The Cinematography of ‘A Star Is Born’

In this video, CookeOpticsTV sits down with the acclaimed cinematographer to discuss his process.

Matthew Libatique is one of my favorite directors of photography. I was first introduced to his work after seeing the amazing Darren Aronofsky directed “Requiem For a Dream” in 2000, and I’ve quickly learned that it is worth looking for his name in a film’s credits the way many people may look for the name of an A-list star.

Since then, he’s gone on to lens some truly beautiful images in films such as "Tigerland," "She Hate Me," "The Inside Man," and "Straight Outta Compton." His latest effort, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, “A Star Is Born,” sees Libatique nominated for an Academy Award.

He recently say down with Cooke Optics to discuss his process of working on that film as well as some of the practical situations that influence his decision making.

On “A Star Is Born,” knowing he’d be working with a first-time director, Libatique tried whenever possible to keep the lighting simple. He used a broader lighting pattern with a simpler color palette. This allowed for both kinetic movement among his actors but also reduced unnecessary complications for the first time helmer.

Also, being a musical, “A Star Is Born” is filled with concert scenes. Due to production schedule, most of the concert scenes were shot in the initial weeks of production. In the interview, Libatique discusses how these early shots helped to set the tone for the entire production, including the more intimate dramatic scenes that would be filmed later. It's a good lesson in creating an aesthetic early in your production and carrying it through the process to create a cohesive whole.

Check out the video to learn more about Libatique’s choices for the film, like shooting anamorphic, or his choice of 25mm, 32mm, and 75mm primes. This is a good lesson from a huge talent.

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7 Comments

Brian Pernicone's picture

Really interesting interview. I wonder if the simplicity of the palette and lighting is what ultimately cost Cooper an Oscar nomination for Best Director. The film was fantastic.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Probably. I think that there is also a built in backlash sometimes when actors prove talented in another area of filmmaking. Almost a reluctance to give them credit for being more than "just and actor." Unfair. But that happens in many aspect of life. I'd expect him to direct many more movies and hopefully have another shot at it.

Brian Pernicone's picture

I'm not so sure about that. Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Beatty, Costner, Benigni, Redford, Sofia Coppola ... There have been a fair amount of actors over the years who have been nominated for Best Director.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

True. Although it generally took them a while. Eastwood, for example, wasn't getting nominated as a director when he was a young actor in the early western days, it was more once he was already an established veteran. Mel Gibson, long after the Lethal Weapon days. Beatty did Reds relatives early. Allen was always known more as a writer than actor. Even Annie Hall was when he was already established in the industry primarily as a gag writer who took his persona into the movies. Sofia Coppola acted in Godfather 3, but that was just because of a last second replacement. I don't think she was ever viewed as an actress first. I do think Bradley Cooper will get there. But it will probably come later in his career when he directs something he doesn't star in. Or who knows, maybe he'll win next year.

Brian Pernicone's picture

Fair enough, but Cooper's acting career is nearly two decades old at this point. He starred in Alias going back to 2001 and has been headlining movies since 2009. He's not exactly a newb. That said, Ben Affleck's snub for "Argo" could support your point.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

I remember first time I saw Bradley Cooper was way back when on the TV show Jack and Bobby. He was only in a minor role, but was pretty much the best part of the show. It was easy to tell he was going places.

Tony Clark's picture

An amazing use of light, perspective and storyline. I'm sure that Bradley is disappointed about the nomination but he should take pride in pushing Lady Gaga into the spotlight for her acting. As a photographer, I was blown away and I watched it twice.