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Beyoncé’s ‘Black Is King’ — Behind the Visuals With DP Santiago Gonzalez

https://variety.com/2020/artisans/awards/black-is-king-cinematography-beyonce-1234839158/

Beyoncé’s ‘Black Is King’ — Behind the Visuals With DP Santiago Gonzalez

Beyoncé’s “Black is King” earned nine Grammy nominations Tuesday, including song of the year and record of the year. The singer, who led the nominations, also received a nomination for Best Music Film. It was the fourth time she has been nominated in that category after winning for Netflix’s “Homecoming” and getting nominations for “Lemonade” and “Beyoncé & JAY-Z: On the Run Tour.”

“Black is King,” now streaming on Disney Plus, was executive produced by Beyoncé as a visual companion to her 2019 release, “The Lion King: The Gift.”

Cinematographer Santiago Gonzalez talked with Variety about how the visuals for the Grammy-nominated music film came together and collaborating with Beyoncé.

What conversations did you have with Beyoncé regarding the visuals for “Black is King?”

The project evolved as we shot. Most of the conversations about the look of the different sections I shot were discussed more with each specific director. I was in a lot of prep meetings with Beyoncé but those were after she and the director had landed on a general look and feel for the section. These meetings would be logistical and world-building and at times I would present to her my ideas for the lighting so we could get more granular about what was needed for each day.

After we shot the first section of “Find your Way Back,” the project seemed to grow larger in scope to eventually become “Black is King.” I was brought in to shoot “Find your Way Back” and “Bigger” with Kwasi Fordjour directing, which eventually led to me staying on for various other sections with several different directors and production designers. I filmed “Mood 4 Eva” with Dikayl Rimmasch directing and Ethan Tobman as production designer. I moved on to “Don’t Jealous Me” and “Otherside” with Emmanuel Adjei directing and Miranda Lorenz as production designer, and finally to “My Power” with Beyoncé directing and Hannah Beachler as production designer.

Beyoncé directed “My Power” and that section of the film was the one on which I collaborated with her the most. There was also a co-director, Julian Klincewicz, who operated a vintage Ikegani broadcast camera from the 1980s. Our discussions were mainly focused on the set, which was inspired by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film, “The Holy Mountain.” We wanted to make sure to show how grand the set was. I thought of it as a temple dedicated to the power of femininity — sisterhood and motherhood. We used wide lenses and low sweeping angles to add dynamism to the dance and show the grandeur of the space.

The Ultra-Wide 8mm Prime made each column feel huge and added speed to the camera movement and made the columns feel alive and large. One of the things Beyoncé reiterated on the day of the shoot was that she didn’t want to be the point of focus for any shots that included the featured artists (Tierra Whack, Busisswa, Moonchild and Nija).

You can see Beyoncé on the edge of the frame, or integrated into the group where all the artists are the same size in the scene. Because of this, and to show the set, I wanted to keep the lighting bright and with less of a key light. No one had their own beauty light and the lighting was designed to highlight the women’s natural beauty.

The narrative to “Find Your Way Back” is beautiful — can you break down how that was filmed and framed — and the vision behind this number?

“Find Your Way Back” was the first video I did for the project. I think at this time it was just being thought of as a video to be released independently and it wasn’t until we filmed scenes for “Bigger” that the scope of the project became a much larger film. It’s funny — when we were prepping for “Find Your Way Back,” the idea behind it at first was to shoot the entire video on drones.

We had a location near Pismo Beach and the idea was to film large wide shots with Beyoncé small in the frame and then come into a close-up, and variances on that. The shoot prep was so quick that even though I wanted a camera that I could carry around with us to shoot in between drone setups there was no time and so we proceeded with the drone idea.

On the shoot day, Beyoncé’s team arrived and to my excitement, they had a full Alexa Mini package with them and so I recruited some of the drone team to help me. I built my own camera, pulled my own focus and downloaded my own media, but this gave me the freedom to move faster during some of these shots.

To me, the song felt like it was a call to come back home, to come back to our ancestry and the journey that follows. I think the idea of Afrofuturism is introduced here — with celestial bodies, the Dogon Kanaga masks, etc. In the video, we see a lot of light scenes (desert) and dark scenes (Beyoncé laying down on a bed of stars, the comet landing, the lantern dance, a starry sky) which visually represent a journey and also a duality.

Another thing that was very present for me was the use of sequins and crystals in the fashion which we lit so that they could sparkle and glimmer like stars. Kwasi and I discussed framing her with a lot of negative space around her, primarily above her or to the sides and VFX proceeded to add the moon behind her in a lot of these shots. We scouted sand dunes for a full day and were looking for interesting shapes in the dunes, either very deep valleys or high ridges that would play well with the drone.

I felt terrible sending Beyoncé hundreds of yards down into a valley that I knew she’d have to climb out of later, but we got an incredible image from that. In my experience, she always has the vision to see what the payoff will be. Some of the framing came directly from me thinking about the cover art of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” — I composed a profile of Beyoncé with dancers in the back as an homage to that art.

“Mood 4 Eva” is another stunning visual, this time with prints — were there filters or specific lenses?

This video was the exact opposite of the simplicity of “Find Your Way Back.” Instead, “Mood 4 Eva” was a behemoth two-day shoot in which we had 20 big setups around a Beverly Hills mansion and my crew totaled around 40 people in both G&E and camera. The scope of the shoot was massive and we had quite a bit of prep for it.

This track is the “Hakuna Matata” of the “Black is King” narrative and thus we wanted the mood of this to be bright, with good contrast, and saturation to make it feel opulent. The idea for the video was a carefree lifestyle with a dreamscape harkening back to old Hollywood and culminating in a Busby Berkeley style aqua-musical fantasy.

The co-director for this section, Dikayl Rimmasch, wanted a vintage look but with images that felt poppy, rich and saturated in the grade. We decided to employ Kowa Cine Prominars — spherical lenses built in the 1960s. They gave us a vintage feel, looked great on skin tones, and had a warmer flare. I also used a diffusion filter to bloom the highlights just a bit and make the images slightly softer. The lighting was mainly designed to feel naturalistic and to make Zerina Akers’ amazing wardrobe stand out. I also wanted a lot of the window light to bloom so that we conveyed a dream quality to the video.

One of the main references for this video was the Esther Williams aqua-musical “Bathing Beauty,” which we used for framing and lighting of some of the synchronized swimming sections. Some other references used were Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America,” particularly for Beyoncé’s waking up scene, and Hype Williams’ film “Belly” for the club scene.


“Bigger” is a phenomenal display of visual wealth and riches — the water background, the colors — what went into that concept?

Disney Plus

“Bigger” is one of my favorite sections of the film. Everything came together for this section. There was a beautiful clear day and an amazing sunset that played beautifully for the scene. I did enhance the daylight slightly with a couple of big units, but besides that we played it natural — embracing the direct sunlight and not opting for a large overhead diffusion.

One of the recurring visuals that Beyoncé asked for was a drone shot that was a slow push from a very wide landscape to a mid-shot of her in a beautiful setting. We did one on Bigger and repeated this motif in several of the other videos. In addition to capturing some of her performance on the beach with a drone, I was able to shoot this in both a digital format and on film.

Half of the video was a performance with Beyoncé singing to the track which I filmed on an Alexa Mini with some Zeiss Super Speeds. In addition to the performance, we also shot an elaborate line procession in which Beyoncé carries a child and washes the child alongside other mother-like figures also holding babies.

For this section of the piece, I shot Kodak film with “Astra” Master Primes that were designed by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema who used them on the film “Ad Astra.” I opted to use film because I wanted it to feel different from her performance pieces.

This portion was all shot as a beautiful single-take shot by Steadicam operator Nick Muller that unfortunately didn’t make it through the edit process, which was really a shame. The shot followed Beyoncé carrying the baby with the frame moving from a very tight closeup to a wide and back and forth between the two. We ended up shooting the line procession through nightfall. I kept adjusting my stop until there really wasn’t any light left to get an exposure.

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ENTERTAINMENT

British Actor Johnny Flynn Excavates the Past for Hidden Truths in ‘The Dig,’ ‘Stardust’

https://variety.com/2021/film/actors/johnny-flynn-the-dig-stardust-1234885791/

British Actor Johnny Flynn Excavates the Past for Hidden Truths in ‘The Dig,’ ‘Stardust’

Johnny Flynn’s star has been on the rise in recent years, and will be propelled a little higher on Jan. 29 with the release of period drama “The Dig” on Netflix, in which he appears alongside Ralph Fiennes, Carey Mulligan and Lily James. Flynn most recently drew acclaim for his performances as Mr. Knightly in “Emma,” and as a young David Bowie in “Stardust.” Variety spoke to the British actor and musician about his choice of roles, and how he approached these films.

Flynn broke through in 2017 playing a charming psychopath in the BAFTA-nominated psychological thriller “Beast,” and as the young Albert Einstein in National Geographic’s anthology “Genius,” for which he was nominated for a Critics Choice Award. Other television credits include “Vanity Fair,” “Les Miserables” and “Lovesick.”

He was seen in three movies last year, playing opposite Anya Taylor-Joy in the comedy drama “Emma,” in noir thriller “Cordelia,” alongside Antonia Campbell-Hughes, and in “Stardust,” which was released in the U.S on Nov. 25 to mixed reviews, and opens in the U.K. on Friday.

He recently filmed heist musical “The Score” and World War II drama “Operation Mincemeat,” in which he portrays Ian Fleming, playing alongside Colin Firth. He has been cast in Holocaust drama “One Life,” in which he stars alongside Anthony Hopkins, and in the role of Dickie Greenleaf in Steve Zaillian’s “Ripley” for Showtime.

As well as choosing films that range across genres, Flynn selects a mix of leading and supporting roles. “Playing David Bowie, although it was quite a short shoot, was a lot of work and a lot of preparation obviously, [as well as] losing weight and studying his voice and his movement,” he says. “And then if you’re in every scene like that on a film, it’s quite nice not to go into another thing where you’re doing the same because I give quite a lot of myself to the projects — I give everything — and it would kill me to go from job to job playing the person who’s carrying a story.”

He adds: “I see myself as a character actor, looking for interesting people, and interesting stories, and stories that need to be told because they might change people’s lives for the better; it might affect them in a good way, and shine a light on something that people don’t know about.

“So I think about the broader story and then the characters and whether I can do a good job with them, and often it’s also about who you will be working with. Something like ‘The Dig’ was a bit of a no brainer — to work with those amazing actors and everybody that worked on it. It was a ‘pinch me’ moment doing scenes with Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, Lily and Ken Stott.”

In “The Dig,” which is set in 1939 as Britain prepares for war with Germany, Flynn plays Rory Lomax, the cousin of Edith Pretty, a wealthy widow (Mulligan), who has hired an amateur archaeologist (Fiennes), Basil Brown, to excavate the burial mounds on her property at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. Rory assists with the work and takes photographs of the dig. When they unearth an Anglo-Saxon burial ship, a team from the British Museum led by Charles Phillips (Ken Stott), and including young female archaeologist Peggy Preston (James), descend on the site, demanding that they should take charge.

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Courtesy of Netflix

“I love it as a history geek for connecting these two moments in the past: the summer of 1939, when there’s this sense of impending doom as Europe starts to dive into its own version of the Dark Ages [and the early medieval period],” Flynn says. “They unearth this kind of portal to another time that allows them to see beyond the horizon of their own very dangerous situation in that temporal moment. I found it profound and weirdly moving for that reason.”

In the film, we learn that Rory has applied to join the Royal Air Force, where he will train to be a fighter pilot, ready to fight for the skies above his home country with the Luftwaffe — a period of the war that would come to be known as the Battle of Britain. The danger facing Rory is hinted at when Edith repeats something her late husband had said to her: “If you want your sons to die, let them join the Royal Air Force.”

Flynn says: “My character is a vehicle through which you go: ‘Oh, my God, he’s this young, emblematic character, a symbol of the young men that are about to go off to war.’ And in my research, I was reading a lot about young pilots’ experiences of going off to fight in the Battle of Britain, and you learned that nearly all of them died within the first six months of the war.”

“Stardust” is also a period film of sorts. It is set in 1971 at a low point in Bowie’s career, during a disastrous trip to the U.S. to promote his album “The Man Who Sold the World.” During this time the seeds were planted that led to the creation of his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, and a flowering of his creative output.

Flynn had been wary of playing the role at first, even though he was a “big fan” of Bowie. “I thought this is just a really risky thing to take on, and I’m not sure if it’s something that can be done well,” he says. However, after meeting the director Gabriel Range, he was convinced. “There is this amazing story about David that we don’t really know. We think that he just arrived as this kind of confident, God-like superpower of pop culture, but actually he was desperately insecure and fragile in this period, and had had a lot of failure.”

An important part of the story, told in flashbacks during the film, relates to the bouts of mental illness that afflict Bowie’s brother Terry, prompting him to fear that his life will be similarly blighted.

“We’re all fragile in one way or another, and I found that [storyline] really helpful, and it spoke to me at a time when there’s so much stigma around mental health, and the way people are treated. [Bowie] is terrified of his mind falling apart and crumbling, and I understood that Ziggy was born out of this desperate need to save himself from himself,” Flynn says.

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Courtesy of Film Constellation

He compares the film’s exploration of Bowie’s past to archaeology. “You think of something so fresh and interesting and weird and wonderful and innovative as Ziggy Stardust, but when you go along the different strands of what makes it up, you can work out: ‘Oh he was putting together the energy of New York punk with this strand of French chanson.’”

There are two pivotal scenes in the film that illustrate Bowie’s growing interest in alternative personas. In one, he witnesses a doctor using role play as a form of therapy at the psychiatric hospital where Terry is confined. In another, he goes to see Velvet Underground play in New York, and after the gig he talks to the lead singer, who he thinks is Lou Reed but turns out to be Doug Yule. “We have this cheeky scene where [Yule] says, ‘Well, what’s the difference between really being a rock star, and somebody pretending to be a rock star?’” Flynn says.

Through such interactions, the film suggests, Bowie was able to make the leap to becoming Ziggy. “He suddenly goes, ‘Oh, I don’t have to be my tortured, authentic self; I can find my artistic truth by being somebody else. And it felt like, for me, the big realization in playing him and what the story is about is that he had what he needed all along: he was just looking in the wrong place,” Flynn says.

The actor doesn’t rule out a move into blockbuster movies, but would want the films he appears in to have artistic merit. “I feel like if I’m going to give my heart to a film — knowing the way I invest in things and what I give to projects — it has to be really, really, really good, and morally valid. You know, there’s a danger with big commercial films that there’s a degree of cynicism in them, and I can’t really make things with any compromise.”

He adds: “I find that the stories that I’m really interested in telling and the characters that I’m interested in playing are outsiders or they’re quite often real people who we’re looking at from a different perspective, whether it’s Ian Fleming or David Bowie or Albert Einstein. I’m not so interested in those kind of clichéd, leading man type roles, usually. And often the stuff that I find is really valuable is in those smaller films, with greater risks taken. I’m interested in taking risks.”

“Stardust” will be released in the U.K. and Ireland on Jan. 15. “The Dig” arrives globally on Netflix Jan. 29.

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ENTERTAINMENT

Zayn Shares New Album ‘Nobody Is Listening’

https://www.complex.com/music/2021/01/zayn-new-album-nobody-is-listening

Zayn Shares New Album 'Nobody Is Listening'

Zayn‘s third full-length studio album, Nobody Is Listening, is out now.

As has been clear throughout the rollout process, Zayn was involved in every aspect of the Nobody Is Listening, including co-writing the entire project and designing the cover art.

“Just wanna say, it feels great to share this with you all!” Zayn told fans as the album made its way to streaming services on Friday. “Everyone’s support and love means a lot. Here’s to a great year. Hope [it’s] better than the last!”

Back in September, Zayn and partner Gigi Hadid announced the birth of their first child together.

“The love I feel for this tiny human is beyond my understanding,” Zayn said when sharing a photo of his and Gigi’s newborn daughter. “Grateful to know her, proud to call her mine, and thankful for the life we will have together.”

zayn
Image via Nabil

The new album arrives a little more than two years after Zayn’s sophomore effort Icarus Falls, which featured collaborations with Timbaland and Nicki Minaj.

To celebrate the new album’s release, Zayn has also gifted fans with the chance to buy some new merch pieces including coffee mugs, stickers, socks, beanies, face masks, phone cases, pins, and more.

Stream Nobody Is Listening, which Zayn considers his “most personal project to date,” below via Spotify:

The album, of course, is also available on Apple Music, YouTube, Tidal, etc. Click here for more.

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ENTERTAINMENT

Zayn Shares New Album ‘Nobody Is Listening’

https://www.complex.com/music/2021/01/zayn-new-album-nobody-is-listening

Zayn Shares New Album 'Nobody Is Listening'

Zayn‘s third full-length studio album, Nobody Is Listening, is out now.

As has been clear throughout the rollout process, Zayn was involved in every aspect of the Nobody Is Listening, including co-writing the entire project and designing the cover art.

“Just wanna say, it feels great to share this with you all!” Zayn told fans as the album made its way to streaming services on Friday. “Everyone’s support and love means a lot. Here’s to a great year. Hope [it’s] better than the last!”

Back in September, Zayn and partner Gigi Hadid announced the birth of their first child together.

“The love I feel for this tiny human is beyond my understanding,” Zayn said when sharing a photo of his and Gigi’s newborn daughter. “Grateful to know her, proud to call her mine, and thankful for the life we will have together.”

zayn
Image via Nabil

The new album arrives a little more than two years after Zayn’s sophomore effort Icarus Falls, which featured collaborations with Timbaland and Nicki Minaj.

To celebrate the new album’s release, Zayn has also gifted fans with the chance to buy some new merch pieces including coffee mugs, stickers, socks, beanies, face masks, phone cases, pins, and more.

Stream Nobody Is Listening, which Zayn considers his “most personal project to date,” below via Spotify:

The album, of course, is also available on Apple Music, YouTube, Tidal, etc. Click here for more.

Continue Reading

ENTERTAINMENT

J Balvin’s Merch Collab With McDonald’s Has Been Called Off

https://www.complex.com/style/2021/01/j-balvin-mcdonalds-merch-canceled

J Balvin's Merch Collab With McDonald's Has Been Called Off

The J Balvin x McDonald’s collaborative merch collection has been called off.

The collection, meant to serve as an extension of Balvin’s collaborative relationship with the fast food brand after unveiling his own custom meal, has reportedly been canceled due to a production-related issue. 

According to Business Insider, it was reported that customers had received an email from management company Vibras Lab in which it was announced that the orders had been canceled due to an “issue with our supplies” that resulted in the team’s “expectations with the products” not being met.

J Balvin
Image via McDonald’s

In addition to being refunded for their purchases of the merch pieces, customers will be sent a beanie and “a note from J Balvin.”

Complex has reached out to McDonald’s for additional comment. A rep for Balvin confirmed to Business Insider that the issue resulted from “production challenges.”

J Balvin
Image via McDonald’s

The collection was first announced back in October and was originally set to include bucket hats, lawn chairs, burger-shaped slippers, tablecloths, glasses, and much more.

“Not only did I want to bring my personality to the McDonald’s menu, I also wanted to share my energy and creativity in a way that elevates our partnership through an exclusive merch collection that we created with my team,” Balvin told Complex when unveiling the collection last year.

J Balvin
Image via McDonald’s

McDonald’s, of course, enjoyed some truly otherworldly success when it came to the merch aspect of Travis Scott’s collaboration with the burger icons. In addition to the initial round of collab march, La Flame also gave fans a shot at scoring Cactus Jack x McDonald’s pieces and a special run of Cactus Plant Flea Market interpretations.

Continue Reading

ENTERTAINMENT

J Balvin’s Merch Collab With McDonald’s Has Been Called Off

https://www.complex.com/style/2021/01/j-balvin-mcdonalds-merch-canceled

J Balvin's Merch Collab With McDonald's Has Been Called Off

The J Balvin x McDonald’s collaborative merch collection has been called off.

The collection, meant to serve as an extension of Balvin’s collaborative relationship with the fast food brand after unveiling his own custom meal, has reportedly been canceled due to a production-related issue. 

According to Business Insider, it was reported that customers had received an email from management company Vibras Lab in which it was announced that the orders had been canceled due to an “issue with our supplies” that resulted in the team’s “expectations with the products” not being met.

J Balvin
Image via McDonald’s

In addition to being refunded for their purchases of the merch pieces, customers will be sent a beanie and “a note from J Balvin.”

Complex has reached out to McDonald’s for additional comment. A rep for Balvin confirmed to Business Insider that the issue resulted from “production challenges.”

J Balvin
Image via McDonald’s

The collection was first announced back in October and was originally set to include bucket hats, lawn chairs, burger-shaped slippers, tablecloths, glasses, and much more.

“Not only did I want to bring my personality to the McDonald’s menu, I also wanted to share my energy and creativity in a way that elevates our partnership through an exclusive merch collection that we created with my team,” Balvin told Complex when unveiling the collection last year.

J Balvin
Image via McDonald’s

McDonald’s, of course, enjoyed some truly otherworldly success when it came to the merch aspect of Travis Scott’s collaboration with the burger icons. In addition to the initial round of collab march, La Flame also gave fans a shot at scoring Cactus Jack x McDonald’s pieces and a special run of Cactus Plant Flea Market interpretations.

Continue Reading
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