April 25, 2019

4 Lessons DP Rachel Morrison Can Teach You about Cinematography

Director of photography Rachel Morrison has become a respected name in the field of cinematography, even becoming the first female DP to earn an Oscar nomination.

CookeOpticsTV has a stellar interview with Morrison, who happens to be one of our favorite DPs here at No Film School. In this video, she discusses her work on 2018's Black Panther and the different learning experiences she had on the film. It's a quick interview, but contains some great inspirational tidbits. Sit back, soak in her wisdom, and continue on for our own takeaways.

Be Willing to Try New Things

Black Panther was definitely new territory for Morrison, who was coming off smaller indies like Mudbound and Fruitvale Station before jumping into her first comic book adaptation. She admits she was not even really a fan of the Marvel cinematic universe and had never worked with visual effects on this scale.

She says she turned to common sense whenever she hit walls.

"Maybe that's all filmmaking is, really," she says. "Mixing instinct and heart with common sense, and you can make a movie."

She also reveals that she felt some hesitation about working with Marvel, but found the studio to be supportive of Ryan Coogler's vision.

Chadwick Boseman in 'Black Panther'Credit: Marvel Studios

Know the Language of Your Project

Each film will have a different innate "language," and in this case, it was the language of comic books. Morrison says she turned to the source material to get a feel for the unique storytelling structure of comics, which then informed how she approached Black Panther.

Comic books and graphic novels not only have distinct story structures, but the art on the page is often a unique perspective or composition.

She points to the Dutch angle as one type of shot she would have usually steered clear of, but here made sense.

She also mentions the rich color palette of Black Panther, which was another thing that the original comics inspired. She may not always work with such highly saturated scenes, but here acknowledges that they are acceptable within this universe.

Adapt If You Work on a VFX-Heavy Film

One interesting point she makes it how Marvel tends to lean heavily on post-production changes. Marvel films are not making any particular effort to capture everything in-camera, which gives them extraordinary freedom to form the movie in post.

Again, this was a new approach for Morrison, so she had to learn the world of VFX quickly and accept the parameters that Marvel set.

"Once you accept that that's the sandbox you're playing in, you can do anything within that sandbox," she says.

Find a Director You Click With

Morrison and Coogler met through mutual connections at the Sundance Lab, and she says they shared an instant respect and creative vibe. This ability to collaborate with someone you like and trust is often one of the keys to a project's success. So, seek out other creatives you respect and make great things together.

Morrison's latest project is called Against All Enemies, starring Zazie Beetz and Kristen Stewart. The film will be released this year.     

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