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Your career began with music videos. How important was this starting point of your career? Did you learn a lot? Do you believe that music videos allow for experimenting with a greater number of visual and lighting solutions?

I guess my career actually started long before I began making music videos. I worked in various departments, trying to gain as much knowledge as possible before eventually studying cinematography and joining the camera department. I always considered it important to understand what other departments are dealing with. When I finally started shooting music videos, I had the opportunity to experiment, but the budgets were quite low, so we didn’t have many tools to work with. It was more about experimenting with light and framing and gaining confidence. For that, it was great. I learned to think on my feet, to improvise, and to adapt. It was a fantastic time. Probably some of the best work I’ve done was from that period. When you’re working with a low budget, you have to be creative, and as the projects get bigger, you lose some of that creativity.

How much is your work on set influenced by the awareness that it will go through a color correction process? A notable example is Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021), released also in black and white and in a 1.33:1 format.

Quite a lot, I would say. I always try to get as close to the final color while I’m shooting, but knowing I have some time later to bring it all together and even out smaller issues is great. It’s a huge part of a cinematographer’s work. In the case of Justice League, Zack had always told me he wanted to do a black-and-white version. We did a bit of prep for that, but the main movie was always going to be in color, so that was the main focus. The 1.33:1 format was on the table from day one, and I loved it. It was a very different approach. And on that movie, the color process was great. We were shooting on 35mm, so I could really work on it later.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

How does your approach differ when creating an artificial environment that can control light sources precisely, as opposed to adapting to natural light changes, its direction, and the shadows produced by sunlight?

I think my approach remains the same, but it’s just a different way of working. I love the challenges that come with shooting in natural light and on location, constantly adapting to the situation. It can also be hard and frustrating. I also enjoy creating an environment from scratch on a stage. It really depends on the project. I would be happy if I could jump between the two. Regardless of the setting, I always start with what’s there: the sun, a fire, practical lights. Then I build from there. I love that process.

You have worked on numerous television series, sometimes taking over from other directors of photography. In these cases, how do you adapt your work to align with previous photographic choices?

I find it easy to adapt. I’ve done a lot of second unit work in the past and, in the early years of my career, I worked on many later episodes, following the style established by others. Every cinematographer has a different approach and creative sensibility, but as long as it fits within the overall look of the show, it’s fine. You have to be aware of the show’s visual identity and adapt to that. Once you understand and internalize it, you can then make it your own. That’s the fun part. You can add your little touches and your style. Probably my favorite and most successful example would be season 3 of The Crown (2016-2023). I came in to do two episodes with my old director friend Sam Donavan. We spent a lot of time discussing how we could make those episodes different. I think they are distinct but still fit within the wider look of the show.

The Crown.

The credits of Overlord (2018) mention that you shared the cinematography direction with another DoP, Laure Rose. Typically, the role is entrusted to one person. Can you tell us something about this collaborative experience?

Unfortunately, it was a bad experience for me, but not because of Laurie; he did a great job. Four weeks into shooting, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and faced a major operation and chemotherapy. So, I decided to leave the film to be by her side. Laurie stepped in on very short notice, took over my crew, and finished the movie, and I’ll always be grateful to him. My mom later passed away, so I’ve always been glad that I left and got to spend that time with her.

I have to say, though, that I do enjoy working with other DoPs. One of the most amazing things about Game of Thrones was that all four or five DoPs were often together, as we were all shooting simultaneously. Being able to talk to each other, share ideas, and discuss problems was amazing.

What level of collaboration is involved during the preparation and shooting phases with visual effects technicians and special effects supervisors?

It depends on the project, of course, but for the ones I’ve been working on, it’s a huge amount, and I love it. It’s one of the collaborations I enjoy the most. I love visual effects, and especially special effects. I try to do as much in-camera as possible. The more you have all of that worked out, the easier your shooting day will be. I’ve been very lucky to have had some amazing visual effects supervisors and crews, as well as special effects crews. On Game of Thrones (2011-2019), we relied heavily on those departments, and the show, especially its look, wouldn’t have been the same without them.

In films like Justice League, which require various VFX interventions, how do you approach lighting? Do you have access to digital scene previews?

Sometimes we do, but I don’t approach it any differently. Thanks to my prep with VFX, I know what the scene will look like. I try to do as much interactive lighting as possible so they have something to work with, which helps blend the VFX into the overall image more smoothly and makes it look better in the end. It also gives the actors a sense of reality, something to work with.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Do you prefer using diegetic light sources and minimizing the use of non-diegetic lights, or do you have a preference for the opposite approach?

Do you mean digital light sources, like LED? For me, it would be a mixture. I love the quality of tungsten light, but LED has come a long way, and depending on the project, I would use both. LEDs are very useful and will become more prominent, but tungsten will always be a beautiful light.

In the third episode of the eighth season of Game of Thrones, The Long Night, you revolutionized serial production standards by by embracing a dark aesthetic that can truly be appreciated in a darkened environment, much like the experience in a cinema. How did you create this perpetual night effect, particularly in separating figures from the backgrounds? What were the main challenges during the production process? And, in your opinion, what are the ideal ways to experience such visual work, considering that small screens with low bitrates may compromise the viewing experience?

I guess I should have known this question would come! First of all, I don’t think I revolutionized anything—people have been shooting dark scenes for decades. It was just the perfect storm: a hugely anticipated episode, a controversial last season, the biggest show in the world at the time, and everyone watching it simultaneously, which created some issues of blocking and banding, mainly due to compression.

First, I want to say that the lighting setup I had on that episode was the biggest one I had to date, and it was all lit to around a T2.8 1/2 – T4. There were many reasons why we chose to go for darkness creatively. We didn’t want to recreate a Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) battle (like someone wished for on my Instagram). We wanted it to have its own unique look. The idea of our heroes galloping towards a Black Sea that would just swallow them up was something we wanted to do early on.

Secondly, it was budgetary. VFX didn’t have the money to show an army of Whites in every shot, so we embraced the darkness even more. We faced many challenges during that shoot, not only 55 consecutive nights of work. We were shooting in Belfast in the winter, dealing with freezing temperatures, four cameras, hundreds of extras, stunts, horses, and constant changes in weather.

To me, Game of Thrones has always been a very visual show. It’s meant to be watched in a proper environment—a dark room without too many interfering lights, on a bigger screen if possible. I obviously didn’t want to upset people and make something they couldn’t see. I hope the people who really enjoyed Game of Thrones, the show and its look, have seen the episode on Blu-ray, which doesn’t have any of the issues that the TV transmission had.

The Long Night.

Nowadays an increasing number of television shows and movies are adopting a similar dark aesthetic. Films that were once colorful and extravagant, such as The Little Mermaid (2023) or Peter Pan & Wendy (2023), are now being remade with a realistic approach that relies on natural lighting and subdued colors. Why do you believe that many artists today are gravitating towards this aesthetic? Do you think the success of Game of Thrones played a role in influencing this shift? Additionally, what are your thoughts on the online discussions that have emerged from this trend?

I certainly think people are becoming braver. Filmmaking and cinematography are art forms, and art should be controversial. You will never be able to please everyone. I also think it’s all cyclical, like everything else. Other looks will come back, they will change and shift, and something new will emerge. I wouldn’t take credit for any of it, but I do think that because Game of Thrones was so big, it hit a nerve and opened up new discussions.

Over the years, many people have congratulated us for sticking to our vision and not shying away from it because of backlash (even though the backlash was unprecedented). You just can’t make it right for everyone, and that’s something you have to accept. There’s a huge number of people out there who loved the look of the episode, and that tells me we did the right thing. If it influenced cinematographers to push for darker scenes and producers and studios to support it, then that’s great.

Regarding the online discussions and social media trends, I was taken aback, to be honest. After that episode aired, I received an incredible amount of hate mail and death threats, which was a very strange experience. But I also had tons of people saying how much they loved it. And Zack Snyder’s Justice League would never have come out the way we shot and colored it in 2017 if it wasn’t for the fans and an incredible online petition. So I guess there are two sides to it, and we’re still learning how to use it well.

In The Long Night, the wide shots display a meticulous, almost “painterly” composition. Did you and your team draw inspiration from specific sources, such as painters or fantasy illustrations in graphic novels like Vincente Segrelles’ The Mercenary?

I guess we draw inspiration from all sorts of art, painters and many other forms. For me it’s certainly a mixture of all.

The Bells is very different from The Long Night, primarily due to its intense brightness during daytime scenes. The contrast between these two episodes, both focusing on pivotal battles, is particularly intriguing. Could you discuss the cinematography employed in The Bells? Furthermore, we perceive almost resonances with current events, reminiscent of the images of massacres frequently seen in the news and the portrayal of destroyed cities…

The resonances you make to current events make me sad. Yes, it’s certainly the unnecessary massacre of innocent people. I loved shooting The Bells as we started it a few days after wrapping The Long Night, so the turnaround was hard, but it was good to be back in daylight. The contrast between the two was always something that Miguel [Sapochnik] and I wanted. Everything I do is based on instinct, so the way we shot that episode was essentially that. We did a few more longer takes to emphasize the threat, especially with Sansa.

The Bells.

You contributed to the cinematography of Game of Thrones until its conclusion. In your opinion, how did the series evolve visually over time? Did you observe a growing visual sophistication, particularly in the later seasons?

The show always had a strong look, especially from season 2 onwards. I think season 2 set the look, and that aesthetic was carried through to the end. What was special for Miguel and me was that we ended up getting the more action-heavy episodes, starting with Hardhome and then Battle of the Bastards, allowing us to evolve the camera movement and framing. We started doing a lot more handheld shots and introduced shutter speed changes and other techniques like that.

The Battle of the Bastards in the sixth season, unlike The Long Night, is shot in broad daylight, exuding a greater sense of realism. Could you share insights into this beloved episode and how you approached its epic nature?

When shooting something like Battle of the Bastards, it becomes a precise operation. We had 500 extras, 60 horses with stunt riders, and nearly 90 stuntmen. We only had about 18 days to shoot from the beginning of the standoff to the end of the episode. It was later in the year, so we had shorter days. We had to know exactly what to do, when, and how. Thankfully, Miguel and I had done Hardhome together, which was already big. Battle of the Bastards was on a different level, but Hardhome taught us how to achieve it. We prepped the whole episode intensely, breaking down the script to identify the important beats and the shots we wanted. Then we scheduled them in. It was tough. I love shooting with multiple cameras, which helps, of course. On Hardhome and Battle of the Bastards, I was shooting with three cameras all the time (except for certain setups where it doesn’t work or isn’t beneficial). On The Long Night, it was four cameras. As I said, it becomes more of a military operation. I planned A and B cameras to do exactly what we needed. We scheduled every day according to the sun (which was nearly impossible as we had four seasons in one day most of the time). Planning the A and B cameras that thoroughly was the only way to get the shots we wanted and needed in the time we had. But to me, it loses the spontaneity that I love so much about filmmaking and cinematography. So I usually jump on the C (or D) camera. I can get shots we didn’t think of or anticipate. I can squeeze in anywhere quickly because I know from setting up the A and B what will work light-wise and framing-wise. I love that spontaneity and thinking on the spot. It’s tricky for my camera and grip team. Sometimes we only go in for take two, and they don’t have much time as I don’t want to interrupt the process. But they have always been great, and we always managed to get it done. That’s how we captured a lot of great moments throughout all of the battles we’ve done.

Battle of the Bastards.

In the series’ more contemplative moments, a preference for a softer and subdued lighting is common. Several instances can be observed in The Bells, such as the the brief romantic moment between Jon and Daenerys, or the intense fraternal moment between Jaime and Tyrion Lannister, both naturally lit by a fireplace. How do you approach lighting in these intimate scenes compared to the grand battles we discussed earlier?

I always approach scenes the same way. It’s funny because in Game of Thrones, people always talk about the big battle scenes. For me, the small, intimate scenes where the actors can really shine are much more fun to light and shoot. I always start with what’s naturally there—the sun, the moon, a fire—and then build from there. These days, I try to keep it simple. I aim to give the actors as much space to move around as possible. I also get bored if I spend too much time on lighting. It’s easy to get carried away, and I’ve done that many times, which often ends up being a mess. For me, simplicity is key, so I always strive for that. Of course, there are scenes where things do become more complicated.

The Bells.

One distinctive aspect of Game of Thrones is the strong chromatic identity of the various regions in the realm where the story unfolds. Each house is quite defined from this perspective. Could you discuss your work regarding the symbolic use of colours within the series?

I didn’t have much to do with that since it was established long before I joined the show. The reason for it is simple though. Game of Thrones is a complicated show set in different parts of the world with many different characters and houses. Assigning each a specific color is an easy way to establish the location, so viewers can follow the story more easily because they subconsciously know where they are.

Game of Thrones is notable for its role in popularizing high-quality fantasy in television, to some extent mirroring the same “quality” often associated with this genre in cinema (in particular, we think of Peter Jackson’s trilogies: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit [2012-2014]). In your view, how important is the visual element for the success of a genre? Moreover, how has the visual aspect of fantasy evolved in recent years compared to the past?

Well, it’s evolving constantly as technology advances every day. But that only makes some aspects easier or better visually. The core of fantasy isn’t the technology; it’s the incredibly clever and creative people imagining and creating these worlds. That will always be the most important aspect of filmmaking, not whether it looks great—though that obviously helps. I always think of The Lord of the Rings, the scene where they’re riding on top of the trees! It looked terrible back then. It would look much better now, but would it be a better scene? No. It was great then too!