Richard Rutkowski on ‘Jack Ryan,’ Costa-Gavras and Being Nice Abroad

TORUN, Poland – Speaking at the EnergaCamerimage Intl. Film Festival on Monday, Richard Rutkowski praised the work of Costa-Gavras, offered sage advice for filmmakers working internationally, and offered a glimpse of the fast-paced work faced by cinematographers on high-profile TV series.

Rutkowski, whose credits include “Jack Ryan,” “Castle Rock” and “The Americans,” discussed the methods, techniques and common sense he employs in meeting the major challenges of demanding projects.

“The productions I work on move incredibly fast. They’re big television shows; they often shoot on two or three continents – if they’re not on two or three continents they’re quite often cross-boarding two to three episodes at once. So you’re in a constant state of running ahead of things and also feeling like you’re behind.”

Pointing to one particular scene in the first episode of season one of Amazon’s “Jack Ryan,” set in a cafe in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a (but shot in Marrakech), Rutkowski said: “Quite often, in a scene like this, there are cameras going that the director doesn’t even know about, and it’s not because I’m being somehow anti-collaborative, it’s just, I know he’ll want the shot and I’m putting it out there.”

For that specific shoot the production used five separate camera operators, including Rutkowski. Such busy, complicated scenes entails a lot of coordination, he noted.

“There’s a certain amount of just administration that you’re doing in order to have a system for gathering that many images as quickly as you can. I’m proud of what gets accomplished. I’m interested in the techniques that go into making it, but ultimately I’m just interested in what the impression is and I’m hoping the impression is exciting and that the impression is: I understand what’s happening even though it’s a chaotic situation.”

The cafe scene was shot in an open market place with real vendors with the actors in certain controlled areas. “Not everything was controlled, I can tell you that. There had been a discussion at the beginning of that season about the work of Costa-Gavras. There’s a film he did called ‘State of Siege’ in the early ’70s. He used actors in open spaces and he did these very beautiful, intricately choreographed dolly shots and multi-point moving shots. We weren’t always able to achieve that but I liked the feeling of introducing it.”

When it comes to working internationally, Rutkowski offered: “You need to be very inline with the local production people, the local scouts and you need to explain to them your working method and, most importantly, you need to be nice because you’re a visitor. You’re going to Morocco during Ramadan – it’s stressful, the crew is wanting to sleep under the truck half the time. You need to have a feeling of being an ambassador for U.S.-based filmmaking – especially when you’re making content like this, where it’s like, ‘Oh, these guys from America with guns are going to solve a problem. Uh-huh.”

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