We at Awards Radar got the opportunity to chat with Agnesh Pakozdi, the cinematographer for episodes three and four of Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin. Pakozdi was responsible for shooting the over-the-top musical numbers in the show and designing creative transitions to show time passing.
Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin follows the original movie’s Bumper (Adam Devine) as he moves to Berlin to continue pursuing his music career. Diana Birenyte and Sarah Hyland also star in the series.
In this interview, Agnesh breaks down how she filmed the musical numbers and balanced the show’s comedic side with the dramatic aspects.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Agnesh: I was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary. I spent my childhood in the 90s, when the Soviet economy was transitioning into the free market. The general focus was on creating a new society and starting businesses, so it was logical for me to study economics to become a useful piece in creating that new system. I realized at 23 that it was the time and environment I was born in that pushed me into that direction, but my true interest was in photography and cinema. Hungary had a great tradition in photography, as well as in cinema. During high school, I was experimenting with analogue black and white photography, and my favorite movies were shown in my film club: rarities like Zabriskie Point, Sweet Movie, Persona, or The Clockwork Orange.
I still finished my studies, but in the meantime, I turned to film history and theory. I didn’t think back then I could be a cinematographer; there were no examples in the country for that. I made my first videos on MiniDV, which led to a scholarship in Berlin as a video artist. Berlin was a wild and inspiring playground to explore my skills, and step-by-step I understood what interested me the most was narrative filmmaking. I applied for the cinematography class at the DFFB Film Academy. This international network took me to many different projects, people, and places from the east to the west.
How did you get involved as the cinematographer for Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin?
Agnesh: I am based in Berlin, but I work a lot internationally. My hometown, Budapest, is a popular destination for American productions. I was a B camera operator on Brandon Cronenberg’s newest feature, Infinity Pool, which opened up new fields and networks for me. I got my new jobs mostly based on recommendations, which was also the case with the Pitch Perfect series. I am still very grateful to Chris Thompson who trusted me to work on this very ambitious project.
How did you balance the show’s comedic side with the dramatic aspects?
Agnesh: From the first line, it’s a comedy. The main focus is on the performance and on the jokes. The ensemble was truly entertaining and professional, and my task is to support their acting the best way I can. The fun part of the Pitch Perfect series is that we had plenty of opportunities to take a sidewalk to other genres and styles within the narrative. There is definitely a dramatic aspect, but we allowed ourselves a level of freedom in setting bold looks and atmospheres, which can be unusual for comedies. One main source of the entertainment is the exaggeration in the visuals, which follows Bumper’s very vivid fantasy and impulsive character.
What was your favorite scene that you shot?
Agnesh: One of my favorite, and also the most challenging, was the art gallery musical scene where the entire song was shot as a single long shot. Bumper suddenly has an idea to perform and improvise a song in a crowded Vernissage. The camera shot 360, fluidly switching between close-ups and wide shots, moving high and low freely in the space where we saw basically each corner of a gallery full of extras. It was a great challenge to fine-tune the light, which followed the whole choreography and adjusted to the steadicam movements. We built hidden and not-so-hidden ramps in the space for the camera to reach a floating lightness for following the action.
How did you use transitions to show time passing?
Agnesh: Transitions, flashbacks, and dreams are always fun to make. These are the shots where the cinematography can get playful in a comedy. We always try to connect two scenes or enter a new one with a special idea. Sometimes it’s an impressive crane and steadicam combination, sometimes it’s an interesting revealing movement, or it could also be a visual joke leading us back to the characters.
One of my favorites is the flashback of Pieter in the bar. Within a couple of sentences, we could tell his past in a creative and funny way through some great connecting shots and cuts. For example, we made a 360 circle dolly shot, where the first half is in the far past and the second half is some days later, so a single movement merges different times into one memory. Another time we see a photo of our hero in an article about a concert, then this photo becomes a video of that concert. Simple but creative ideas make the story more fluid and entertaining.
What was the creative process behind shooting the over-the-top musical numbers?
Agnesh: What I love in the preparation of these scenes is the wider complexity and the grandiosity we are heading for. Directing, choreography, set design, and cinematography has to work in a more active dialogue and exchange with each other to help and develop the scene. Each musical number has a core idea coming from the director’s vision. I try to attend many rehearsals of the dance choreography because that’s the place where a lot of ideas evolve, and I can react and pitch right away. At the same time, I have to visualize the scene in the space, existing location or not, and let it interact with the concept.
What was the most challenging part about filming this show?
Agnesh: One of the most challenging parts was connecting the U.S. style of filmmaking with the German crew in a smooth way and I wish we had more time. I was lucky to be surrounded by excellent crew members who were professionals, and amazing to work with. We had plenty of locations, as one aspect of the show is to present Berlin to the U.S. audience, and we had no overtimes, which requires precise and confident planning. The most important thing is to remain calm and keep the focus on the shot and the scene, no matter how high the stakes were. Never lose humor and creativity, and enjoy filmmaking. It’s a comedy, after all.
What do you have coming up next?
Agnesh: I recently finished a feature in Georgia, Caucasus. It was a great experience in a very special environment. We created painting-like imagery around a rural story about an elderly single lady who makes her own small revolution in the village. Next year I’m working on an edgy feminist musical with the director of Aren’t you Happy in Germany.