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Cinematographer Benjamin Loeb received the script for “Pieces of a Woman” from director Kornél Mundruczó in August 2018.

Loeb, whose credits include “Mandy,” spoke with Mundruczó not about specificities about the loss of a child, grief and what the film would look like, but about their families, experiences and birth.

For Loeb, the words were the backbone of his vision.

“It wasn’t trauma porn and the idea of someone using this [trauma] in the wrong way,” were what connected him to the film.

The Birth Scene

“The main reason why we wanted to shoot the birth first was that there was no way for us to ask the actors to go to this incredibly dark place without learning what that dark place means.

“The scene was about 30-36 pages of script and we had three days to do it. In one conversation, Kornel and I had the idea of time and the idea of we, as men who are present, are the most useless tools. You can’t help and do anything. You’re just there as a dumbfounded entity

“My wife’s birth was 17 hours, and for me, it felt like four days, but it also felt like five minutes; so this idea of compression of time was important.

“The first time we brought this up to Vanessa [Kirby, who plays the lead, Martha], she lit up and was super excited.She was like, ‘You’re going to let us doing this intense scene, this uninterrupted take.’

“You could tell she saw this as an opportunity for the scene to become real for her. We were going to dive into this atmosphere that you can’t get away from, and I loved that idea, that time disappears.

“We did one blocking rehearsal and I filmed the whole thing on my iPhone and that was the only time we walked through it.”

Handheld vs. Gimbal

“Kornel wanted me to be the curious entity behind the lens. We tried it hand-held and how we wanted it to feel; something that was rooted in reality. We wanted to capture, but handheld became too real, and honestly, it became too uncomfortable and felt like a documentary.

“We tried a gimbal, and it felt spiritual. I had never operated a gimbal before and I tried it, and it felt so natural. I moved around the space and tried to see how human I could feel. The more I used it, the more comfortable I felt, and we took this leap of faith.

“I told Kornel that if we were going to start this way, we have to finish the film with this.”

Building Trust

“From the very first time I met Vanessa, I needed to go in building trust. I will be in their faces, in and around their space while they’re performing to the most vulnerable and most exposed moments in the film.

“It could go one of two ways: they don’t trust me and I become a hindrance to their performance, or they trust me and I become a helping element.

“I’m a pretty open book as a DP. I never want to impose my feelings or my thoughts. I’m trying to represent the director, but I’m trying to help [the
actors] as best as I can to do their job and it just felt very natural.

“I think [Vanessa] read me and I read her and she could tell that I was there trying to make the best movie possible for all of us and just give them space. I think a lot of it was based on a mutual understanding of what the film needed and it became intuitive.

“The camera was never too close unless it was during the contractions and the camera became more interested in her and was subjective in that feeling otherwise, it would stay objective.

“We knew the whole film was about the birth scene, and if we have no birth scene, we had no film. It was a practical thing.”