Industry Interview: Cinematographer Adrian Peng Correia
PremiumBeat sat down with cinematographer Adrian Peng Correia to delve into the relationships and approaches behind his craft.
PremiumBeat: In the beginning of your career, you worked on many short films. How valuable is it for a young cinematographer to work consistently, even if the budget is minimal? What did you learn from those experiences that helped, once you had the resources of a network behind you?
Adrian Peng Correia: Working is critical. There is no real substitute for it, in any regard. The chance to assess written material and represent it visually is too specific an experience to replicate in theory. Also, every experience is different, and the breadth of lessons and insights learned about your craft are immeasurable. You have to work to access that, so any opportunity you can get to shoot in the beginning of your career is a worthwhile endeavor. I know it was for me. The connective tissue between artistic intent, managerial strategy, and interpersonal relationships and leadership are all developed and wrought from shooting on-set with a crew. You refine your taste, not just for how to use camera and light, but how a set is dressed and how to take advantage of it, how to shoot particular costuming, make up, and hair — you refine your style and taste, essentially who you are as a shooter. A cinematographer’s ability to conduct all these separate elements and orchestrate a film’s visuals grow and shift through the projects they are able to shoot. Once you start to work on bigger productions, your instincts and decision-making have been sharpened through these experiences, and allow you to react and improvise with more dexterity and calculated certainty — that saves the one commodity that everyone wants more of and often cannot afford: time.
PB: When you get hired on a new project, what is your artistic process? Do you start with the material, the director’s and producers’ visualization, or building your own team? Do you feel the DP’s role is as a collaborator or, rather, to serve the material or vision of the director?
APC: It always starts with the script and how the director or showrunner sees the film. I, of course, have my own ideas about how the world should be realized, but it must be in concert with their vision. I can argue for how and why, but in the end, you must strive to make the same picture. Two artistic perspectives that are operating on different wavelengths will result in either failed or unrealized ideas, which in the end, means the same thing — failure. I still do my own diligence in all regards to building the proscenium of light and color and style and meaning. And then, filter and shape it into the film we are all making as a team, hopefully with the production design, costume, hair, and makeup. They are the foundations of the visual world, after all.
In terms of how I plan my photography, it is all based in my emotional and psychological response to the material and how the emotional beats of the movie play. How does the execution of the camerawork most fully express those ideas and tones. Once that process begins, and it can be very quick or more languidly paced, depending on the material and people, I begin to put together the crew I think will be best suited to not only the technical aspects, but the artistic and interpersonal, as well. The machinery of the crew must be precise, and personalities and methodologies that can compromise me and the work, in any regard, must be avoided to ensure we can succeed. The DP’s role is to be all these things to everyone. We must collaborate to formulate the taste and style of the show through our director’s and creators’ ideas, and from the page. These are all core principles, but they are also all connected to the people we work with every day. Creativity exists in our own personal vacuum only so much, but through the interplay of all departments, ideas often expand and become richer.
PB: You came on board for the second season of GLOW. Is it difficult to join a critically successful show that has an established aesthetic? How did the ’80s setting play into your choices for color, light, and frame?
APC: It is only difficult if you’re expected to be an exact replica of the person you are replacing. If a show allows you to express your ideas and techniques freely, but within the established frame of the show, then the interesting and unexpected can yield exciting results. My experience was Liz and Carly wanted someone to come in and move their show into a new universe, visually, while honoring the work Christian Sprenger had so lovingly shot in season one. I tried to hold onto the practical motivations for lighting that Christian used from season one, while straddling the lines between naturalism and stylization, that often ended up colliding within our characters’ show and real lives. We didn’t venture too wildly into color in the everyday, and tried to focus on using color contrast for separation in the areas where it was justified. Or, if it worked in heightening the comedy or drama, we could freely dip our toes into that water. Again, emotion and psychology were my road maps for when to amp-up our style or when to pull back and play things more straight.
All the other elements of the production are really high energy on the style meter, so that can allow for the photography to be a bit more reserved, and temper or exacerbate the energy. If you’re in the ring, it naturally lends itself to more flamboyance, while something like Ruth admitting to Russell her feelings of insecurity, mandated a camera and a lighting style that allowed the actors to shine simply and truly, without artifice.
PB: The Hulu breakout hit Ramy delves into the comedy of its creator — star Ramy Youssef — navigating his Muslim faith and relationships in northern New Jersey. Are there any unique creative challenges when working with an artist who writes, sometimes directs, and stars in his series?
APC: No, it makes things simpler. You’re talking about harnessing and distilling a single creative ideal and perspective. Sure, there is a room full of writers, and lots of creative voices, but you’re really trying to channel Ramy. His voice is the compass, and when you lay out an idea of a cinematographic outline for a series, you can fully understand and feel confident that if it resonates with his worldview, then you’re on the right track. It is actually a clear and exhilarating experience, in that regard. When you’re dealing with such specificity, and it is in a realm and people that are relatively untraversed, you have not only great responsibility to render that world truly and compassionately, but undeniable freedom.
PB: Currently, you’re working again with Jamie Denbo (who you worked with on GLOW), on the Lifetime series American Princess. Is the artistic shorthand a value add when you’ve collaborated before on a project? Or is each new project its own thing? What excites you about American Princess, and why should people tune in?
APC: Shorthand helps on-set for sure, but in terms of a new project, it is always a new canvas. I think you must allow yourself that freedom, and frankly, the risk to jump freely headlong into the new material, unencumbered by the past or the expectations of your relationships. Each show or film is a new crucible, that’s part of the reason why I love it so much. The surprise of what comes out of the process of creation can redirect, sometimes painfully, preconceived notions and foundations of intent for scripts, characters, even singular moments. I think we, as filmmakers, should always be open to these realignments, because it always spurs growth of some kind.
I think American Princess is a comedy with a great positive outlook on the world and the capacity for people to accept one another and to change the paths of their own lives. It has a remarkable, honest sentiment to its comedy and approach to character. It just also happens to be wrapped in this really broad and bawdy comedic style that calls to mind screwball comedies and the simple humanity of great John Hughes films, from the 1980s. I think it’s a really wonderful show, and I am super proud of it, our cast, and most especially of Jamie. She is an incandescently talented woman, and I would love to work with her again, in a heartbeat.
Cover image via Glow.
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