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Immersed in Movies: Talking 'Argo' with Cinematographer Prieto

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood November 19, 2012 at 2:38PM

Rodrigo Pietro calls "Argo" a "visual tapestry." That's because the bizarre fact-based espionage thriller and best picture Oscar front runner required the cinematographer to craftily piece together various looks to pull off the creative hodgepodge of styles, genres, and locales.

However, scenes shot in Istanbul's historic Hagia Sofia locale were carefully done with the Alexa digital camera because of low light situations. But Prieto didn't like the fluorescent bulbs in the chandeliers, which gave off an ugly green hue, so he got permission to change them to tiny 7-watt incandescent bulbs to create golden points of light. The Turkish government was so impressed that it decided not to replace them afterward.

Meanwhile, they filmed the sequence at the Canadian Ambassador's home at a residence in Hancock Park, with Affleck encouraging the actors to stay there together for two weeks prior to the shoot. He used that familiarity to let them improvise.

But the location posed challenges for Prieto. "Ben wanted constantly to be rolling with two cameras to catch them improvising. However, the lighting was tricky because I had to make it look good in any direction and have it still be realistic. Also, the ceilings weren't high and Ben is tall, so it was hard keeping his lighting out of frame. I had to devise lighting instruments that were tight to the ceiling and still be able to control the lights so they weren't going all over the place."

Now Prieto has segued to another presumptive Oscar contender: Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," which takes place in the late '80s and utilizes the cinematographer's trademark naturalism. "Maybe I should do sci-fi next," he quips.

This article is related to: Immersed In Movies, Argo, Ben Affleck, Features, Production , Interviews, Interviews , Academy Awards, Awards, Awards, Oscars

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.