The Beautiful World of Alfonso Cuarón

Alfonso Cuarón won the BAFTA for best director for his latest work Gravity ­a proud achievement for any film director. In light of this event, we are taking look at the cinematic styles that closely defines his career and led up to this moment.

imgres-3Cuarón’s career started in Mexico City where he was a student of philosophy and filmmaking. There, he met his future collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki who’d become his most frequent collaborator. In fact, Lubezki was the cinematographer of all of Cuarón’s directorial works excluding only Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Cuarón’s works are quite varied in terms of subject. His first feature was a quirky, dark comedy about AIDS (Solo Con Tu Pareja). Since then, his films have given us a quixotic story of a young girl in boarding school, a Dickensian tale of love and jealousy, a coming­ of­ age road trip, the fantastical world of wizardry, a dystopian tale of humanity’s collapse, and a realistic space fantasy.

In all of these, Cuarón has proved himself to be a consummate storyteller whether it is his original story or adaptation of a well­-known piece of literature. His superb ability to define characters clearly, and create atmosphere and setting is greatly helped by his visual style.

Cuarón is quite well known for his love of long takes that cover multiple actions and often multiple locations. This technique was used quite extensively in Children of Men and Gravity. The use of long takes gives both films a sense of realism to a setting that lacks it a dystopian future and space fantasy.

Another one of Cuarón’s favourites is a handheld shot that obsessively follows the character and their gaze. This puts the audience in the position of the character or their companion and allows them to be more involved rather than remain an observer. Take for instance Theo walking through the ruins in Children of Men, or Luisa sensually dancing towards the camera as she holds its gaze, provocatively inviting the audience ­in, in Y Tu Mama Tambien.

Cuarón is also a big fan of symbolic close­ups and non­didactic montages. The airplane Finn plays with in Great Expectations, our casual gaze across his paintings on the dingy motel room wall, and Cacho carefully stepping on his row of paper cones in Solo Con Tu Pareja are some of examples.

The realism of long takes and handheld shots are often contrasted with dream­like lighting and soft focus as seen in the attic of Sara Crewe in the Little Princess, the pool scene in Y Tu Mama Tambien and the majority of Great Expectations.

Cuarón also loves to juxtapose wide, long shots with dangerously intimate close ups, further defining the character and their experiences in multiple perspectives.

Check out further examples of his work here:

Great Expectations

Y Tu Mama Tambien

Written by Freddie Kim

Lights, Camera, Action: Odd Jobs On Set

There is a dedicated team of on set film crew members behind every moment of movie magic. From lights, to sound, to art direction, each department is essential in its own way. But what role do production assistants and others in entry level film positions play?

They may not get the same accolades, but their dedication is no less admirable. Especially when it comes to some of the odd jobs they are asked to do on set.

83074344The Dog Whisperer

Heard from an on­ set sound professional with decades of experience in the industry. Even though he is now a well­ respected sound person and an instructor, he had a humble start just like everyone else. One of the first films sets he worked on as a sound PA had an on location shoot in a suburban, residential area. On this particular shoot the sound department faced an unusual challenge. The majority of households had large dogs in their yards that barked through the entire shooting process, rendering most of the location sound unusable. On the second day, the sound PA brought his bicycle on set. Armed with sausage links provided by the production department, he toured the neighbourhood throughout the shoot, hurling links at the barking dogs to keep them quiet – a solution to keep both the production and the dogs happy.

The Apple Stand

Unfortunately this is a fairly familiar tale for grips, especially in low budget productions. A nighttime scene was being shot during the day. The problem was the building had several big windows that had to be blacked out completely; no easy task with a limited amount of equipment. The grip department used everything they had and even had to throw on furniture pads and secure them with duct tape. After all that effort and time a sliver of an opening was still letting in daylight, and ruining the illusion of night. One grip armed himself with a flag and stepped on a stack of apple boxes, found the offending sliver and covered it with the flag. However, before he could call over another grip to help secure the flag in place the production, which by then was already anxious about time, started rolling the camera. The grip had no choice but to hold the flag over his head on his tippy toes on top of the wobbly apple boxes until the scene was completed.

The Spit Catcher

Vancouver is a beautiful city and we often see TV shows shot on the streets of Gastown. This episode included a shot of a character spitting gum on the ground as she was talking. The shot, of course, required multiple angles and takes. The production couldn’t let the actress spit the gum out on to the actual street – out of respect for the city as well as for continuity. So a PA had to kneel in front of the actress, just out of frame, holding a brown paper bag for her to spit the gum in. If that wasn’t quite bad enough, the actress’s aim wasn’t exactly perfect either. The PA actually had to pick a piece of chewed gum off the ground and put it in the bag multiple times, all while being showered with saliva.

The Wardrobe Malfunction Attendant

Some odd jobs on set may not seem so bad. Occasionally, movies are required to target certain rating by the executives. This particular one was to be rated PG­13, which meant a woman’s breasts couldn’t be fully featured on screen. The hard part was it had several sex scenes, which required the actors to be topless. In order to make sure the actress’s breasts were never exposed on screen, the 1st AD had to sit right next to the actress, barely out of frame, and stare at her breasts the whole time. His job that day was to yell cut every time he saw her nipples.

Written by Freddie Kim