On this superstar edition of the INTERVUE, imagine yourself going to a well-known museum, let’s say the world-renowned Smithsonian Institute, to take some courses on film and then somewhere down the road in the course of life, you put all that you have learned and take it back to your hometown. This is what happened with our next guest.
A graduate of Univ. of Southern California, Variety listed him as one of the “10 Cinematographers to watch 2017”. Over the course of his career, his credits include the films Chronicle & Fantastic Four and television series Ray Donovan, Game of Thrones, and The Mandalorian. Now, he has come full circle as he brought his craft to our Nation’s Capital with the epic superheroine sequel, Wonder Woman 1984. You can see his work now on Digital and coming soon to Blu-ray and DVD on March 30th!
My fellow readers welcome to the INTERVUE, DMV’s own Matthew Jensen!
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Well, thanks! It’s quite a set of circumstances.
So, I read that as a child that you took several classes at the Smithsonian Institute and now as a Director of Photography for WW84 at the Smithsonian. How does that feel?
You know, that was incredible. I took classes with the “Smithsonian in Film” classes that they offered for kids and I was in the basement of the Natural History museum essentially on my fall Saturdays and sometimes in the summer watching movies and then making movies on a Super 8 movie camera with a whole bunch of other kids.
Then cut to 2018 and I’m in the rotunda of the Natural History Museum. I am lighting it and I’m shooting Kristen Wiig walking through the rotunda. At one moment, I thought, this can’t be true that I am doing this. It was an amazing thrill for me. It was emotional. If I can sort of reach back in time and tell that twelve-year-old who was busy dreaming that everything was going to work out, you know I think I would have.
I do admit that is a childhood dream come true. You went from taking classes at the Smithsonian to actually filming at the Smithsonian and all over Washington DC. What was your initial reaction that you get to film in your hometown?
Yeah, I flipped when Patty first told me about it. I got the script and I thought, “Wow, this is going to be amazing”. To go back in that capacity, I just thought it was great and not only to go back and shoot in DC but to go back and recreate 1984 which was you know I was twelve at the time. It was kind of around that time which I fell in love with movies. It seems like some magical set of circumstances.
I agree especially as a kid growing up in DC, its great to see all the historical landmarks like Commander Salamander coming to life. What should I, as a native Washingtonian should look out for? Are there any Easter eggs that I should recognize because I was only three years old in 1984?
If you were to slow down some of the Mall sequence and pause, I think you’ll see a lot of stores that were around in that time and we went to painstaking details to create them. My biggest contribution to that mall was telling the production designer and the set decorator and the art director that we had to put Time Out arcade in the mall and they said “What is this” The production designer is french and the art department team is all from England and they were like “What is this Time Out?” So they did a little research and found all these old pictures and recreated the look, and the design, and all the colors of Time Out. The graphics on the sign. It’s in the movie and if you blink, you would kinda miss it.
It’s things like that.. Spencer Gifts and I said that you have to make sure that you have these blacklight paintings and lava lamps in the front window. So, those were all the things that we want to do. Obviously. Commander Salamander was a big part of that. And the fact that we were able to recreate that on Wisconsin Avenue, not in the exact location but a few blocks up was a thrill.
Oh, there is one other thing. The restaurant where Diana is dining alone is right across from the Georgetown movie theatre. Of course, the movie theatre, we had these great titles from 1984 playing in the background. On that same little stretch, Ally Sheedy comes out of an I think its an antique store in St. Elmo’s Fire that was dressed as an antique furniture store, and its that exact set of stores rights there and restaurants where Gal is eating. That I didn’t find out until later but St Elmo’s Fire when they were shooting they were asking people to show up in costume for they were going to recreate Halloween in Georgetown which I didn’t think they end up shooting ultimately. I remember it went out all over the radio at the time. So that was kind of a cool connection there.
Landmark Mall is actually right down the street from me and it was amazing to see it come back to life. What were some of the best parts of filming the movie in the Nation’s Capital within the National Mall, Landmark Mall, and all over Georgetown?
Well honestly, the best part was being back in my hometown to see how much it has evolved and changed. You know, I lived in Northern Virginia growing up. I rented a place in Capitol Hill and I can walk to our locations. For me to get up early in the morning and walk down the hill and then into the Air & Space Museum and into the Hirshhorn and also have my family here, was just extraordinary to me.
I have sorta forgotten how beautiful DC is and how well laid out it is and everywhere you look it’s something historic or well-thought-out architecture in design. So that to me was the greatest part about being back.
No doubt about that and may I ask what part of Northern Virginia did you grow up in?
I grew up in Alexandria mainly. I did live in Fairfax for a year but most of my formative years were in Alexandria
What skills are essential you have to have in order to be a successful Director of Photography?
There are many, a Director of Photography or cinematographer is the right hand of the director and my responsibility is to help tell the story visually and create the look of the whole movie. I’ve worked with different people to achieve that. Basically, I achieve that through the camera and through lighting, those are my primary responsibilities. So you have to have an eye for photography and an understanding of how films work photographically but so much of my job is managerial as unsexy as it sounds. I’m in charge of a lot of people and a lot of people and I have to get on the same page and move in a certain direction. You know, I think it’s being clear-headed and well planned and allowing for other people to contribute and listening to their ideas just as you would in any other job when you’re in charge of a lot of distinct personalities that are creative.
What would you like to say to the people of the DMV to thank them to have Wonder Woman 1984 film in their area to not only allow the time capsule of 1984 to come to life but to show the goodness & greatness of the DMV area?
I would like to say thank you to everybody for allowing to shoot in such a beautiful city. Filmmaking can be invasive and inconvenient to a lot of neighborhoods. I found that DC embraced us and welcomed us when we shot there. It was great to see so many of your faces looking at us, watching us shoot, and cheering. Shouting out for Gal and Chris. It was just a thrill and I thought that it showcased the best of the people of the DC area.
Wonder Woman 1984, coming to Blu-ray & DVD – Tuesday March 30th – currently out on Digital and PVOD