Cinematography: <I>A Star Is Born</I>
Issue: January/February 2019

Cinematography: A Star Is Born

DP Matthew “Matty” Libatique is best known for his work on Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream and Pi. Here, the cinematographer discusses his work on the critical and box office hit, A Star is Born, and working with director Bradley Cooper.

What was director Bradley Cooper trying to accomplish in terms of how the film was shot and how that lent itself to telling the story of these two people — Jackson and Ally?

“His intent in the style of shooting was motivated solely on telling the story of the love story and the characters.” 

The way the live concert scenes were shot is getting a lot of attention — they were shot from the stage looking out at the audience, which is unusual. Why did Bradley want those scenes shot in that way?

“We had put a reel together of numerous films that had musical stage performances. We noticed that every time there was a shot from the audience’s perspective it deflated subjectivity and paused the momentum of learning about the character. Our main objective was to communicate Ally’s ascent, so we opted to keep the camera on the stage.” 

The concert scenes were shot during actual live performances at various events?

“We shot during [Lady Gaga’s] performance at Coachella but none of that was used. What was used in the film were the performances we captured during the down week in between the two Coachella weekends. We were able to utilize three of their stages and gain control of their lighting rigs for our needs. It was invaluable to us in our attempts to give scope to the world we were trying to create. 

“Glastonbury was Jackson Maine performing. We had four minutes in between two acts where we were able to shoot Bradley performing “Maybe It’s Time”.  I had two cameras set up for handheld with a 40mm and a 75mm so I could quickly switch cameras between the two takes we were able to get. 

“SNL was an amazing experience. We were able to shoot during the show’s one down day. Their entire team, director, lighting director, camera ops, control room, etc., worked with precision to help us get through [Lady Gaga’s] performance. I brought in two Alexa Minis and met my longtime New York crew there to shoot three scenes and Ally’s performance.” 

What were some of the biggest challenges for you in shooting this film?

“The combination of different stages and the multitude of performances. We had a combination of control and chaos between shooting at The Greek Theatre while it was closed and shooting at Stagecoach and Glastonbury, where we had zero control. Finding a balance in the language of the camera and light that helped make Jackson Maine a real character in our world was a priority.” 

What cameras did you shoot on? Why? How did you send the files to post?

“We shot on Alexa Minis primarily because of the form factor. I wanted the cameras to be small. We used anamorphic lenses, 2:39 aspect ratio in 4:3. 2.8K. Our files were delivered to Light Iron for dailies with graded still reference frames for color. The final color was done with Stefan Sonnenfeld at Company 3.”

Do you have a favorite scene?

“I enjoy the scene at the beginning of the film when Ally and Jack are sitting in the parking lot. From a filmmaking standpoint, it teases the song 'Shallow,' but emotionally it succeeds in conveying the feeling of a magical first date in a realistic way.”