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“1982” And The Seamless Take: An Interview With ICG Emerging Cinematographer Frank Buono

To capture the the essence of a one-take shot in “1982” (left) Frank Buono and crew (right) developed a complicated series of camera angles and lighting.

BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor

Give cinematographer Frank Buono ten minutes and he’ll transport you through a year in a young boy’s life. Buono’s ethereal visual style is displayed in the continuous transitions that sweep through “1982”, a ten minute short focusing on boyhood memories a father contemplates after witnessing his son’s fear. “1982” marks the former camera operators’ official debut as a cinematographer, and has also placed Buono amongst the eight honorees in the International Cinematographer Guild’s 2014 Emerging Cinematographer Awards.

A Seattle native, Buono began his production career in assorted positions on television series including “Frasier.” With an interest in cinematography, Buono was encouraged to explore his potential and moved to Los Angeles in the mid 90s. For the past ten years, he’s been a sought after camera operator, working on features helmed by Steven Spielberg (Minority Report, War of the Worlds), Spike Jonze (Adaptation) Ben Affleck (The Town) and Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men). He’s worked alongside and learned from many of the finest cinematographers in the business, including Janusz Kaminski, Lance Accord, Robert Elswit, and Emmanuel Lubezki, whose work most directly influenced Buono’s vision for “1982.”

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“I got to work with him in ‘Children of Men’ and I got to work with him on one of the greatest scenes of all time: the car chase scene, where there is a five minute long continual take,” said Buono. “That inspired me, as did his work on ‘Tree of Life.” It’s incredible, beautiful hand-held cinematography and natural lighting. It drew me into the movie to where I realized camera work can make the audience really feel a part of it. It doesn’t have to be 3D or tricky techniques; you just have to do things that feel organic to make you feel like an actual participant.”

Prior to developing the shot list, Buono worked closely with director Jeremy Breslau to define the content and story line. The two met years prior on a set, and have been collaborating on a feature concept. Wanting to demonstrate their talents for prospective investors, they decided to create a stand alone piece. For months leading into pre-production they settled on a clear definition of the story’s visual presentation: a seamless, one-take shot that spans four seasons and four different times of day.

During pre-production Buono established and refined every aspect of the camera’s movements as well as the details of the lighting design that would create the seamless effect. With months of homework and preparation under his belt, he had a very deliberate outline to share with his crew.

“We’d have discussions at the beginning and end of every day, and knew how we were going to attack the next day or the next time we had to link up any two shots,” said Buono. “I had to take notes and be very specific about the lighting in each shot, and blend that lighting the best we could. When we started doing the color timing, we were complimented on how close we actually got to being seamless.”

Shooting with the Red Epic also aided in the film’s effortless transitions. While Buono initially wanted to shoot with an Alexa, the Epic’s condensed size allowed the crew to shoot in unusual locations including the interior of a bounce house, submerged in a filled tub, and through window panes. Its ability to shoot in 5K allowed Buono to use a larger frame, enabling easy incorporation of a small visual effects transition that bridges an outdoor, daytime spring scene through a closed window with fall leaves blowing by.

“I would say my experience enabled me to shoot in a way I knew would give the effects guys enough information to accomplish what we needed,” said Buono. “As a camera operator you work closely with the effects department. They replace so many things; tall monsters or cars in a car chase that aren’t in the picture while you’re filming. You need to frame these things as if they are there.”

While Buono admits there are times working as a DP where the urge to grab a camera and shoot exist, he’s a huge proponent of working with a camera operator. Having the opportunity to view what’s being captured allows Buono to assume the role of an audience member and ensure the image will transport the viewer as he intended it to.

“As a cinematographer you know exactly how you want it shot, and it’s a lot easier to take the camera. But for the most part, it’s invaluable to have somebody else operate the camera as you watch a monitor,” said Buono. “You not only critically look at the shots, ensuring they are the best they can be, but from that vantage point it’s easier to judge how the final film will look.”

Through the process of working closely to bring “1982” to fruition, Buono assumed the role of co-producer. Passionate about building projects “from the ground up” Buono is extremely open to future collaborations that extend his role beyond cinematographer into the producer’s realm. His primary focus, however, is to continue finding projects that will highlight his abilities as a cinematographer. Currently he’s in discussions with Breslau to shoot a teaser for the feature that initially brought them together. As he moves forward in a new phase of his career, he’s thankful for everything that’s led him to this point.

“For me, finding the right style of camera work really aids in telling the story, and aids in involving the audience into following the movie and being part of it,” said Buono. “Being on set in the film business is the best film school you will ever have the opportunity to take part in. And luckily I’ve been able to have a lot of really great experience with a lot of great camera men.”

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