INTERVIEW: Sebastian Thaler Talks About His Work Lensing Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s starrer “7500”

Hi Sebastian, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Thank you, its good to back to work after Covid-19.

When did you realize you want it to be a cinematographer – was this something you always had a passion for or were you rather drawn into it?

Im asking this myself quite often, because I can’t really remember an active decision on that topic. My parents are both in the film industry. My mother was a line producer, she retired already and my father is also a cinematographer. My father took me very often on set when I was a kid, I found it always very fascinating, this magic that happened inside the film camera; to capture and freeze a moment of a particular time and ban it on celluloid. Later on I started to work with my father as often as I could during the school time, practically since I was 16 years old.

I understand you were under the guidance of some really big names while studying in Vienna such as Michael Haneke – what was that experience like and how did it shape your work as a cinematographer?

Studying at the film academy was a time of try and experimentation. It is a protected environment where it was allowed to make mistakes. To have been free of pressure of a failure and fearing consequences, I experienced my greatest moments of knowledge when it comes to finding solutions, solving problems and experimenting with new ways how to tell stories visually.

Speaking of experiences, let’s talk about 7500 – how did you get to join this project?

Patrick Vollrath and I studied together at the Film Academy. The first collaboration happened by chance, but soon we realized that we got on well artistically and privately. Already with our graduation film „EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY“, we shot long sequences to capture authentic emotional moments between a father and his daughter. Patrick took the experience from this film into the script of „7500“,  with long takes, free acting and a free camera with the restriction that the film should play in one room.

Correct me if I am wrong but I believe this is your third work in a feature length as the lead man behind the lens – how would you say you have grown since?

Yes, my first feature was „Ugly“ by Jury Rechinsky, the second one was „Falling“ by Marina Stepanska. You always grow with new projects. Every previous project influences you on the next one, despite that it is a different project, specially when you just starting. All three features are very different and has been challenging on different fronts which makes the achieved experience more rich. With every new project you have to conquer an even higher mountain, but that makes it so exiting, to acquire new skills, to find new ways to lens a story.

What’s like to work with new talent like Patrick – does it make the job much fun or rather challenging?

To work with Patrick is always fun because it’s always challenging. What I particularly appreciate about our collaboration is Patrick’s trust in my camera work and the mutual artistic complement. One look is enough and we both know whether it will go one way or the other.  As mentioned before, „Everything will be Okay“ was a kind of preparation and test run for „7500“ without my being aware of it during the shooting.

Speaking of challenges, I am guessing it was rather easy to shoot in one location or was it entirely the opposite?

It was entirely opposite, It’s hard enough to shoot in a room with different characters and a film team. But a tight airplane cockpit is an additional huge challenge. The pilots sit most of the time and have limited movement options. So the camera has to move, constantly find new perspectives and images that show the narrowness of the cockpit and, in order to do justice to a thriller, build up visual tension. To create an authentic atmosphere of the night flight, the lighting of the cockpit and the actors was particularly important to me. The cramped space was also a special challenge here, but we solved it well with my gaffer Jakob Ballinger. The shooting was preceded by a very long research, we visited a flight simulator to test the movements of the camera and were also allowed to fly in a cockpit, where we could closely observe the real work processes of the pilots and the lighting situation. We then tried to implement our findings accordingly in the film.

Working on such a small space – was it easy to get all the gears inside or did you guys get to build an entire cockpit section?

We bought the cockpit section from a junkyard for discarded aircrafts and the first 10 rows of the airplane including the galley. We almost didn’t change the size of the cockpit. We raised the ceiling in the cockpit section by 10 cm so that we could have one possible place to stand upright. To have access to our own cockpit made it easer to replace and add film lights. But one of the challenges was, to light the cockpit for 360 degree takes, which we almost always did. To shoot in one space sounds very easy but specially with the cockpit as our main set, didn’t make it easy at all. Every body had to follow strickt rules when, who and in what order the cockpit had to be entered by the crew to reset a scene, or pre- light it. There was just on way in and out, it was just the cockpit door.

In terms of gears, what made you want to go with a Arri, Celere lenses and Cine Reflect lighting system?

It was clear for me from the very beginning, that we would shoot on the Arri Alexa Mini due to the small space. We did think about even smaller cameras, but they were not good enough for our needs. The lens question was a tricky one. I wanted the most lightweight lenses for our 50 minutes takes, so the choice was quite limited when it comes to a bit more modern lenses. I combined the Zeiss Ultra Primes with the Celere HS Lenses. They where a perfect match.

I really liked the Cine Reflect lighting system for this Projekt. It was the perfect tool for prolonging the way of the light to reduce a fast light falloff. I like to bounce the light from surfaces and to redirect it into a certain space. It was also a very easy solution to create slow moving shadows, that where required to match our outside world with the happening in the cockpit.

What were some of the other challenges you guys encounter throughout the shooting?

The tight space remained the biggest challenge. It was important to give the actors the confidence that they can move freely in the cockpit without being disturbed by the camera. At the same time, I had to make myself as “invisible” as possible despite the spatial confinement in order to allow the actors the space for emotional development.

With all the COVID going on, were you initially aware this was going for Amazon Prime and did you work with this in mind or was this intended to go into theater and the situation kinda come as a bummer?

7500 was bought by Amazon already last year in Cannes and is released June as planned. The movie could be seen in theatres already end of 2019 respectively beginning of 2020 but just in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Speaking of which, when can people catch the movie?

Amazon releases the movie on June 19th.

What else is happening next in Sebastian Thaler’s world?

It’s hard to say after the Covid-19 shutdown, everything got quite uncertain and pushed back.

But I’m hopping the best.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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