First Thing Todd Phillips Told Me About Joker – Cinematographer Lawrence Sher, ASC


Film Courage: Were you the only cinematographer being
considered for the job [of JOKER movie]? Lawrence Sher, ASC: That only Todd [Phillips] can answer. I mean I mean I’m yeah exactly
I’ve uh I mean I’ve done the last six movies
this is our sixth film in ten eleven years now I I mean he brought the script
to me quite early but only Todd can answer. okay was he well you know in US and the
filmmaker the director and DP relationship is such a tight one it’s
such an important one we work so closely together we argue sometimes there’s so
many things that go into that relationship even myself having directed
I recognize how important that relationship is and I never take for
granted the fact that I’m gonna get another job with Todd simply because I
got the last four or five I just always treat it like it’s a new slate it’s a
new movie he has a complete prerogative and right to want to switch things up
choose somebody else all those things of course I love working with them and I
would do it forever but it’s uh I also recognize that you know it’s uh it’s
it’s it’s and it’s like an at-will thing in which I’m grateful every time I have
the opportunity to do a movie with him but I don’t know I listen there was a
lot of really good TPS and I know Todd’s fans of of many of their work we talked
about the other DPS work so yeah I mean – Todd I guess when did you and Todd
Phillips first discuss Joker did he call you and say I had this yeah he called me
basically I’d talked to me a little bit about the idea like I think I think I
figured out this idea of like how we can make something that could be really cool
this character study but we basically take a character from the you know from
DC universe and make something that just feels wholly unique like gunsight not a
comic book movie really just like an old what could have been made in the 70s but
it just happens to be you know you know a movie that’s about somebody who
ultimately is part of that universe and I thought that was amazing
I was before I read the script that was probably I don’t know you know six
months before I read the script or something like that and then finally
once he sort of really worked it out with Scott and got to a place where it
was like a draft in which he wanted to show me that’s when I first read it but
I’d known about the idea for some months before that I was actually working on
Godzilla king of the monsters in Atlanta and I was on my porch when Todd it
wasn’t the call to say hey it was more of like I sent you the script have you
read it yet let’s talk about it and so I had already read the script and then
I’ll actually know maybe maybe I have anything wrong maybe it was just a call
that I was sitting on my porch and he said I’ve got the script I’ll send it to
you soon but I’d like you to shoot it do you want to shoot it and so it was that
and I just was sitting on the porch with my wife and and our daughter I think at
the time who’s like just been born in Atlanta and and and I was like yeah man
I want to shoot this so I think it was before I even read the script for sure
yeah yeah what do you talk about in your first meeting with a director especially
a director that you know so well that you’ve done many films with how is that
conversation different or the same as maybe other conversations with other
directors when you first start a project yeah it’s interesting with Todd and I
our conversations were never like long-winded five six hour of meetings
conversations are often like little conversations or even sometimes just
like one or two ideas thrown out over months and months and months so they’re
never like really sometimes we’ll do an actual page turn and we’ll do it in
small blocks where we actually turn through the page and take notes on sort
of just ideas of like how we think we should shoot this are there any specific
shots any special pieces of equipment is this obscene that’s hand held is it a
scene this long lens is it a scene that has a lot of camera movement it’s more
of just what’s the emotion of the scene and how do we translate that on screen
and so we’ll do that probably later in prep once I’m you know officially on the
job and have some time to break off and we’ll do
that you know as successfully as we can to get all the way through the script
sometimes we don’t get all the way through the script sometimes we just get
through 30 or 40 pages but it starts to inform the bigger picture of what the
the movies gonna be early conversations are really pretty short you know it’s
like I think our first conversation on Joker was literally about aspect ratio
you know about what format like what aspect ratio we’d shoot it in and we
both wanted to shoot it in 185 which was great because we were in agreement so
that was pretty straightforward it was like feels 185 and I was like yeah it
feels 185 into that conversation and then it was like we’re definitely gonna
shoot film maybe we shoot a large format like 70 millimeter film you know we
we’ve loved those films it felt like there was something about this movie in
in in you know in it’s not Lawrence of Arabia and that sort of 70 millimeter
way but more like perhaps the master in the way that PT Anderson shot
large-format there in that it’s a real character study and that was a bit of a
two-hander between you know Joaquin and and what’s-his-name great actor Philip
Seymour Hoffman right but nonetheless it was an intimate story but really a deep
dive into the character and the minds of these human beings and we thought oh
that would be an interesting way to isolate this character in his
environment but allow us to sort of have this almost like true three-dimensional
quality where we could really draw the audience into them by shooting
large-format so we had that discussion early and and then we just talked about
how just the vibe of it should feel handmade like it doesn’t want to feel
even though it’s a studio movie it just wants to feel very sort of constructed
by human beings and that it doesn’t want to feel too polished and too clean and
all these things and and and then we would start to say things like well you
know it’s a character study in all those great seventies movies which really were
the decade in which you would see those character studies every weekend being
released in the theaters you know whether it was you know obviously taxi
driver or something like that or King of Comedy of
those have some correlation but also Serpico or Dog Day Afternoon or straight
time or any of these movies that just felt singularly about somebody Midnight
Cowboy and and those vibes not necessarily the look and feel the movies
per se because we weren’t really referencing them sometimes we’d
reference them and think though that’s that’s gonna show us something about how
the movie should look and mostly we would come away from like looking at a
scene or something out of those movies and go it’s not it’s not really the look
of the movie like we would hope maybe oh we could look at that that would be the
template and we could just copy that template as to like color or contrast or
or the look and feel and it was always like it’s not really the movie so a lot
of it was the discovery of like what the movie isn’t to then figure out like what
the movie wants to be but certainly tone wise and the fact that those movies
really were made by filmmakers that felt unencumbered by the studio’s and they
were out there just making these movies in an independent way even though they
were released by big studios that’s I think the vibe of what we talked about
and so those were the early conversations and then you know you’re
having conversations every day when you location scout right every time you see
a location even if it’s not the right one you discover things about the scene
you know you have discussions about oh why isn’t this not the right one oh
because I want him to be able to travel from here to here and so you’re
discovering things all the time when you’re in prep mostly in location scouts
even though location scouts are arduous and I remember Soderbergh when he
claimed he was gonna retire even though he like said I’m retired and then made
five movies that year or something anyway he I think had a quote or
something where he’s like I just don’t want to ever be I spent another day in a
scout fan cuz they’re just tiresome right there to be in this van travelling
around going in and out of like apartments and locations and just they
can be tiring and I understand what filmmakers hate them but what’s
interesting about them is how informative they are to the look and
feel of the movie because you got the production designer you’ve got me you’ve
got Todd you’ve got the producer so everyday
you’re basically having those discussions in ways that are sometimes
you know a sentence here a sentence there so that’s the real prep of a movie
as opposed to like what you would imagine are these like you know long
eight-hour days if I sitting and talking about cerebrally about what the movie
should be though it’s not really that at all and also building that world the
feel of the sounds not just the music I’m talking about like that they yelling
out and in this feeling of just total chaos when when he would go out into the
city and how sort of contentious it was and I really I thought that was really
well done with the yelling like you’d hear yeah even like all this I think the
sound design in the movie is unbelievable and yeah it’s like it’s I
think the big thing that comes across obviously in the script it was a big
part of the the story about about what Todd was trying to do here was you know
how hard and and cold the city can be to individuals right the city on mass is
this just like world of people sometimes striking out violently against each
other but really you’ve got this like sort of lonely man in the middle who at
his heart is actually quite gentle and and all he’s trying to do is sort of
continue to do his thing and he’s really just a an individual that’s that’s you
know that that I think it’s a it’s an example of how society treats each other
and the effects that I can have particularly when we either treat each
other without empathy and humanity or we just look you know we have invisibility
you know we just like we just see past them and walk past them and all those
sort of big ideas as to how society treats each other and I think that was a
big part of it and and what better way to sort of expose that but when Arthur
is in that world to show everyone around him you know as as uncaring effectively
or just like and it’s the word the words more you
know you know they that the that the world the time in uncaring it’s like it
said that they have no that they’re you’re just invisible like it on the bus
in the beginning yes the woman sort of is saying you know please don’t bother
my kid but everyone else on the bus could care less you know nobody’s
intervening nobody’s sort of coming to his defense nobody’s really cares it’s
just trying to do their thing so you know I think that’s part of it yeah
there was also the feeling of disdain that people had for him that you started
and I don’t know if that was how the laughter something that seems disarming
then became this tool of like or were people looked at him with just this
total disdain like yeah I think it’s like disdain and and but just
insignificant you know I think I think we we can recognize in Arthur and his
struggle every day so many parts of ourselves and you know it’s the way you
look past the homeless person because you just rather not look at the person
then then confront the for the reality of their situation or or or somebody
who’s suffering from madness or psychosis like we see them all the time
in our in our world we see them on the streets we walk past them it’s
interesting like I had somebody say the movie reminded them of that Woody Allen
movie with Kate Blanchet that she won there she was certainly dominated though
it was it you have blue Jasmine right and I thought it was really interesting
because blue Jasmine’s like a origin story of a person speaking crazy to
themselves on a bench right like that’s ultimately who she ends up at the end of
the movie it’s like blue Jasmine is just an origin story of like how this woman
got to be in that bench and I thought oh yeah it’s actually a pretty similar
analogy this is an origin story of how this man became the person he was and
like all the things that led to it and I thought that was kind of a cool analogy
and also to there’s a class issue because isn’t she in San Francisco and
so having grown up there I know as much in the 80s I know you
talked about this in other interviews but at that time a lot of mentally ill
people were on the streets and yeah I would see that and that’s why I really
picked up on the voices because I would hear that a lot as a child walking down
the street in San Francisco you would hear these this yelling yeah and that
movie dealt with class in another way which was like she came from money but
she was now going to a place of like losing it and what does that feel like
right like hey she actually lived in both worlds and she ends up just being
that person that you sort of you know walk right past and don’t think about
and she’s got a whole story right and so this is this movie is no different you
know it’s it’s a guy that you know it’s it’s uh you wonder like in the backstory
of the people in the movie and they keep that woman on the bus or the people on
the bus if this was like a real-life story would go oh my god that guy the
guy just chopped Murray Franklin that’s the same guy on the bus like that you
would even do that thing where suddenly you know you correlate one thing to
another and say like wow I barely even noticed him right it’s like that thing
that you that we do all the time with people that strike out on society and
suddenly they’re seen but you know previously unseen so then the Santa
Monica resident I would agree so for them they thank you you do that at
Starbucks and you get a look of light yeah I mean it’s just really interesting
it’s just I think it’s one of the powerful parts of this movie that I
think has helped it break out and and frankly it’s something that I think I’m
super proud of is besides taking and making something that is holy just a
piece of entertainment that can make money and you know all the things that
are the business of show business has to do but as a piece of filmmaking and
storytelling that it can help just shine a light on some of those issues I’ve had
people in queue nays and other people who have said you know they suffer from
mental illness and it really spoke to them and if it spoke very powerfully to
them and the fact that they feel invisible and they felt feel unseen and
and all of these things and and it’s not that they feel that way and feel
like they want to strike out against society the way Joker did it you know
it’s that they just feel suddenly like they understand like they feel just a
kinship with with the story that we were telling and so it’s it’s that I think is
the most positive aspect of the success of the movie is that it’s touched people
you know be you know in ways that I think we would hope for but but not
necessarily expected you

7 thoughts on “First Thing Todd Phillips Told Me About Joker – Cinematographer Lawrence Sher, ASC

  1. Interesting how this movie is a test among YT film reviewers; the people who enjoy the movie tend to be those who are more experienced with real life squalor and general world issues, whereas the people who think the movie’s a pointless slog tend to be those who never leave their bedroom. I’m pleasantly surprised that Film Courage folk are sorta sticking up for the movie.

  2. I have a love hate relationship with this channel. Because sometimes they have people with good credentials like this guy and other times it's "no names" with no "known work" for like the last 30 decades giving us advice. Now i just research who the person on the video is, before i continue to listen or decide to just skip the video as a whole. That's like my only pet peeve with Film Courage.

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