Maryse Alberti, a cinematographer with dozens of documentary and narrative credits, worked with director John Curran on “Stone” and “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” before teaming with him again for “Chappaquiddick,” a dramatization of the 1969 incident on Martha’s Vineyard in which Sen. Ted Kennedy drove his car off a bridge, resulting in the drowning death of 28-year-old campaign strategist Mary Jo Kopechne. Entertainment Studios will release the film on April 6.
The DP also faced the visual challenge of isolating Kennedy, played by Jason Clarke, from the group of men tasked with controlling the aftermath of the accident. “It’s what we called the brain trust,” she says. “It worked well. Ted is pretty much always on his own, and the brain trust becomes one character.”
When it came to replicating the 1960s and ’70s, Alberti didn’t want to go too heavy with a period look and managed to keep the film grounded in its time while also giving it a cleaner appearance. Arri Alexa Mini and Alexa XT cameras and Panavision anamorphic lenses did the trick.
“We got a sense of the era by using wide lenses,” she explains. “We stuck a lot with 40mm in anamorphic. John and I like the texture, the softness of it, and the imperfection of those lenses.” On other projects, Alberti has used Arri Master Prime lenses. “They’re perfect,” she says, “but we didn’t want a perfect lens.”
For the interiors, the producers chose to shoot in towns north of Boston, because many of the buildings that would have been involved in a story set in 1969 don’t exist on the small island anymore. The DP mixed daylight and some tungsten in the interiors and stayed wide and close to the characters. Another part of the look came from atmospheric smoke, because during that period everybody smoked indoors. “Especially when the brain trust was around,” she says, “with all those men puffing away.”
The crux of the film is the single-lane Dike Bridge that led from Edgartown on the main island of Martha’s Vineyard to the tiny island of Chappaquiddick. That’s where Kennedy drove the car off the road and into tidal waters. He escaped from the vehicle, but Kopechne, played by Kate Mara, did not.
“We got a sense of the era by using wide lenses. We stuck a lot with 40mm in anamorphic. John and I like the texture, the softness of it, and the imperfection.”
DP Maryse Alberti
The shoot lasted a scant 32 days, and Alberti was able to film on only two of them during the daytime at the actual location. All of the nighttime scenes on the bridge were shot in Rosarito, Mexico, in the same water tanks used by “Titanic.”
“On such a fast shoot, it was tricky to match our angles from Chappaquiddick to Mexico,” Alberti says. “I was grateful to production designer John Goldsmith, who built the bridge in the main tank in Rosarito, and who was so diligent. It’s important for a historical story to be filmed where it actually happened. The path they drive between the cottage and the bridge, the ferry shots — that’s all on Martha’s Vineyard as well.”