First Day Of Filming On Joker – Lawrence Sher, ASC

Film Courage: In the filmmaking process for
JOKER was there one scene (maybe the beginning of principal photography) where you said “This
is going to be great!” And it energized you and kept you on a momentum? Lawrence Sher, ASC: Yes. Honestly it was like the first shot that we
did. The first shot we did shooting the movie was
him [Joaquin Phoenix as Joker] at the social worker’s scene which is like the second
scene in the movie. So when he is laughing, that big laughing
spell and then she starts asking him about the job and that whole scene which is about
seven or eight pages or so…actually both social worker scenes and then when he comes
back the second time and he says “You never listen.” And all of that, we shot both those scenes,
it was like 10 pages of work in one day, not even a long day. But that first take of him performing I went
“This is going to be pretty great.” I was like “This movie could be divisive
because it’s darker than people expected or maybe not as funny as they would expect
from Todd [Phillips].” I knew there would be some things in which
you go “We might not get all of the Batman and the DC [Comics] fans on board. But what we’re going to make is going to
be something that we’re really proud of simply because I could see it from that performance
and honestly I would go home and excitedly show the dailies to my wife and just because
I was so excited to show her what we were doing. So I was feeling pretty strong and pretty
high about the movie from the beginning. Then it was really motivating because I recognized
“Oh, wait…so we can’t let off of the gas…ever.” As opposed to if you start slowly and you
start to get up to speed and by two weeks in you’re like “Oh now I understand the
movie and you start ramping and every day you’re trying to make it better and better.” Here I was like “Oh shoot, Day one was great. Day two was great, Day three also great scene.” Now it’s like every day has to be this good. So then it was a motivating to keep hyper-focused
on making something that I thought could be certainly the best thing Todd and I had done
together. And I wanted it to be the best thing I had
ever done. I just did. It was definitely a thing where I wanted this
to be the best work I’ve ever done. And so I just stayed super-focused everyday
to not let off of the gas. I was feeling pretty positive about the movie
right away. Film Courage: How much of the film is improvisational? Lawrence: I don’t know how much is improvisational? There is a lot of improvisation in the way
that we don’t rehearse and we don’t put down marks. We just start shooting the scene and witnessing
it in real time and that way it is very improvisational. As far as within the body of the scene, not
a ton. We did some scenes which were just ideas for
things, which were just ideas for things which were not necessarily in the script when we
first started that would just become sort of ideas that we could do like in the apartment
and things like that. And Joaquin was certainly fine to go off of
the script a little bit. Like for instance when he stood up and was
playing with the and was talking to himself like “Oh you’re a really good dancer.” That wasn’t in the script it was just happening
in real time and may have been discussions from Todd but for me and my team it was like
this is happening so let’s just photograph it but generally speaking Todd is not one
of those improv guys who goes “Now try this, now try that.” If we’re going to change the script he changes
it with the actors and the writer and he kind of works it out a new version of the scene
and then will just carry on from there and do that version as opposed to sort of changing
it within. The real improvisation is sort of in technique
and fluidity in which me and my camera operator we tell the story as we would shoot the scenes
and the fact that we would wouldn’t rehearse or put down marks or that sort of thing so
we would just make the movie a bit improvisationaly at times which was maybe half the time. Film Courage: Was it in the script that you
weren’t sure if scenes were in Arthur’s mind or really happening? Lawerence: I think that is just part of the
script inherently right? And part of the fact that the Joker (even
in the lore of the comic books) is an unreliable narrator of his own life so he will tell stories
and it’s like “Was that a truthful story?” I’m not a big comic book guy but I know
from reading stuff and talking to people that he’ll tell backstories about himself in
comic books and graphic novels in which every time he tells a story it’s something different. I think to create this idea that is he ever
being truthful? Is any of it true? Is none of it true? That kind of thing. So I think inherent to the script certainly
you’re left to question and ask yourself “Is that real?” Obviously we do it within the body of the
movie with the Sophie character [Zazie Beetz] and that relationship to allow us to sort
of see a manifestation of that idea in a relationship that he fantasizes about and that yet we’re
seeing it in a way that it looks like it’s happening. So I think it is meant to allow you to have
an interpretation as the audience to decide what is real and what is not. But it’s certainly not something that we
wanted to key in and tell the audience precisely what was and what is wasn’t because I think
we want the audience to have their own interpretation. Film Courage: Right and then the talk show
rehearsing for it and kind of being his best self…and no spoilers…but going there and
not knowing what was real. Lawrence: Yes and it was one of those things
that again TAXI DRIVER has been used as a template for the movie I think obviously because
it’s a disaffected guy who is doing a job and sort of strikes out against society a
little bit and has some of those correlations. But even that final scene in TAXI DRIVER when
he picks up Cybil Shepherd in the taxi cab is up for interpretation, right? I think when I watched it for the first time,
I questioned that interpretation. But when I watched it two weeks ago you recognized
how even how potentially obvious the stylistic aspects of some of the camera work in that
scene could lead you to believe that “Oh did Travis Bickle perish in that scene in
the lair of the Jodie Foster character. And this whole post script of him being a
hero and getting the letter from Jodie Foster’s parents and is that all just a dream or just
a fantasy of his afterlife or whatever? When I watched it when I was in film school
back in college I didn’t necessarily go to that interpretation. But I recognize that people do. So I think similarly I think people can do
the same thing here if they choose to.

13 Replies to “First Day Of Filming On Joker – Lawrence Sher, ASC”

  1. This was so good. Wonderful to hear cinematographers unpack theory and how it plays into their work actively. What a great subject, too! Lawrence Sher is humble, approachable master of his craft. Seems like you guys have a real knack for finding those people, and then asking a line of questions that mines the best of your time with them. Thank you guys!

  2. The year is ending, so make sure you can smile one more time to welcome an amazing new year. Happy 2020 to you, random viewer!

  3. After seeing a lot of videos, I wanted to thank you for the subtitles! Especially for us French people who want to learn from Americans about narrative techniques.
    Thank you and don't change, you are posting very important videos for all of us!

  4. Joker is probably the worst movie I've ever seen, just laughable after laughable line of dialogue. It's the movie an angsty teenager would make, and it thinks it's so deep but it's really just crap.

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