Posts tagged “#cinematography

Seeds of Change – Dance Film – 8K Panavision Millennium DXL Camera


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img_4485 img_4446 img_4168 img_4141SEEDS of CHANGE on vimeo CLICK HERE                          When I was approached by Panavision and Light Iron to test a prototype of their new 8K Millennium DXL camera I leaped at the opportunity to create something that was beyond a dry studio exercise. For cinematographers, David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” photographed by Freddie Young, BSC is a touchstone for its remarkable 65mm images. That story was made in and about an era that focused almost solely on men. In making a film today with a digital equivalent of that 65mm camera, I felt it should portray the strength, beauty and power of women. The music Seeds of Change by Naser Musa and Steve Wood inspired Melanie and our dancers when we filmed on the mountainside of Trust Ranch in Topanga. What we created is sacred, sensual and ecstatic all at once.

Words cannot express my deep thanks to everyone who contributed to the splendor of this project.

Director-Cinematographer – James Chressanthis, ASC, GSC
Choreographer – Melanie Kareem

Dancers – Laura Cutler, Vanessa Frazier, Melanie Kareem, Diana Mathur, Rachel Moore, Dawn Marie Yurkovic

Music composed by Naser Musa and Steve Wood                   Solo Oud – Naser Musa, Keyboards & Guitar – Steve Wood, Qanoon – James Grippo, Violin – George Hamad, Percussion – Petro Al Ammar, Faisal Zedaan, Mastering – Joe Gaswirt

Produced by James Chressanthis and Melanie Kareem

Chief Lighting Technician – Ricky Lewis
1st Assistant Camera – Greg Williams, Darin Miller                 2nd Assistant Camera – Laura Odermatt
Makeup & Hair – Penelope Irwin                                             Still Photography – Robin Becker, Michael Cioni
Production Manager – Jesse Liliedahl                                     Production Assistant – Gaea Adrian
8k Post Production by Light Iron-Hollywood                         Colorist – Jeremy Sawyer
Panavision Millennium DXL Camera & Primo 70mm Lenses
Special Thanks: Sue & Martin Schmitt, Trust Ranch,                 Dan Sasaki, Bob Harvey, Michael Cioni, Amit Dave

Filmed in Heaven – Topanga, California
© 2016 James Chressanthis and Melanie Kareem

Reprise from 2010: Vladivostok: A Soviet Time Machine

Vladivostok Train Station

Vladivostok Train Station – the end of the Trans Siberian Railway its cornerstone was laid by Czar Nicholas and actor Yule Brynner’s grandfather. I walked Vladivostok looking everywhere. I can’t read any signs so I focus completely on the people, what they are doing, details of dress, what they carry, their energy. It’s busy here, jammed with traffic but as packed as the streets are the sidewalks flow with people, most walk with purpose, the ones that wait sit with intention.The light is amazing, a silky veil of marine clouds softens the edges, it often glows. I’m shooting a black and white photographic portrait so in keeping with this city’s face: harbor, ships, train station, shopping districts, pedestrian underpasses filled with little shops, new construction everywhere beside decaying buildings and crumbling roads, passageways, begging bubuschas and striking, gorgeous fashionistas (are all the Russian women so beautiful?) strutting on amazing heels, North Korean laborers digging with picks and shovels, choking traffic jams of Japanese cars, army trucks and smoky diesel buses, the whole city a fifties Soviet time machine pasted with gaudy billboards, bustling with the brightly dressed carrying Blackberries and iPhones.

I conduct a filmmaking seminar workshop at Far Eastern State Technical University. The students are bright, friendly and optimistic. They smile so much I kid them that they defy the stereotype of dour Russian pessimism. They laugh at that, they want to be free of their Soviet baggage and the opening of my film reminds them of their grandparents world only half known through the propaganda of official history versus first hand accounts. You get the feeling they want to throw that deadweight overboard but can’t. I point out parallels in the American experience that they have to “own” their history to ultimately be free of it (or free of repeating it). Through their lives Laszlo and Vilmos show us that out of great tragedy can come great art and beauty and ultimately forgiveness and renewal. When talk turns to the corporate and political oligarchs or Putin, an unspoken tension arises, looks and shrugs acknowledging that this is the big problem and challenge of their time.

Cinema is the universal language, its inherently natural to communicate with images, ever more so with each succeeding generation. The seminar becomes a workshop, I gather everyone in a tight group. Our camera has a live feed to a large flat screen monitor and we review the grammar of shot making, that we all grasp, even if we have not analyzed how we see movies and television. I tell them first of all that they already have a deep grasp of the language of images and cinema and we know how to read them as well as we do our native language. The camera is a pointing device; you point it at what is important. It is free to move and point at anything your own mind decides: “This girl’s hand writing a note panning up to her face watching the class, panning over to this man’s face watching her, panning to the rest of the group.” We quickly review all the kinds of shots and angles we can make without restriction: wide angle, telephoto detail, high or low, close and intimate or distant and objective, camera movement with almost invisible subtlety or swiftly with sharp dramatic intent. We stage little scenes and try different camera grammar. I ask them what is the next shot that we need to see? They realize they know intuitively how to shoot. We talk about the editing of those shots and point of view. To make a film you the filmmaker has to have a point of view.

Once, twice, three times László Kovács

As previously mentioned, László Kovács worked with director Peter Bogdanovich on six full-length motion pictures, beginning with the 1968 thriller Targets. Just as directors over and over again chose Vilmos Zsigmond to be behind the camera, so too did they recognize the talent of his colleague and countryman. Dennis Hopper was another one of the first directors who recognized Kovács’ skill and put it to use on multiple occasions, producing another fruitful early relationship that helped László to cultivate the unique American New Wave style for which he and Vilmos are lauded. Kovács also worked on multiple films for directors Ivan Reitman, Richard Donner, and Graeme Clifford.


Barbara Streisand in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 “What’s Up Doc?”

Early in his career, László also routinely worked for the same B-movie directors–Al Adamson, Richard Rush, Peter Perry Jr.–more than once.












Learn more about the remarkable movie careers of Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond at

Vilmos Zsigmond and Woody Allen

After nearly 50 years in the business, Woody Allen remains one of America’s most beloved and prolific filmmakers. Recently, Allen has called on Vilmos Zsigmond to direct photography on three pictures: Melinda and Melinda (2004), Cassandra’s Dream (2007), and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010). For someone like Allen, who has seen his fair share of productions, the choice of Zsigmond is a testament to the cinematographers refined skill and excellent reputation. Not only that, but it is increasingly the case that directors who have worked with Zsigmond once tend to return to working with him on future projects: Zsigmond has also shot multiple films for such acclaimed directors as Steven Spielberg (2 films), Robert Altman (3 films), Brian De Palma (4 films), and Mark Rydell (4 films), among others.

Will Ferrell, Radha Mitchell, and Steve Carell in Melinda and Melinda

Ashley Madekwe in Cassandra’s Dream

Lucy Punch in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)

In 1972, László Kovács followed director Bob Rafelson, with whom he had worked on Five Easy Pieces, and Jack Nicholson, the film’s star, to a dreary wintertime Atlantic City, New Jersey to shoot a psychological drama in a similar vein: The King of Marvin Gardens. The real estate con at the heart of the plot tells a little about the depressed state of this pre-gambling resort town, which had seen many establishments go under in the previous decade, while new resort facilities were under construction. Kovács’ cinematography lent Rafelson’s film much of its psychological weight and dream-like feel. While not as acclaimed as Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens is a great film that is well worth another view.

The King of Marvin Gardens is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

“Mark of the Gun” coming to DVD in December

From Retromedia and BayView Entertainment comes the DVD release of Mark of the Gun (1969, dir. Walter Campos/Wally Campo), a film that was nearly lost, until a 35mm negative was recently discovered in a lab where it had sat unnoticed for nearly 45 years! Shot by László Kovacs, just prior the cinematographer embarked to make Easy Rider (1969, dir. Dennis Hopper), Mark of the Gun “is a classic western tale of outlaws and the women they love.”  The film stars Ross Hagen, a cult hero of 1960s b-movies who worked continuously until his death in 2011. The DVD will be released on December 11 and will contain bonus trailers.



No Subtitles Necessary: László and Vilmos received a great review on the most recent edition of’s Culture Gabfest podcast. Panelist Dana Stevens says that the documentary is “fantastic,” that “[she] learned a lot,” and that “between the two of them, [László and Vilmos] shot…basically all the good movies of the 70s.” You can hear the full podcast here.

The Last Movie (1971)

Coming off of the success of 1969’s Easy Rider, László Kovács again teamed up with writer/director/actor, Dennis Hopper, on The Last Movie, a challenging and innovative industry movie shot on location in Peru. It was a movie that Hopper had tried to make for years, but was only given the latitude to do so after Easy Rider did so well at the box office. Like many forward-thinking and experimental pictures of the day, The Last Movie was not appreciated until many years later, despite earning the Critic’s Prize at the Venice Film Festival. And hopefully the film will see a DVD release in the near future.

Back Lit: László Kovács for “Shampoo” (1975)

Some of the most visually stunning moments of the film Shampoo (dir. Hal Ashby, 1975) come when László Kovács shoots the characters from the backside. Who can forget this image of Julie Christie in a deep v-backed sequin dress:

Julie Christie in “Shampoo”

Or the films ultimate scene of Warren Beatty gazing out upon a hazy Los Angeles vista:

Warren Beatty in “Shampoo”

Thanks to Here’s Looking Like You Kid for the images.


Revisiting “Heaven’s Gate” (1980)

The legendarily troubled production Heaven’s Gate (1980), which Vilmos Zsigmond shot for director Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter), has recently garnered a sort of prominence it never achieved in its time, but one that critics agree is well deserved. Undergoing digital restoration and a re-edit for release by the Criterion CollectionHeaven’s Gate played at this year’s Venice Film Festival to great acclaim. In an interview with New York Times reporter Dennis Lim, Cimino expressed that among his favorite things about the picture are “the light and color of the images” that Zsigmond captured.

Heaven’s Gate, 1980

Heaven’s Gate, coming soon from the Criterion Collection:
Dennis Lim for the New York Times
Skylar Browning for the Missoula Independent

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!! (1964)

Although it may have alluded some of their biographies and CVs, László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond worked together on The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, a campy zombie musical shot on location in Long Beach’s Pike Amusement Park. The two cinematographers may not have been proud of this film, which was has been dubbed the “worst movie ever made,” but the whole genre of camp horror has since garnered a cult following and a recent resurgence in film and television. This renaissance does not come without due credit being given to these two pioneers, who started their Hollywood careers by filming such exploitation movies after emigrating to the U.S. in the late 1950s.

“The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies,” 1964

Thanks to Tim Grobaty of the Long Beach Press-Telegram for digging up this gem:

Paradise Alley (1978), dir. Sylvester Stallone


Coming off the success of Rocky (1976), Universal Pictures green-lighted Sylvester Stallone‘s Paradise Alley, a wrestling picture that the young actor wrote, directed, and stared in. László Kovács was behind the camera, capturing the Noir atmosphere of the New York’s seedy boxing parlors of the 1940s. It was pictures like this that led the films that Kovács and Szigmond shot to be labelled “American New Wave.”

Zsigmond shoots The Mindy Project

Vilmos Zsigmond is in the news this week as the DP of the new Fox series The Mindy Project, created by and staring the hilarious Mindy Kaling from The Office. Peter Martin’s story on Twitch reviews Zsigmond’s first foray into this format and the trend of indie filmmakers on TV.


The Mindy Project, FOX, 2012

Targets (1968), dir. Peter Bogdanovich

Targets, 1968

László Kovács first worked with Peter Bogdanovich, for whom he would photograph six full-length motion pictures, on the director’s first feature, Targets (1968). The film, which had a storied production, was produced by Roger Corman and starred Boris Karloff. Bogdanovich recognized Kovács’ talent at that time and employed the cinematographer consistently for the next decade.