Interview: Cinematographer Ludovica Isidori on ‘Sanctuary’

Zachary Wigon‘s Sanctuary left a very good impresion during this year’s edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, given how Super wasted no time in acquiring the distribution rights to the film. Stariing Christopher Abbott and Margaret Qualley, the film tells the story of a wealthy client who tires to terminate their agreement with a dominatrix.

Awards Radar had the opportunity of speaking to Ludovica Isidori, the director of photography behind Sanctuary. Isidori built a career from working on a wide variety of short films before making the transition to feature-length projects during recent years. You can find our whole interview with the director of photography below:

Awards Radar: There are interesting power dynamics between Rebecca and Hal throughout the movie. What was your vision for capturing them?

Ludovica Isidori: That was one of the first things I spoke with Zach Wigon, the director of the movie, about. Because, on paper, Sanctuary is a movie that takes place in only one location. It’s two people in a room. But there are so many levels in the relationship between these two characters that we wanted to make sure that we were able to showcase them throughout the movie.

We thought that the first and most important tool was creating a camera language that could highlight and punctuate the shifts in their power dynamics throughout the movie without feeling disjointed and also without taking away from the performance of the actors, which are very important in a character piece.

We were trying to find those shifts in power. All those moments where the relationship between the two change. And then we needed to figure out if we should use slow dollies, or which section was better described with pans. The first scene, for example, has a very traditional approach, where the camera language is more quiet, static, and subtle.

AR: There are some very impressive 360° shots in this movie. What was the process of getting those takes?

LI: There was a lot of planning. Zach and I went to the location several times while it was being built. We created storyboards for the first half of the movie with phone apps. In order to make 360° shots, you need to make sure that the blocking is extremely precise and where you want the camera to be at every moment.

It was also important for us to find out how to keep it relevant to the narrative. You always want to make sure the camera movement is pertinent to the story. So, when you add a 360° shot, or a shot that moves through three rooms, you want to follow the energy of a character. It drags you and the character from one place to another.

Other than that, it was a lot, lots of practice. When the camera movement was established, you need to think about lighting and how you will light the scene.

AR: How do decide how to light a scene in order to relate it to an emotion?

LI: The realism of the scene was not our main focus when lighting. I do believe that, while some part of it had to be believable, lighting can be a vehicle to deliver an experience. Without spoiling the movie, I think there are specific moments where the color of the light which we used for the female character did not match the one we used for the male character.

In certain scenes, it is expressing that they are inhabiting different places. Their minds, their hearts, their power. They’re in very different places but, at the same time, there are some hints of color in their shots. You create distance, and intimacy as well. I think you achieve that by realizing that realism is not everything. The choice of color, shadows, or how you light someone can be so powerful, because it is expressing emotion and meaning.

AR: What was it like working with director Zachary Wigon?

LI: Zach is a visionary. I’ve said this multiple times. I read the script and I was enamored with it. But then, I met Zach over Zoom. And I remember that, from the first five minutes I spoke with him, I knew I wanted to do this project. Whatever I had to do, whatever it took, I had to do it. Because Zach is someone who is extremely collaborative. He has no ego. He’s also extremely encouraging with his collaborators.

Whether it was me or production design bringing ideas, and challeging his ideas as well, he was very open to work with that. He understands cinema. That’s the impression I have from working with him for over two months. To me, cinema is recreating. Offereing an artistic portrait of life, which is not life itself. In a way, cinema has tools, like image, sound, the specific use of color.

If you’re aware of that, and you know that cinema can be aware of it, I think you can recreate an experience. I think that’s how you’re not afraid of taking choices. And he (Zachary) is one of the boldest directors I’ve ever met. He had a vision and he pushed for it. That’s empowering as a collaborator because you feel challenged. You feel like you can really create a universe. And the audience will come along for the ride.

AR: Your career has been mostly focused on shorts. What was it like transitioning to films during the recent years of your career?

LI: Sanctuary is actually my fourth feature. But I shot three last year. I love shooting movies. I would shoot movies my whole life if I could. While shorts are incredible and experimental, they’re too short. I love when you are involved in a project for three to five weeks because there’s something about the story you’re telling and you can discover it because you have more time.

You get to know the people better. You get to know the core of the story, which is almost like an energy which you get to discover every day you go to set. In prep, you make decisions and you have a plan but, when you go to set, there’s an element of magic and the unexpected. And being able to being exposed to that for twenty to forty days is unique. I use my work as a DP to become more complex, mature and to develop myself.

(This interview was edited for length and clarity).


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Written by Diego Peralta

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