Award-winning Filipino cinematographer Matthew Libatique is behind two large movies out this month: “Venom” and “A Star is Born.”
On a recent interview in a Beverly Hills hotel, Libatique told us about Bradley Cooper's vision, filming at the famous Coachella Music Festival, and Lady Gaga's warmth. Below are some excerpts.
On having two movies out at the same time:
First of all, I have nothing to do with having the two movies out on the same week. It just so happen that the release dates of both movies were on the same week. I feel really fortunate and it is an exciting weekend for me and my crew. People are making a big deal with it but I am just happy that people are seeing the movies.
On working with first-time director Bradley Cooper on “A Star is Born”:
Technically, he is not really new. From the very first meeting I had with Bradley, I knew he had what it takes to be a director. He had a vision. We figured out things together — about Lady Gaga, with his writers.
He already had the idea and the soul. He has the vision as a cinematographer and that makes it easy for me. I can concentrate on creativity. I do not need to worry. I trust the person. You decide to trust him. That is a very crucial element when working with the director especially for me.
On the filming process as being inspirational for both of them:
We settled into a rhythm. We did not need to worry about how all these shots would cut together but we would approach every scene every day with the eye of putting the camera on the performers; Lady Gaga as an actor dealing with Bradley Cooper as a first-time director and musician.
The camera cannot dictate things. We gave the performers all the freedom, comfort and the safe space that they need to be able to be good performers.
People believe the performers because when they watch the movie, they believe the characters whether it be between Ally (Lady Gaga) and Jackson (Bradley Cooper) or Jackson and Bobby (Sam Elliott). You can believe in each one of them because the performers felt safe and that was our main objective.
We could feel [when something] was wrong [and so] instead of continuing the same shot, we [would] just change shot.
I think it is a combination of Bradley’s personality and the freedom in creativity when working with him. He is wearing different hats as a musician, as a director, and as a actor; he has different responsibilities.
The focus is not only on what they do for a living. In a strange way, I didn’t have to be precious with the light, and I did not have to be precious with the composition. I felt free to react. So when I look at the film, that’s exactly what happened.
On filming at Coachella and taking over the stage to film the movie:
It was the strangest way to start a film. We knew we only had x amount of performances in the movie. Our production designer Karen Murphy spearheaded the idea of looking for a location to shoot the stage scenes. We knew we did not have the budget. We knew we can’t shoot this in one stage. We don’t have the money. We should try to find a place.
Coachella was happening at the beginning of our schedule. Bradley and Bill Gerber, our producer, coordinated with Coachella. Hats off to them because we were able to take over their stages and we shot three of their stages so we had that feel. So it made us feel that Jackson was touring in different countries. I have been on stage before but with this one, the music was in my ear and I was operating a handheld camera.
So you can actually feel that energy of being onstage in front of thousands of people. Sometimes we didn’t have anybody there and we just added them, and sometimes we had 200 or 300 people or tens and thousands of people. Personally, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to get a taste of being a rock star.
On Jennifer Lawrence recommending him to Bradley Cooper:
I owe Jennifer a phone call or a bouquet of flowers or something. I walked on the set of “mother!” one day and Darren Aronofsky said to me, “Bradley Cooper wants to meet with you about ‘A Star is Born.’”
I was focused on ‘mother!’ and Darren does not usually speak about anything else but just about the movie he is working on. So I thought that was odd.
The words 'Bradley Cooper' and 'A Star is Born', I didn’t understand so I just let it go. When we wrapped, I asked Darren again about what he was talking about Bradley Cooper. He said, “Jen told Bradley you were great. He wants to talk to you. I should thank her, too."
I met Bradley with an open mind. After I wrapped, I called my agent and asked, “What’s this about Bradley Cooper?” And he said, “Yes, he is directing ‘A Star is Born’ and he wants to meet with you."
I didn’t know what I was going to expect going in. But when I met Bradley, I found an extremely intelligent and earnest person who wants to do a film that is full of heart, romance and music. I didn’t care if it was a remake because he convinced me that it really did not matter. He made me realize that he just wanted to tell a story. So you really cannot judge a book by its cover.
On working with Lady Gaga:
Because of Bradley’s personality, he was able to create a focused and family-like environment on set. He wanted to create a safe space for her because he knew the safer she feels, the better she will be able to perform.
There’s a lot of internal stress going on already in an actor, so they need to feel safe and protected and allowed to go to places and reach places that maybe are uncomfortable but can make their performances genuine.
So I also wanted to be relaxed around her. No stress.
I didn’t think of her as Lady Gaga but as an actor in order to flourish and succeed. She was incredibly warm and a genuine person. Both of them were genuine. It was nice to see them perform together. I feel very fortunate. Sometimes I pinch myself but I don’t get starstruck because I have a professional obligation to make sure that the brightest of stars have a safe place to work.
On his cameo in the movie and the reaction of his family upon seeing him on the big screen:
Of course my family got excited! I am Filipino so what can you expect. On this being my first cameo, I think I have done it before but not as big onscreen as this one. So I will say yes.
There are two actors putting themselves out there in another realm: When Bradley said you will be the photographer. My first instinct was no I have other things to do. But because of the spirit of the film, I thought maybe I should try something new so I did it.
There were lines made for me but I can’t remember my lines so I improvised. I didn’t even know if I would make the cut. But I was able to sneak myself in there when she got the Grammy Awards, didn’t I? — LA, GMA News