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Lyle Vincent is the director of photography behind the iconic looks of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Dreamland, to name a few. To achieve the style called for in the Netflix action-thriller Kate, Vincent pushed even further into a world of neon and low-light digital sensors. 

Set between Osaka and Tokyo, and shot almost exclusively at night, Kate is lit with LED practicals and shot at times up to ISO of 10,000 on Sony VENICE. 

The plot revolves around a ruthless assassin (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who, after being poisoned, has 24 hours to get revenge. 

Dark and drenched in neon, Kate is a new entry into the low-light LED revolution. Vincent spoke with No Film School to talk about how he created the stylized looks of Kate armed with Sony VENICE and LED practicals to chase Tokyo’s neon palette.

No Film School: What was the conversation between director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and you about the visual style of Kate?

Lyle Vincent: The conversation started from photos of Tokyo at night with the incredible mix of color temperature that exists there. We specifically want to highlight the reoccurrence of a neon pink offset with various shades of blue and green. I do credit the work of photographer Liam Wong some inspiration as I  have been a big fan of his for years. We also looked at many other less stylized photography of Tokyo and wanted to ground the stylized look in the reality of the environment. So the idea was to always motivate the colored light in practicals that were present and photographed in the scene. We never wanted to simply wash colors in frame but let the colors be apparent from their source within the frame. I also specifically used the movie Blade Runner as a visual reference in its use of neon and colored practicals as well as its anamorphic lensing. 

Still_neon_car_interior_kate_dp_lyle_vincent'Kate'Credit: Netflix

Vincent: I used practicals that were already present or built into the sets to light most scenes. I also used special CRLS reflectors to bounce the different practical lights back onto the actors. This helped keep the light feeling the same color and quality and motivated by what was in the frame.

We also looked at Kurosawa samurai movies and Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns for staging, framing, and lensing. I also used Michael Mann movies Heat and Collateral as lighting references for urban night and lensing. Another visual motif we wanted to incorporate was the use of the continuous movement of the camera and developing the shots with the scene. This was to convey Kate’s constant forward drive throughout the story.

Neon_pink_kate_dp_lyle_vincent'Kate'Credit: Netflix

NFS: Why did you decide to shoot Kate on Sony VENICE?

Vincent: From the very beginning the director and I knew Kate would be shot on the VENICE because no camera compares to it in its low-light capability, and we knew we wanted to rely on practical lights at night as well as shooting on anamorphic lenses, which have a deeper stop than spherical lenses.

NFS: How did LED lights play a role in creating this look, and how did this lighting work with the camera sensor?

Vincent: We definitely relied on mostly LED lighting to dial in the specific colors we wanted. I used a combination of RGB LED strip lights, astera tubes, digital Sputnik cubes, and ARRI sky panels throughout the film.

Still_from_kate_battle_scene'Kate'Credit: Netflix

NFS: Throughout the film, whether shadowy Yakuza chambers or colorful Tokyo streets at night, you’re working with a lot of low-light situations. Was this a challenge?

Vincent: We always started at the dual ISO base of 2500 and then went up from there. Because we were embracing a film look and even adding grain, I was completely comfortable to push two full stops from this to an ISO of 10000.

One scene where this came in particularly useful was the shootout scene in the Nakamatsu Tower near the end of the movie. This was shot practically on the top floor of a building in Bangkok with floor-to-ceiling glass. We wanted the city lights to play out the window, so I lit the scene practically with LED strips that were dimmed to their absolute minimum with the addition of ND gel on their housing. This allowed us to shoot at 10000 ISO to see out the windows as well as letting the muzzle flashes from the weapons and the green laser sights play very prominently. 

Low_light_still_netflix_kate_lyle_vincent'Kate'Credit: Netflix

NFS: Given all the unusual lighting in the world of Kate, what was your strategy for the skin tones? 

Vincent: I always consider skin tones to be of utmost importance in any scene I’m shooting, as it is one of the ways the audience connects with the characters of the story. Another huge advantage of the VENICE camera is its natural skin tones and rendering of colors even in the dimmest light. It always seems to keep a very good separation of colors and doesn’t easily become muddy.

It reminds me of how film renders skin tones and color in a very natural and pleasant way. I also used light grade Blackmagic diffusion filters in front of our lenses to gently smooth skin tones and glow highlights.

Mary_elizabeth_winstead_in_kate_dp_lyle_vincent'Kate'Credit: Netflix

NFS: From A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night to Dreamland and now Kate, you’ve created many rich, visual worlds with a distinct style. What is your advice to cinematographers on how to find your aesthetic as a DP?

Vincent: I would say let the style always come front the script and story and not style for its own sake. Also be very attentive and sensitive to the vision of the director and how the actors are performing, and let the visual aesthetic support that.

Check out more of Lyle Vincent's style on IG and Twitter. You can catch Kate on Netflix now.