‘Keanu’ Cinematographer on Working With Key & Peele and Cute Kittens

When director Peter Atencio took on “Keanu,” the first feature starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, he aimed to give the film a different feel from the comedy duo’s TV variety show “Key & Peele.” To that end, he brought in DP Jas Shelton (“The Stanford Prison Experiment”), who happened to be a fan of the show.

“After I read the script, I saw some fun cinematic possibilities,” Shelton says.

Influenced by films such as “El Mariachi” and “Heat,” Shelton focused on developing a gritty, textured look. Although the budget prohibited the use of film — the lenser’s preferred shooting medium — Shelton coupled the digital Arri Alexa XT camera with cinema-style anamorphic lenses from Cooke and Vantage to manipulate light in the way he wanted.

He also relied heavily on first assistant Zachary Sieffert and the local New Orleans crew to flood light through windows and control color within scenes. Grain was digitally added to the film’s limited exterior shots for texture.

The trickiest part, potentially, was working with the film’s eponymous kitten, played by several lookalike tabbies. But everything was choreographed and rehearsed, says Shelton, and the felines “hit their marks every time.”

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