Cinematographer Chuck Ozeas on HBOMax’s recently renewed The Sex Lives of College Girls


Chuck Ozeas is a Los Angeles based, award winning Cinematographer. He “grew up” shooting iconic music videos for such varied artists as Smashmouth, Nine Inch Nails, Dave Mathews, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Dr Dre, Lil Jon, Wyclef Jean and many, many more.

His numerous commercial credits include spots for Toyota, GMC, BMW, Dodge, Subaru, Ikea, Ralph Lauren, Victoria Secret, Reebok, Nike, Coke and State Farm. His recent narrative work includes HBOMax and Mindy Kaling’s “The Sex Lives of College Girls”, which he spoke exclusively to ProductionHUB about. 

PH: Which scene was your favorite to work on in The Sex Lives of College Girls? 

Chuck Ozeas: Although I am a big fan of all the toys of filmaking like cranes, motion control, drones and steadicam – and of course we had them all on “The Sex Lives of College Girls”- there is one simply shot scene that is one of my favorites in season 1. It’s the scene in Episode 10 where Leighton comes out to Kim. Leighton has spent the entire season keeping her roommates at arm’s length to hide the fact that she is gay. Finally, toward the end of the season, having just broken up with Alicia, she has reached a point where she needs to reach out to someone. She is sad and lays crying in bed when Kimberly comes in to ask what’s wrong. 

PH: Describe this scene and the significance it has to the rest of the series.

Chuck Ozeas: I always start with the script. It’s something that I learned at USC Film and have always kept this as my guiding light. I read this scene as Leighton finally being honest with one of her roommates, and finally standing in her own truth. This connection with Kim is the complete opposite of how the two first meet in Episode 1, when Leighton is cold and rude to Kim. 

I imagined the sunlight streaming in toward Leighton – lighting her fully – baring her truth fully – while Kim is in half light that I used in most other narrative scenes. 

PH: What tools, plugins, or instruments did you use in your production of this scene? 

Chuck Ozeas: I shot the series on the Sony Venice with Leica Summilux primes. It was the first time I had shot long form with the Venice, and I have to say I got used to, and spoiled by the 2500 ISO very quickly! It allowed me to work very quickly and light in the style that I prefer, as naturally as possible. I was able to throw some sunlight through windows in many scenes and then just grip it in the interior with simple bounces or flags. For this scene I set the lens at a third open from a T2. In general I like to work with shallow focus, especially on dramatic scenes, as I feel it puts the audience inside the head of the actor. 

The camera has a very soft, nearly filmic base noise level, as well as a graceful gradual roll off into highlights and shadows that came in very handy in the lighting of this scene. I intentionally stretched the contrast in the scene from the top of the curve to the bottom…from the white sheers to the wide master silhouette. 

PH: What was the dialogue like between you and the series’ director or showrunner regarding this scene? 

Chuck Ozeas: Since this was late in the season, we all had had a lot of time working with both Renee (Rapp) and Pauline (Chalamet). We knew that both actresses could bring their all to each scene from the first take. In discussing the coverage with our director Liza

Johnson and show runner Justin Noble, we decided to capture both an over and single on Renee simultaneously with our wide silhouette master. Since the scene involved a lot of emotional output from Renee, we wanted to make sure to capture it all from the outset. 

PH: What technical challenges did you encounter while working on this scene? 

Chuck Ozeas: This is a perfect transition to how this coverage plan made lighting the scene a bit of a challenge! As we did in most of our scenes, we used three cameras to help with speed, but fitting cameras and lights into this small dorm room wasn’t easy. I placed the 20K key and a 4×4 frame far enough back outside the window that it would be clear of our wide master, realizing that I could gain a little more softness/diffusion to the light since I would be throwing it through the sheers on the window. Then for interior fill, I used what came to be my workhorse light in both Los Angeles and New York, the ETC Lustr Leko. We would hang them all over the place, just out of frame and bounce them into muslin rags or muslin floppies. In this case we used four, hung from the grid above the set and bounced them into rags that were stapled to the walls. It provided just the right amount of fill and eyelight….while not taking up any more floor space in the small dorm room. 

Additionally, I have to say that I am really proud of the look of the show, the naturalism mixed with touches of more expressive lighting to punch up important dramatic scenes. I got to work with an incredibly talented group from the top to the bottom of the call sheet. I have always enjoyed Mindy Kaling’s comedy and it was a joy watching her work on the show. That goes double for our show runner Justin Noble who’s attention to detail was amazing. Everyone on the crew brought their A-Game every day and I think it really shows. Filmmaking is such a collaborative medium, we work so closely that it is really important that we work well together, so I do want to say a special thank you to our camera team led by Jon Purdy, our Gaffer Carlos Torres, Key Grip Jack Nagle and the rest of our amazing crew.


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