Cinematographer Kris Kachikis had never worked with Christopher Guest before, but he was familiar with the work of the writer/director/actor, known for 20 years of character-driven mockumentaries such as “This is Spinal Tap,” “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind,” and “Waiting for Guffman.”
Then Kachikis came on board to shoot Guest’s latest work, “Mascots,” a mockumentary (which, by the way, is a term that Guest detests) just released by Netflix and playing in theaters, about a sports mascot competition in which the titular characters vie for the highest honor in their field — the Gold Fluffy.
Was it daunting to start working for a legend?
“Of course,” says Kachikis, a prolific commercial DP who has shot spots for the likes of Toyota and Apple. “But that was also part of the beauty of working for Christopher. We made suggestions and he made the choices and steered the ship.”
The initial conversations for the look of the movie took into account the style of Guest’s other films, but also aimed to make sure “Mascots” would be in tune with the world of today.
The brief was simple: Guest told Kachikis to “make a great-looking film with some interviews.” So the cinematographer drew upon several sources to achieve the movie’s appearance. For example, “I used ‘Birdman’ as an inspiration to create the lighting for cross coverage,” he says, “and for choosing the locations for our final big show.
In a lot of comedy, cross coverage comes from two cameras looking in opposite directions. In “Birdman,” which appears to be filmed all in a single long take, DP Emmanuel Lubezki used only one camera, often traveling through the two positions that would normally be used for cross coverage.
“His approach to lighting allowed for this,” explains Kachikis. “That inspired me to use similar lighting techniques on ‘Mascots,’ and enabled a more real, richer look, as opposed to a more traditional-comedy flat look.”
The final competition show in the film — a dazzling display of low-budget lighting in a high school gymnasium-like setting — was created to convey the supposed budget and means of the made-up governing body, the World Mascots Assn.
“We imagined that the WMA could afford 12 moving lights and two follow-spots,” Kachikis explains. He adds that scale is similar to the lighting you might find at a medium-to-large wedding or an over-the-top Bat Mitzvah. “Taking the lead from such events, we made the most of the lights, and the show looks beautiful, while still feeling appropriate for the world of the story.”
Kachikis connected with Guest via his work in commercial production. Their partnership clicked, which Kachikis credits partly to the TV commercial crew he usually hires.
“What working on TV commercials for many years gets you,” he notes, “is a lot of experience shooting and collaborating with other people.”