Matthew Jensen, cinematographer on Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman,” may not be a woman but he contributed to one of this year’s most significant feminist achievements: A genuine box office hit directed by a woman and starring a female superhero: Gal Gadot in the titular role.
The DP’s fast professional rise was boosted by his high-end TV work on such series as Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” In features, he shot sci-fi thriller “Chronicle” and “Fantastic Four.”
At present, Jensen is working once again with Jenkins and “Wonder Woman” co-star Chris Pine on the upcoming TNT limited series “One Day She’ll Darken” – a rare case of a TV show being filmed on 35mm.
Tell us about “One Day She’ll Darken.”
It’s a six-episode 1960s noir limited series. Patty Jenkins is directing and I’m shooting the first two. Patty and Chris Pine are producers. Chris is also starring.
It’s like a mini “Wonder Woman” reunion.
And you’re shooting on 35mm. Isn’t that unusual for television?
Absolutely. It’s very rare for TV shows. Maybe five shoot on film now, and most of those are Super 16.
How did that come about?
Patty loves film. I love film. She feels she’s better able to deliver something with gravitas on film than on digital. And this is a period show, so it lends itself well to film. We’re going for a rich look.
Was there resistance to the decision?
We encountered some raised eyebrows. But for the most part, people have been pretty supportive. Kodak and FotoKem have been very supportive, as has Panavision. All helped us to get the numbers to a point where everybody was comfortable.
You go easily between features and television.
I’m noticing less and less of a distinction. The expectations for TV have grown, and people anticipate a lot more from them. For example, on this series we have a ton of locations and we’re trying to make a lot of them period. It has a big scope. But there’s still a certain amount of pressure. You’re doing it on a reduced budget and reduced timeline. With a feature there’s a lot more time to prep and to test out the specificity of your look and get into the granular details of how you’re going to achieve it. With TV, you just don’t have the time, and you’re shooting bigger page counts during the day. Good choices have to be easier to achieve, and you have to be more comfortable going with your first instincts. That sort of discipline can also help me going into a feature. And vice versa. I learn a lot when I go back and forth.
Where are you shooting “One Day She’ll Darken?”
Mostly in Los Angeles. The story is set in L.A. and also in the desert, in Sparks, Nevada. We get the desert look in the outskirts of L.A. It takes place in the 1960s, but in the last 10 years L.A. has gone through such a transformation. It would have been easier to shoot this 10 years ago – particularly in downtown L.A., which used to be such a great backlot.
Do you have tech preferences?
The great thing about where we are now is that you can choose whatever medium you want to work with based on creative and budgetary reasons. I love film; I also like digital very much and I’m a big fan of the ARRI Alexa. There are trade-offs with both systems. Film is stronger in certain areas, and digital has its advantages as well. It’s up to the director and DP to choose the format. I couldn’t imagine shooting “Wonder Woman” on anything other than film and “Game of Thrones” on anything other than digital.
What about lenses?
There are also so many choices in lenses, from very modern ones that are clean and don’t flare and give you great crisp images on all formats, including 35mm, chips on digital cameras, and the large-format cameras that are becoming so popular. But there are also those vintage lenses sitting on shelves. They can also give great looks to film and digital cameras.
Lighting technology has gotten outstanding. LEDs have come so far in the last couple of years – they can give you a great look. You can do all sorts of crazy effects and color transitions with LED and save on cabling and heat on the set. But then there’s always something so pure and gorgeous about a 20K tungsten filament – there’s just no beating it.
How did you start working with Patty Jenkins?
Before “Wonder Woman,” Patty was going to do a much smaller black comedy, and she happened to like the look of a movie I had shot called “Filth,” so she called me and we met and hit it off. She offered me that movie but it fell through. But a couple of weeks later she got “Wonder Woman” and thankfully asked me to come aboard.
“Wonder Woman 2,” also directed by Patty Jenkins, has been announced. Will you be DP on that film as well?
I’m not at liberty to comment on that yet.