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‘Maestro’ Cinematographer Matthew Libatique on Collaborating with Bradley Cooper: ‘He’s Evolved’

Writer, director and actor Bradley Cooper began working on “Maestro” years before the film went into pre-production. One person he turned to early on in that process was his collaborator on his directorial debut (“A Star is Born”), cinematographer Matthew Libatique.

On this episode of the award-winning Variety Awards Circuit Podcast, Libatique discusses his process for shooting one of the most emotional scenes in the film – the Thanksgiving scene where Felicia (Carey Mulligan) finally confronts her husband, Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) over his late nights away from home.

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In prepping for “Maestro,” the Oscar-nominated Libatique tells Variety: “What Bradley wanted to do was crack the code on the makeup and how he was going to physically transform into Lenny and working with Kazu (Hiro, the film’s prosthetics artist).”

The result was a 40-minute proof of concept where they shot actual scenes. It was through that process that Libatique learned about what lenses they liked and what format worked. “He’s always trying to make things better. I think as a director, that’s one of his trademarks,” Libatique says.

The cinematographer whose credits include “Black Swan” (for which he earned an Oscar nom), “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Fountain” and “A Star is Born” (his second Oscar nom) ended up shooting “Maestro” using different aspect ratios to mark the passing of time. For the black-and-white portion, he shot a 1.33:1. Aspect ratio. When the film moves into the 1970s, he switches to color, and much later swaps to 1.85:1 after Felicia dies.

Aside from Cooper, Libatique’s key collaborators were costume designer Mark Bridges and production designer Kevin Thompson.

“When I was presented with the palette, I don’t think that the color of photography would be as successful if it wasn’t for the choices made by both of them in terms of finding cues, saturations and colors that spoke to the period,” Libatique says. “I get credit for the photography, but it was the color that was placed before me. Mark had to make choices on what the characters wore and Kevin had to make choices on things that were in the set so he was sort of beholden to reality.”

As for his second collaboration with Cooper, Libatique says they are much more than just a DP and director working together. There’s a deep level of trust and openness to discuss ideas — and a friendship that has grown over the two films they collaborated on.

“Because of the amount of time between ‘A Star is Born’ and ‘Maestro’ and the time that we had together to work and talk about it and test, we got closer,” he says. “When you’re able to accomplish something that is successful and that you’re proud of, that friendship gets even more fortified.”

The cinematographer says he has seen Cooper evolve over the years as they swap ideas, and references and brainstorm over their collaborations. “Sometimes I’ll see a text from him saying, ‘This would be a good idea for this.’ And that’s the benefit of working with somebody multiple times. I think that’s why, and he’s evolved,” he says. “I have to evolve because I think a cinematographer has to embody the personality of the director to some degree, and as a director evolves, the cinematographer must adapt as well.”

First on this episode, the Roundtable sits down to share thoughts on the Oscar race, best actress, best actor and what they’ve been watching on TV.

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay, Emily Longeretta and Michael Schneider, who also produces, is your one-stop source for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives, discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines, and much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post weekly.

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