As part of Indiewire’s “How I Shot That” series, we spoke with Ben Kutchins about how he shot Leslye Headland’s “Sleeping Other People,” which features Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis as two former college lovers who meet at a group for sex addicts. The film, which premiered at Sundance 2015, hits theaters today.
READ MORE: Jason Sudeikis on How and When to Improv in a Movie
What camera and lens did you use? I used an Arri Alexa with Panavision Primo anamorphics. Most of the film was shot on the 50mm Primo Anamorphic, but we had a couple lighter weight G-Series lenses for Steadicam and handheld.
This was the most difficult shot on my movie, and this is how I pulled it off: I remember the lighting was particularly challenging in one scene that takes place at dawn in Jake’s (Jason Sudekis) apartment. I wanted a really cold early morning light coming in from the outside and the warm practical light coming from inside the apartment, emphasizing the contrast of the intimacy of the moment and the colder reality of the world. We shot the wide shots last as the sun was going down (dusk-for-dawn), but we had started shooting the scene in the middle of the day. Since we shot the wide last I had to predict what the light would look like in the apartment as the sun went down before I had actually seen it. All the close-ups were shot in full sunlight, so I had multiple layers of gel on the windows that I was stripping away slowly as it got darker outside. The warm interior light was a Tungsten soft light on a dimmer so that we could match the levels of the exterior light. The resulting scene has what is my favorite moment and favorite shot of the entire film.
This is my favorite cinematographer (and why): Rodrigo Prieto, Darius Khondji, Emmanuel Lubezki, Reed Morano and Matthew Libatique are my favorite working DPs because they are real storytellers. Pretty images are easy to create; the ones that really tell a story are much more elusive and painful to achieve. These DPs are all taking risks and suffering the consequences.
What’s the best film school for an aspiring cinematographer? (Or is it necessary?) I went to NYU film school as a transfer student, so I was only there for two years, but I spent my time shooting non-stop and I met a lot of people that I am still friends with today. I didn’t say no to any project, I just used it as an opportunity to make lots of mistakes and keep shooting. I don’t think that film school is necessary but you get to shoot a lot of projects. And you might just meet some great people while you are there.
Do you think the shift from film to digital is good? Bad? (Or just is?) The industry’s transition to almost entirely digital capture is an unfortunate reality. I wish that we had more choices when it comes to tools we use to tell stories. There are things that I love about shooting on the Alexa that I miss when I am shooting film, and there are things that I love about film that I dearly miss when I am shooting digital. I shot “Ten Thousand Saints” on Super-16, and there is some life in it that wouldn’t have been there with digital. The other day I said that it just might be the last movie I get to shoot on film. If film is truly something of the past, then all of us filmmakers have truly lost a dear friend.
What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? Be kind, be helpful, and work hard.
What’s the best career advice you’ve received? Never say “I can’t,” because there is always a way.
What’s the worst advice? “You should fight with producers to get what you want.” The truth is you get a lot further with kindness and collaboration.
Editor’s Note: The “How I Shot That” series is part of the Indiewire and Canon U.S.A. partnership at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where we celebrate cinematography at Canon Creative Studio on Main Street. Read the entire series here. This story was originally published on January 27, 2015.
READ MORE: Leslye Headland on Why ‘Sleeping With Other People’ is Not Your Typical Indie