To speak about Pablo Lago Dantas is to speak of precise photography direction and about a broad and diverse career. Fiction, documentary film, advertising, and other audiovisual projects make up his portfolio. In this interview, we ask him about his work method, his inspirations, and recent and upcoming projects.
Hi, Pablo. We know that when you get involved in a project you do it from the pre-production stage to post-production. What leads you to put your contribution at each stage of the process?
I consider that the work of cinematography should begin whenever possible in the initial phase of each project, exploring the different alternatives to configure, together with the director, a consistent aesthetic concept that is capable of giving the project a character and a unique tone. In this sense, the possibility that the project will mature in all its facets at the same time allows the aesthetic concept not to be separated from the narrative concept, and a compact and consistent work can be consolidated in this way.
Personally, I like the pre-production phase, because it is the time to imagine, to try to detach from all the preconceived and standardized concepts, to find the most suitable path for each job. Looking for references, discussing them with the director and the different department heads, searching the soul of each project. I really like cinema, and in particular, I like to enjoy it while I have some creative projects in mind, which allows me to come up with new ideas and relate them to films that I think can contribute to each project.
In the production phase, the contribution of the cinematographer is evident. In my case, I also think that it is important to be in permanent contact with the other departments, to make a joint effort with the assistant director to carry out the shooting plan, to constantly communicate with art direction, combining aesthetic synergies, trying not to hinder the needs of the sound department, etc. I think cinema is a team profession, and to achieve an excellent result, each piece of the puzzle must help others to fit together.
In post-production, in addition to the fact that whenever I can I like to take care of the color correction myself, I also like to comment on the rhythm or the structure of the edition, trying, as far as possible, to advise the director on any doubts can raise this phase.
You are a dynamic cinematographer who operates the camera yourself in most scenes. What advantages do you enjoy with this way of working?
Well, it is difficult for me to imagine the idea of working light and framing separately, although I know that it is often worked in this way, especially in more industrialized productions. Lighting is always set from a single point of view, that of the camera, therefore, when I think of lighting scheme, it is always from the conceptualization of the frame. And it is a process of constant feedback since once I mount the light scheme, I look for the frames that favor this scheme.
On the other hand, as an operator, I like to work each shot as if it were a sequence shot, thinking about the action that is happening, but also the one that is going to happen, and highlighting each part of the tension in the scene, through maintenance of the frame, playing with the spectator's imagination by leaving parts of the action off the field, and conferring a suitable rhythm for each aesthetic concept previously worked for each project. Although it can later be edited in one way or the other. It is difficult for me to delegate all this work.
Communication with the director of each project is key. How do you usually work with them? And how do you plan your activity in the alter. projects in particular?
As I have already commented before. I am used to working from the initial phase of the project, giving ideas and relationships with other works. Only through dialogue is knowledge generated, and conceptually it must be clear to all if the tone of the project is far or close, sensory or narrative, warm or cold, dark or bright, slow or dynamic, or if we are looking for a smooth or strong texture, etc. In general, I give opinions and look for answers, but all these concepts must come out of the director (especially if it is an auteur film), so sometimes I try to search the deepest origin of each idea so that all this information comes naturally. Like I was a psychologist.
During filming, it is another song. Here it depends on the relationship with the director. With the ones I have been working for many years, they trust me completely, and we understand each other well through looks, movements, short indications, etc. Especially if the pre-production work has been adequate. When I enter a project in the middle of production, or if I am not so confident with the director, the pauses to address the filming are usually more constant. But it is always important that the director feels comfortable with what he sees and with what we are doing. If not, it is an indicator that we are not doing things well.
In alter. projects, I always work with director Pol Barrós. This is an advantage, because we have known each other for a long time, and we have a very good relationship inside and outside of work. I think he takes me into account very much in the creation phase of the project idea (I am always one of the first to read his scripts) and during filming everything usually works well because we have similar aesthetic concepts.
You have worked on many types of projects, versatility is evident. However, do you have a favorite format or genre?
Well, if I had to choose, I would choose the non-fiction cinema. Working with real characters, giving the word to ordinary people, and deepen into common stories, are things that I love. Searching in the real, for me is to uncover the layer of the most primary and apparent superficiality, at which time the most interesting things arise to be expressed. In addition, I also think that on a narrative and aesthetic level it is a genre that allows you to experiment and search for non-preconceived ideas.
Speaking of genres... in the fantasy or horror genre, you have been able to develop excellent photography in the alter. short film CODA SACRA (dir. Pol Barrós). Productions of this type of genre are a rarity on many occasions. Do you think that the fantasy genre is experiencing a good moment for its production in Catalonia?
I would say no. Barely 6% of the films in Sitges were Catalan. Despite the fact that the public demands this type of production and the festival was a box office success, beating its own record. Coda Sacra has been in the most important international festivals of this genre, following its route you realize that Catalan productions stood out by their absence.
Why do you think it could be?
The producers do not dare, and even less with short films, which do not have a clear commercial outlet. But with the feature films, I think there is the idea that it is an expensive genre and with a too specific audience.
Do you think these two statements are true?
It depends, if it is a production based on effects, and you want a high level of special or digital effects, it is expensive. However, the presence of the fantastic can be suggested and play with the expectations of the viewer. Dilate time, create a disturbing atmosphere within a realistic aesthetic, with which the viewer connects more easily and lets himself be carried away by narrative diegesis. This is also suitable for reaching a less sectoral audience. This is the secret of Coda Sacra.
How is this presence suggested through photography?
Using the camera over your shoulder can create a sensation of observing or watching presence, also with long focal lenses. A palette of cold and desaturated colors, in the case of Coda Sacra in black and white. The off-field in this short film is essential, as well as the slow rhythm of the shots that extend temporarily without appearing as if anything is happening, but through which you feel a latent tension, a tension that awakens the imagination in the gaze of the viewer. The choice of location is also an important factor, which presents elements of mystery, such as a forest, fog, alleys or dark places where the gaze is lost without finding what you are looking for. It is also important to reserve the most explicit plans for moments of tension. And of course other factors, apart from photography, are very important, such as sound design, art, makeup, casting, editing, etc ...
Have you had any references for this production?
None in particular. However, it was clear to us that we were looking for a fantasy genre film with a raw or realistic aesthetic. Such as "Let me in", "Children of men" or "Not like others"
Do you plan to re-direct the photography of another fantastic genre production?
At this time, Pol has trusted me again for his next project. It is a fantasy genre feature film. The script has been written recently, and looks great. In case of carrying out the project, alter. would fully enter in commercial cinema, as has always been the intention.