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How “Nope” DP Hoyte Van Hoytema met his greatest challenge

Jordan Peele wanted a huge spectacle with his latest release, Nope.

The UFO drama/thriller stars Daniel Kaluuya as a horse driver who encounters UFO sightings along with his sister Keke Palmer. Along with Brandon Perra as Angel, the trio attempt to capture the sighting on film.

Peele called on Christopher Nolan’s favorite cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema, to film his spectacle. It was Peele’s first foray into shooting on film, using large format 65mm IMAX cameras. From challenging night scenes to massive mountain ranges, Hoytema explains how the two proven formulas worked and even built a new facility to create a fully immersive cinematic experience for audiences.

What was the first thing Jordan told you about his vision for the film?

He wanted something that felt remotely like a spectacle. He wanted to show that he had grown on the slightly smaller films. He wanted to use it to explore space and breadth.

We started talking about IMAX very early on. He asked me what he thought he would have shot a UFO at if I had seen one in real life, and I thought IMAX was the best medium for that.

It really is a spectacle. But you also shot with the new 65mm IMAX cameras. How did this format serve his vision and your handwriting of making realistic shots?

Cinema is not only a sight, but also the feeling of sitting in the cinema. Jordan was deeply involved with the big screen and how we experience the world in front of us. IMAX is the most visceral of all formats because of its ability to register the vast world.

Shooting on film is something I’ve been doing for years and I love it. I still live by the belief that technically there is nothing better than film. No other medium can capture detail in a more natural and organic way than film. Jordan shot his other films digitally, and I think he really wanted to dip his toes in it. He’s an information-hungry person and he loves to learn and try new things, so he got into it. I’ve never seen anyone really embrace it and he just knows how to use it to his own advantage.

How did you go from intimate moments like when Keke dances indoors to these huge landscape shots of the cloud to capture those dark moments?

At the script level, Jordan knows where he wants fear and attention, so our discussion is very much about how we can achieve that and what we can do to convey that feeling.

We spent a lot of time talking about the night because that’s what it always looks like in the movie, and there are seven night scenes in the movie. We were in the middle of nowhere, in nature. So we looked at what the eye sees and what it doesn’t. We looked at how it feels to be in the middle of a valley and surrounded by giant mountain ranges and to have this space.

It was also about creating an awareness that something could be there. We had so many discussions about how we wanted the night to feel. I remember one of our first scouts, we went to the ranch that night and drove our car. There was no light except the headlights, and we turned them off. You can’t see anything. But as you go on, your pupils start to dilate and suddenly you see stars and mountain ranges and you see the moon, you’re not in that claustrophobic room of darkness anymore and it’s getting big. We really wanted to convey that. So I built a camera rig, a combination of a 65mm infrared camera and a film camera that we would combine through a prism. We then blended these images to create something that feels so similar to that sentiment.

Did you feel related to Michael Wincott, who plays a cinematographer in the film?

He’s wearing a big black scarf and I’m wearing a black scarf. He wears my scarf in the film.

How was it letting him shadow you?

We hung out at Panavision, the rental house, and when I got my camera gear and shooting tests, Jordan suggested we spend a few days with me. He was all over the cameras and with his hand in the cameras. He had cameras on his shoulders. He was so interested in learning and talking about the job and the lighting. He wasn’t afraid to get into the technical details.

How did you find his performance?

He makes cameramen look good. Many cameramen are unkempt bastards. He definitely adds a lot of flair to cinematographers.

Can you talk about the bloody house scene?

It was a complex scene to shoot. There was a wide view of the house and you see it from different angles. He wants to make things right. He’s not someone who wants to get it done quickly. There wasn’t one way to do it. It was a big puzzle that came together with a lot of creative engineering.

Jordan said he’s such a fan of yours. Did he say, “That’s my favorite movie you’ve done?”

Jordan is very generous with his feelings. Working with him was a dream come true. I have so much respect for him as a director and the chemistry was so great. I felt very creative with him. All I can say is that I’m a big fan of Jordan and would be working with him again tomorrow on the front line.

Finally, let’s talk about your camera movements in the film.

As you have seen, it goes very quickly and we move a lot because we are everywhere with the galloping horses. We worked on old-fashioned tracks. But we wanted the camera movements to be agile and also capture elegant long takes. So we worked with a popular device called The Edge, which is a stabilized arm that can maneuver on rough terrain. It has a giant head and it stabilizes the camera so we could track those horse and riding scenes.

https://variety.com/2022/artisans/news/nope-dp-hoyte-van-hoytema-jordan-peele-1235323273/ How “Nope” DP Hoyte Van Hoytema met his greatest challenge

Charles Jones

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