie’s main characters collectively, Iñárritu relied on Prieto to determine a strategy to give the scene a documentary-like naturalism. “All of it was shot listed, though it appears improvised, it wasn’t. We designed that scene collectively,” Prieto says.

Years later, that scene, an unbearably tense chase sequence that culminates in a horrifying collision, would encourage different administrators’ method to motion scenes, together with Ben Affleck, who instructed Prieto that he used the film as a reference when making “The Town.” “It’s weird to see these younger guys from Mexico City making an attempt to determine it out, not understanding how issues are performed, and that turns into an affect for different individuals,” Prieto says.

“Amores Perros” served as a calling card. Shortly after the movie’s launch, Spike Lee requested Prieto to shoot “twenty fifth Hour,” one of many cinematographer’s first main Hollywood films. It was additionally one of many first movies to shoot in New York City following 9/11, and Prieto and Lee set about capturing a shellshocked metropolis nonetheless grieving from a terrorist assault that had murdered hundreds of civilians and left a crater in its coronary heart. Lee, who has the 5 boroughs in his DNA, says the challenge benefited from the truth that Prieto wasn’t a local New Yorker. “Loads of occasions that might work to your profit when individuals have contemporary eyes, they usually may see one thing that New Yorkers may not see,” he says.

Prieto says his dominant reminiscence of the shoot was an intense “concern of failure,” a sensation that’s adopted him all through his work. And although his colleagues say that he’s a relaxing presence on demanding units, Prieto confesses that it’s an phantasm. To punctuate the nervousness, Prieto likes to make use of humor. Dad jokes are his go-to, and he’s not above deploying a very good pun. “Rarely do I chuckle as a lot in life as when working with Rodrigo,” says Iñárritu.

Iñárritu and Ang Lee each say that as Prieto’s schedule has stuffed up, it’s turn into more durable to get him to affix their initiatives. “Once Scorsese employed him, it was inconceivable to get him again,” Lee jokes.

Rodrigo Prieto needed to get creative to lens all of the pink of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie.”
Warner Bros. Pictures

He’s fearful that now that Prieto has caught the directing bug, it is going to be inconceivable to rent him. “It makes me bitter,” Lee says with fun. “Now that he’s directing, he’ll by no means be free.”

Moving behind the digicam has been a studying expertise, one which’s made Prieto higher perceive the crushing stress that administrators labor underneath — the type he was so adept at assuaging.

“The most difficult a part of directing is managing time,” he says. “You all the time wish to get all of the angles you dreamed of, whereas coping with delicate feelings with the actors, and all of the whereas the clock is ticking. Focusing on the necessities and letting anything go, that’s what you’ve to remember to keep up some sanity.”

Prieto has discovered the expertise to be artistically rewarding and he’s desperate to direct extra films,
however he isn’t giving up his day job.

“I really like being a cinematographer,” he says. “I plan to maintain taking pictures films.”

After all, it’s his nature. He’s all the time interested by composing a shot and the way to wrangle the shadows to present a second a moody hue or to discover a distinctive strategy to illuminate a face so that each flicker of emotion registers. Even as Prieto sits all the way down to replicate on his life and profession, he finds his ideas drifting.

“I observe lighting on a regular basis — that’s an expert deformation,” he admits, as he leans again in his chair. “I used to be seeing how the sunshine from exterior was reflecting on the furnishings and considering what lighting would I’ve to place it to recreate that? That goes into my unconscious.”

Brent Lang contributed to this report.

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