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Production Hub - DP Chat: Marcus Friedlander on the Cinematography of That's A Wrap

Jordan Von Netzer

Sep 20, 2023

Serving as the film’s cinematographer is Marcus Friedlander, whose other credits include The Getback, Lord of the Streets and Blue Call to name a few. In the below interview, Marcus pulls back the curtain on the cinematography of That’s A Wrap. He specifically breaks down his approach to lighting and equipment choices.

Quiver Distribution recently released the horror film, That’s A Wrap, starring Cerina Vincent (Cabin Fever), Monique T. Parent (Jurassic City), Sarah French (Space Wars : The Quest for Deepstar), Gigi Gustin (The Retaliators) and Dave Sheridan (The Devil’s Rejects). The film’s synopsis reads: “The cast of a film arrives at a wrap party, but someone has dressed up as the slasher in the movie and begins to stage their own kill scenes. One by one, the cast disappears until the true nature of the evening is revealed.”

Serving as the film’s cinematographer is Marcus Friedlander, whose other credits include The Getback, Lord of the Streets and Blue Call to name a few. In the below interview, Marcus pulls back the curtain on the cinematography of That’s A Wrap. He specifically breaks down his approach to lighting and equipment choices.

That’s A Wrap is now available on VOD.

PH: Can you share your production background? Can you tell us how you got into cinematography?

Marcus Friedlander: As someone who was lucky enough to grow up in LA, I knew from an early age that I wanted to work in the film industry, but it wasn’t till high school that I feel in love with cinematography and visual story telling. I made a handful of shorts in high school and learned a ton of painful, but important, lessons about how difficult and unforgiving filmmaking can be. But, I also learned about the value of story over substance, and the importance of having a rock solid script before starting production. Then, when I went to film school at Cal State Northridge, I initially enrolled as a film production major, but once I started getting consistent on set gigs, I realized my time would be much better spent if I switched majors to screenwriting instead. I’ve said it many times before, but that switch was one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my life. I spent the rest of my college years learning how humanity, and the world at large, functions. And, critically, I learned how to effectively communicate ideas. Both the worldly knowledge, and the skills to express the ideas in my head, are both RADICALLY more important than anything a production class can teach you about filmmaking. I highly recommend to anyone who wants to become a filmmaker, that you spend your formative, academic years, learning writing, film criticism, psychology, sociology, history, natural sciences, geometry, physics, cultural and religious appreciations, etc. The more you know about the world, the significantly better filmmaker you will become! But you also need to temper that theoretical knowledge with the practical. So while I was in school, I was also lucky enough to work on set doing low budget music videos, shorts, commercials, etc. So, when I was ready to make the jump into the highly competitive world of cinematography, I felt like I had a good all around base to build up from! 

PH: What drew you to work on That’s A Wrap?

Marcus Friedlander: The two most important things that drew me to work on That’s A Wrap, was the overall conceit of the project, and the passion from the filmmakers. I love the idea of meta storytelling, and this film offered the unique opportunity to play with tons of different “studio gags”, and crazy lighting concepts, all while telling a fun story about genre filmmaking! Coupling the fun conceit, with a team of incredibly passionate filmmakers in Marcel, Joe, and Sarah, took an interesting project to the absolute next level!

PH: What did preproduction look like for you on That’s A Wrap?

Marcus Friedlander: Preproduction was fairly quick for me on That’s A Wrap, I think about 2 weeks or so. I normally would have more time, but I was a late hire on this film. By the time I was interviewing with them, sets that were already built, and the cast locked was already locked in. However, a breakneck speed preproduction process, isn’t too uncommon in this day and age, so I wasn’t that bothered by it. I’m lucky enough to work with some amazing crew and vendors, so we were able to secure all the crew and gear we needed without much difficulty. Which left me with all the time I needed to focus on the most important aspects of pre-production: studying the script, and connecting with the director!

PH: Can you walk us through your creative process? How did you infuse your own creativity and personality on screen? 

Marcus Friedlander: My creative process always starts with the script. I come from a screenwriting background, so for me the first couple readings of the script are essential to understanding how the film will be experienced by the audience, and how the characters arc over the course of the film. Then, it’s a simple process of identifying which visual motifs we should play with, and how to bend them to reflect that character’s arc. Then, the process continues with conversations with the director to lock in our macro ideas, and to start developing the micro as well. I’m also a huge fan of references as a starting discussion point between myself and a director. For this film, Marcel told me to watch the season premiere of American Horror Story: Hotel, and of course, Suspiria. After watching the references from the director, I’ll usually make an album in ShotDeck, with stills from those projects and more, just to confirm with the director that we are on the same page. Once the script is locked, I also breakdown the script into scenes on an excel doc, to help keep track of technical and logistical choices that my department heads need to be aware of. As far as injecting my own personality into the film, I’m lucky enough to say that almost everything I would put into a film like this, Marcel was already asking for! So there wasn’t much of myself I needed to inject, beyond my focus on storytelling through visually communicating ideas!

PH: Were there any happy accidents that happened with the That’s A Wrap cinematography?

Marcus Friedlander: Like any film you shoot practically, there are a ton of happy accidents that made the film so much better. But if I had to focus on one, it would definitely come from the last scene of the opening sequence of the film. Especially since it resulted in an iconic image for this film, eventually became the teaser photo we released to the public! The happy accident involved a 4 foot tube that I placed as a hair light for Mistress’ closeup. As I was switching through the modes to get to the “correct” one, I happened to cycle past the pixel mode that had been preset to “rainbow”. Marcel gasped when he saw it, and I knew instantly that we had found the perfect color. Luckily, with the rain gag we were using, the rainbow pixel effect happened to be exactly perfect for our backlight color, as each individual raindrop caught its own unique color, helping to create an instantly “Giallo-esque” separation from the background. I was so proud to see a happy accident lead its way into the trailers for the film, and as the final shot of the opening sequence as well! Such a valuable reminder to always stay open to new ideas as they develop on set! You never know where or when inspiration will strike!

PH: Besides the camera, what is one thing you can’t live without when shooting?

Marcus Friedlander: The biggest thing I cannot live without, besides the camera, is of course my crew! No DP makes a movie by themselves, and I absolutely could not create the images in a film like this without an insanely hard working and incredibly talented crew, that I’ve been lucky enough to work with on so many films! I wish I could take the time to talk about all the crew that worked on this show, but, for this short interview, I’m going to focus on the absolutely amazing “A” cam and Steadicam operator Tatsuya! I love to move the camera, and no matter what crazy ideas the director and I come up with, Tatsuya always finds a way to make it happen. We’ve done about 10 films together in the last couple of years, and are about to start production on another, and I’ve treasured the experience every time! His Steadicam work, especially in the hallways, was a definitive element to the look of That’s a Wrap and we couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you as always my friend for your incredibly work, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us!

PH: Did you use any unique equipment for That’s A Wrap?

Marcus Friedlander: I always like to have one or two out of the box elements to play with on a film like this. For this film, it was Streak Filters. Marcel absolutely loved the idea of flares for a movie like this, but we were shooting spherical for budgetary reasons. So, we used a streak filter, and usually a 4” tube just outside of frame, to create colorful streaks throughout most of the film. And, like with any visual conceit, it wasn’t just visual motifs for the sake of visual motifs, we also used the type of flare to subtly indicate certain things about certain characters. To quote one of my favorite pieces of film criticism, “your eyes didn’t see it, but your brain did”. I’m a huge believer of that concept, and I try to apply it to everyone of my films. So, for this one, if someone is very observant, they may be able to pick up some hints about whodunnit, just by looking at the shape of the flares!

PH: The lighting for the film looks very unique. Can you talk about your thought process behind the approach to lighting?

Marcus Friedlander: Thank you for your kind words about the lighting of That’s A Wrap! The look of the film is heavily inspired by Dario Argento and the Giallo sub-genre, so our look building started there. However, since the story took place in a studio, we were able to incorporate a ton of “studio gags” in blatant, yet not world breaking, ways. The rain tower gag at the end of the opening sequence being a perfect example of the combination of Giallo lighting and costuming, with “studio gag” effects. Once we had settled on the sub-genre, the next step was creating meaning for different colors, so the neons don’t feel haphazard. Most of the color choices stemmed from Marcel’s imagination, but involved plenty of discussions about what colors serve what aspects of the story best. When you do these big RGB movies, it’s very easy for it to get visually exhausting, and ironically monotonous, despite the vivid colors, especially if there isn’t meaning and logic behind the color choices we are making. Which is why it’s so important to me to preconceive the macro of the film during prep, before you get lost in the micro of the scene work on the day. With the way technology is these days, anyone can make one shot or one scene look good in a vacuum. In my opinion, the real difficulty of this job is creating a complete experience that is just as cohesive as each individual scene is.

PH: Are there any other important aspects of the That’s A Wrap cinematography that we might not know about?

Marcus Friedlander: One other thing I’d like to touch on cinematography wise as it relates to That’s A Wrap, is the use of motion based lighting design. There were several key moments where having lights that also had motion in them, created exactly the effect we were going for. The simplest was for a scene where a dead body was discovered. I place 3 Aperture MC lights, on the blades of the ceiling fan above the body, with each light set to one of the primary RGB colors. Then, when turned the fan on, it created a blended RGB look, that also had pockets of darkness in the design as well. This meant, we could maintain our Giallo-esque look, while still maintaining the intrigue that comes from not fully showing the audience everything. However, the most important piece of moving light had to be the giant disco ball at the center of the party room set. When I met with Marcel for the first time, he walked me through the sets, and ended with up with us in the party room. He said that he was happy with the design of the room, but he knew it was missing something. So I looked around the room, looked at the ceiling, then looked at him, and said, “what you’re missing…… is a giant fucking disco ball.” Marcel’s eyes instantly lit up and I knew that we had struck gold. The disco ball gave us the perfect amount of motivated motion, which both helped build the atmosphere during the height of the party. But also highlighted a creepy sense of emptiness for the rest of the film. Waking slowly through an empty space that previously was full of partygoers helped emphasis the danger that our characters were in. All around, it’s one of my proudest choices I made on the film, and disco balls have become a running gag between Marcel and I ever since!

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