Marvel's latest Disney+ series Moon Knight just wrapped up last week and we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Andrew Droz Palermo, the cinematographer on “Summon the Suit” and “The Tomb.” In the interview, we discussed which comic books he sought out after he got brought onto the project, which shots were most complex and evolved on the day, and whether he would rather go up against the Green Knight or Moon Knight.
Maggie Lovitt: So when you signed on to work on Moon Knight, was there any film or any comic book that you were like, “I have to read this. I have to watch this before I dive into this project.”?
Andrew Droz Palermo: I bought the omnibus and read through that. A lot of that is in a much older illustration style. Once I was on the ground in Hungary, Marvel gave me pretty much every run [and] more recent runs. Those were much more exciting for me visually. There was just something going on in them. There were more psychological things going on. A lot of like playing with reality. That's when I was like, this is more exciting visually than I was expecting. I thought that I could make something, if I never got excited about the comics, I thought, “Oh, we can still do something. I'm sure we can figure it out. We'll make something cool.” But it was great to see that there already was a lot of really good imagery.
Were there any particular arcs that really caught your attention in the comics?
Yeah, the whole stuff with him in the psych ward. I guess it's a Smallwood run. There were a couple of images in that. Maybe one of the covers is like him taking his own face off. It looks like Face/Off the movie. Then there are a bunch of things like opening doors and it just being like cosmic outside or opening a door and seeing New York City under sand, but with pyramids. And just the possibility that everything was in his head, and that every character could be any character. Like characters from his past were now playing different roles. There's a great image, I think, also in those runs, where there's a slate where he [has] a clapper board where he's directing his own movie. There's a movie within a movie. I think Roger Deakins is credited as the cinematographer in that drawing. So it's fun that there was a meta layer to the show, or could have been a meta layer to the show. We, of course, go to show a show within the show with that Tomb Busters thing.
Yes! You got to bring some of that psych ward into one of your episodes. What was it like kind of getting to translate that onto the screen? And were there any kind of challenges that arrived with creating some of those really neat camera effects with having two Oscar Isaacs?
The mental hospital in general was great to film. I mean, it was such a refreshing change of pace just to have a totally different look in the middle of such a long amount of work. You start to lose the spark for what you're shooting. So I had to, let's say, shoot in the same room for that entire duration, you would try to find ways to make it interesting to yourself. So in this show, to have all these different genres popping from genre to genre, I was like, “Oh, then I don't grow tired of shooting the same thing, because I'm shooting different things nearly every day.” That set had its own visual challenges of just trying to make white on white look interesting, and to have shape, and to have depth.
To your other question, the reflections could be very confounding at times. You think setting a person in front of a mirror and filming them would be easy, but it's so much more complicated. Particularly because the camera is an observer. So you standing in front of a mirror does not mean that I'm always going to see your reflection. If I'm trying to get an over-the-shoulder, or if I'm trying to get a profile shot, it's really difficult. So you start to do tricks of shifting in the mirror or shifting the person who's in the reflection. Those challenges just get further compounded every time you move the camera. Because then everything is just amplified. You need to repeat the camera move and you need to be able to make the actor stay in the same place. So, just all kinds of things that will keep me up at night, but I'm thankful to be done with these reflections.
You mentioned the Tomb Busters television show within a television show. Was that something that you got to film early on in the process or something that was filmed after most of the principal photography for the episode was wrapped?
We pretty much filmed in order. Episode one was more or less done in two weeks. I was more or less wrapped. There were certain things, like some second unit work, which we knew. There were always little missing pieces of action sequences or maybe a shot of Moon Knight that was particularly VFX heavy [that] we just never saw. But that was pretty far down the road. That was so refreshing. Like I mentioned, [it’s] just really refreshing shift of gears.
I was laughing the whole time while I was lighting it because I got to light [it] in a way that was overly studio lit. It's so a la mode right now to make things feel a little more natural. You can add moments of expressiveness, but no one wants it to feel like it's filmed on a stage. Everyone wants things to feel as though you're actually going through a tomb, or you're wherever you might be. So to be able to backlight that heavily and to do this really cool blue reflective, water light. Also just to watch the actors hamming it up and doing an acting style that's also not popular anymore. Such a blast!
Some of the dialogue was just absurd [too]. There's a line I think that didn't even make the cut, that I kind of chuckled to myself about and when I recall it. He says that he wishes he had chosen his birth mother to raise him instead of Mother Nature. It’s so cheesy.
That fits in well with Marc’s storyline too. You mentioned working with VFX. I think Marvel's very well known for all of the CGI-heavy footage that they do with the blue screens and green screens. What does that like as a cinematographer, knowing that a lot of the visuals will be added in post?
I mean, thankfully, in our show, much of it was there. A lot of it was set extension. Things like the collapse, what we call the collapse chamber, where Layla was scaling that sand wall in episode four and she has a long conversation with Harrow. That wall was there and everything that she walked on was real. But when you pop out super, super wide, obviously, we're on a set. They could extend it out and make it feel more cavernous.
But I have to say, on a whole, a lot of it was there. Which was really helpful for me to visualize the frame. If it wasn't, it was simple stuff like, maybe I need to put a blue screen behind Oscar here because of the reflection stuff that we're going to try to do. Or maybe there's a blue screen at the end of an alley because it's so clearly Budapest instead of London. Our VFX supervisors were great and so helpful. If there were things we were both kind of scratching our head about, we could work through them together. I really, really enjoyed my collaboration with that team.
You got to utilize so many really cool locations both on set and the actual locations. Were there any plans that you had that you then had to shift a little bit once you've got on location?
There's a sequence in episode two that actually flies by now and I can't believe it was so dramatic when we shot it. When Layla hands Steven the Scarab in Harrow’s commune, they run up a series of stairs and they have a brief little fight, and she throws somebody off the stairs, and then they go into Harrow’s chambers. That was a shockingly difficult shot to shoot.
The stairs were maybe half the width of a person's foot, they were incredibly steep. I don't know that they had handrails so there were just lots of concerns about safety and needing to hide the fact that at some point it becomes stunt doubles instead of actors. Finding cuts and trying to make it kinetic while still safe for everyone… It flies by [and] you never even notice the shot. It doesn't appear hard, but the amount of planning and conversations that went into that shot and then ultimately it changed on the day. It became something very different.
We thought we were going to shoot it on a crane. It just wasn't really working how we hoped. It was taking longer than we had hoped. So we ended up shooting handheld. I felt deeply bad about that because you know you pitch your directors on something [and] you are really selling them this idea. You really want to provide the shots quickly and it wasn't going well and I was so apologetic to them and they're like “Dude, what are you talking about? We wanted it handheld the whole time. We're getting exactly what we wanted.” Okay, great. Well then, you know, I don't feel as bad.
That feeds into another question. Talking about shots that seem like they take so long and then they're like a blip on the actual episode. I work in film, I know how long a day on set can be. What was it like on the set of Moon Knight? How long was your longest day?
You know, we were pretty good about not going into overtime. We did 10-hour days [and] we had a working lunch so we would eat on set. My days could be a little longer because I might come [in] before to provide a little bit or to get the lights going. 12 [or] 13 hours, maybe. It was pretty good on [the] crew. It got longer towards the end of the shoot. We were up against it with Oscar and Ethan's availabilities at the end of the shoot.
It was a tough shoot, because it was long. I think it was 100, maybe 120 days, total of shooting. I had times where I was prepping. So I may shoot for seven days, but then I got to prep for a week or two weeks and then come back. Whereas the camera operators and the ACS and script supervisors and the grips and the electricians: they were shooting straight through. They never got that time to be in the office and get to use the bathroom when they wanted to [or to] have a coffee whenever. I think I even went away to Vienna for one long weekend at one point. Not to say that it was a cakewalk, but as far as filming experiences go it was definitely nicer than some.
Moon Knight has been praised for not utilizing the “yellow filter,” which is so wonderful. Was that something that was very intentional in the planning for how the scenes were going to look?
When we first scouted in Jordan, I think we all kind of looked at our scouting photos and talked about it and wanted color contrast. I think Greg Middleton and I both wanted color contrast. So the sky should still be relatively a blue sky. The sand should retain, more or less, its color. We didn't want to put some visual stamp on something.
I know that goes even deeper than that for someone like Mohamed [Diab] who's seen Egypt portrayed on screen and look nothing like the Egypt he knows. [An Egypt that] looks like you're wearing rose-colored glasses [with a] sand-colored filter on the front of it. I think there's a time and place for those treatments. When something is needing to express a particular heat or warmth that a character is going through. But our show is not about a trek through the sand and how difficult and hot it was. Our show is a little bit of a globe trotting show and we wanted to express the Egypt that was familiar to someone like Mohamed. So I'm glad that he was able to achieve that and that he feels good about the representation of his country.
I want to wrap up the interview with a fun question. You've worked on both The Green Knight and Moon Knight. Who would you rather go up against the Green Knight or the Moon Knight?
I don't even know exactly who the Green Knight is. We are very familiar with who Moon Knight is. [We] know he has the backing of a god. I think that seems like somebody I probably wouldn't want to mess with. There's some like mystery and mysticism to the Green Knight. You don't fully know his measure. He has a twinkle in his eye that he enjoys the game that he set before Gawain. You just can't trust him. I feel like I wouldn't want to go against the Green Knight, now that I think about it. I wouldn't want to go against the grain of Mother Nature himself, [who is] as old as time. Marc is Marc. Marc’s just a man with the backing of a god.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Marvel Studios.
Maggie Lovitt is a writer at Wealth of Geeks where she covers her favorite topics: Star Wars and pop culture nerdery.
In her free time, she is also a novelist, screenwriter, actor, and member of the Screen Actors Guild.