“Everyone has a unique perspective on the world”: DP Shana Hagan on Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power |

Nina Menkes in Brainwashing: Sex-Camera-Power

Based on her own cinematic talk, Nina Menkes Brainwashing: Sex-Camera-Power uses interviews, footage from his speech, and excerpts from over 175 films to help illustrate how sexual assault and employment discrimination are inscribed in the visual language of cinema. Below, cinematographer Shana Hagan discusses the challenges of properly capturing speech on camera, the importance of color grading, and the joys of working with so many women on set.

Director: How and why did you become the director of photography for your film? What factors and attributes led you to be hired for this position?

Hagan: I was introduced to director Nina Menkes through a mutual friend. Nina and I hit it off early on and knew we wanted to collaborate on Brainwashing. I’ve been shooting documentaries for a long time, but this project was interesting because it had so many elements: traditional interviews, scenes from cinema vrai and also the presentation of Nina on a big stage in front of an audience. The technical challenges as well as the subject matter really drew me to this film.

Director: What were your artistic goals on this film, and how did you achieve them? How did you want your cinematography to enhance the film’s storytelling and the treatment of its characters?

Hagan: Early on, Nina and I discussed the female gaze as an important starting point. Everyone has a unique perspective on the world, and I think it’s refreshing to explore the issues raised in the film from a female perspective. Without excluding anyone, and as far as possible, we wanted to include as many women as possible in the crew. The DP, cameramen, additional cinematographers, ACs, sound mixers and producers are mostly women, and that was important to us.

Director: What camera did you shoot with? Why did you choose the camera you made? What glasses did you use?

Hagan: We didn’t have a huge budget, so we used a few Red Raven cameras donated to production for the Sex and Power presentation on stage. We loved using the Canon 17-120 and 85-300 lenses for these shots to be really precise when needed. And for interviews and stage work we used a combination of Canon C300 Mk II, Sony FX9 and even a Black Magic Cinema Camera. Because we were on such a tight budget, when shooting interviews outside of Los Angeles, the producers hired DPs locally in those different cities.

Director: What was the most difficult scene to achieve and why? And how did you do?

Hagan: One of the biggest challenges was filming Nina’s on-stage presentation of her talk about sex and power. Because we knew his speech would be the backbone of the film’s structure, we wanted to shoot the main event on an epic scale. Filming in a large room, we set up a large 24′ screen to project images and video clips behind her. We also shot with a live audience and used three cameras to cover different angles. We ended up filming the presentation multiple times to get different coverage of Nina, the screen, and the audience. It presented many logistical and technical challenges, but ultimately became an integral part of the finished film.

Director: Finally, describe the finish of the film. How much of your look was “prepared” versus done in the DI?

Hagan: Because there are film clips from 175 films as well as original material shot with several different types of cameras, we were challenged to create a cohesive and natural look. Nina had recently worked with Mike Sowa at Fotokem to remaster some of his brilliant early feature films and suggested we use it for the documentary. Mike helped us set everything up. Final color is one of the most underrated processes in cinema. I highly recommend finding a professional colorist at a reputable post-production facility to help you really put the finishing touches on your project. Many thanks to Mike Sowa and his team at Fotokem for making this film truly brilliant!

Movie Title: Brainwashing: Sex-Camera-Power
Camera: RED Raven, Canon C300 Mk II, Sony FX9
Lenses: Canon 17-120 Cinema Servo, Canon 85-300 Cinema Servo, Canon EF L series zooms
Color gradient: Colorist Mike Sowa at Fotokem


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