At this year's SXSW Film Festival, first-time feature filmmaker Michael O'Shea's coming-of-age vampire film, The Transfiguration, made quite a well-received splash. For our latest Q&A feature, Daily Dead caught up with the film's cinematographer, Sung Rae Cho, aka Soichi (who used Canon Cinema EOS C500 and EOS 1D C, as well as Canon cinema zooms and primes on the project), to discuss what went into the making of the independent horror film.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Shoichi. How did you initially get involved as the cinematographer on The Transfiguration?
Shoichi: Thank you! Susan Leber (the producer) contacted me about two years before we actually shot the film and asked me if I’d be interested. I’m not usually too keen on shooting horror/slasher type of films, but knowing her filmography, and taking into account that someone as established as Susan was going out of her way to reach out and say she thought I was the right person for the project, that was more than enough reason to read the script. I was traveling in Europe at the time, so Mike O’Shea (the director), Susan, and I Skyped after I read the script. From right then, I knew I would like to be involved.
Where did filming take place and what did those environments add aesthetically and atmospherically to the film?
Shoichi: The movie was almost entirely shot on location in various parts of New York City, which most of us have called home for many years. A good chunk of it being shot in Rockaway, Queens. Rockaway is a very isolated part of New York that most New Yorkers only know as “a beach town beyond JFK.” The area was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy and though mostly recovered, you can still see the aftermath. Milo (the main character) lives and goes to school in Rockaway, and occasionally he takes an hour (or more)-long subway to more economically-injected yuppie parts of New York City. The contrast of Rockaway and the rest of the city, when he’s alone (which is most of the time) and with Sophie, hopefully, can be felt throughout visually.
What was the shooting schedule like for The Transfiguration?
Shoichi: It wasn’t the shortest schedule I’ve dealt with, but the main cast member being a minor cut down shootable time significantly, and the amount of location and travel time each day were vast. We had to prioritize efficiency and often sacrificed technical perfection, but hopefully never the performance and storytelling.
How much did you collaborate with director Michael O’Shea to come up with the right look for the film?
Shoichi: My working relationship with Mike was mostly a result of trust and transparency. We shot over a year after they asked me to be involved, so we had time for friendship and trust to grow. Luckily, Mike and I share the very similar sense of humor and, to many extents, we have a similar taste in cinema and appreciation of it. Mike being the first-time feature director could have been a challenge, but his aesthetics were always clear. As for coming up with the right look for the film: Mike has seen some of my work, and we mixed some of my style with that of ’90s American independents (vérité, shot on 16, naturalistic lighting if not available lighting)... all to “authenticate” the world that Milo lives in.
Did any other movies—horror or otherwise—influence how you wanted to shoot The Transfiguration?
Shoichi: Not one in particular, but yes, we watched Pleasure of Being Robbed, Chop Shop, and the earlier Kelly Reichardt films for inspiration. I personally would add Dardenne Brothers’ films, A Prophet, and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Creating a sense of realism without relying too much on a documentary style was crucial.
What was the most challenging or rewarding scene to shoot?
Shoichi: Mike might disagree on this, but looking back, every scene (that survived in the final cut or those omitted) was difficult but equally rewarding for me. The difficult but most fun scenes were whenever we were out on the streets and put the actors, Eric Ruffin (Milo) and Chloe Levine (Sophie) in the middle of a live environment in this big city.
When you look back at your time on set, is there a particularly funny or memorable moment that stands out?
Shoichi: Does getting pulled out of public transportation and interrogated by several NYPD officers count?
What other projects do you have on deck that you can tease? Is there anything you can tell us about your upcoming film Usagi?
Shoichi: Some news to be announced soon, and yes I’ve reading several scripts by other filmmakers as well as some by Mike.