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Cinematographer Larry Fong

Photo by Homer Liwag

Larry Fong grew up in Los Angeles, California, and after graduating from UCLA with a degree in linguistics, he earned a degree in film from Art Center College of Design, where he decided to specialize in cinematography. He began his career shooting music videos, with three of them winning MTV awards for Video of the Year. Later, Larry not only formed a working relationship with longtime friend J.J. Abrams, one of the hottest writer/directors around, but he has been able to transition seamlessly between commercials, television and film.

With Abrams, Larry shot the pilot for “Lost” (which was nominated for an ASC Award). He moved on to features with director Zack Snyder (who he met in film school) on the hugely successful “300,” and would again pair up with Snyder on “Watchmen” and “Sucker Punch.” In 2010, he re-teamed with J.J. Abrams on “Super 8.” Panavision asked Larry about his career and the recently released “Super 8.”

Q: When and where were you when you were first introduced to Panavision?
LF: It was in the early 90s on a commercial shoot in New York.

Q: What was your first project you used Panavision on?
LF: It was a cosmetics commercial--a beauty shoot.

Q: What was it that influenced your decision to become a cinematographer?
LF: I wanted to be involved in film since a young age, but it was just a crazy dream. Film school allowed me to discover my strengths and weaknesses, and it was there that I decided to specialize in cinematography.

Q: How long have you been using the same crew in terms of gaffer, key grip, operator and assistant?
LF: As always, work relationships ebb and flow. My amazing key grip, Gary Dodd Jr., has been with me the longest and continually dreams up new and better ways of doing things.

Q: What is your decision-making process between shooting spherical or anamorphic?
LF: It always starts with the director and his feelings about the project. It’s not a good/bad thing but hopefully what’s better for the story and subject matter.

Q: How much of that decision is related to your artistic take on the script vs. that of the director?
LF: Once, a director really wanted to shoot anamorphic. Once we started scouting, it became clear that a lot of the locations didn’t lend themselves to the proportions of the 2.40 frame. The rooms were very small which meant you would never see below the actors’ waistlines! We ended up shooting spherical 1.85. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Q: Do you have a different approach in how you shoot anamorphic vs. spherical?
LF: Anamorphic gives opportunities for some really dynamic composition. It's fun to push things to the left and right edges, sometimes uncomfortably so. Technically, it doesn’t affect me so much. It’s more of a challenge for the camera crew to shoot anamorphic, in which case I do try to light to a deeper stop to help the guys out with focus.

Q: The last film you shot, “Super 8” was shot in anamorphic. Do you find that with the increasing use of digital, it is easier, or harder, to shoot widescreen format?
LF: I’ve shot digital widescreen, but not for theatrical release, so I’m not sure of all the ramifications yet.

Q: When shooting “Super 8” what can you tell us about how you designed your lighting to photograph key actors?
LF: The look of “Super 8” was a huge departure for J.J., me, and our crew. It’s intimidating to step out of one’s comfort zone but it’s also deeply satisfying when you feel you’ve succeeded. The lighting design for Super 8 was motivated by a late 1970s style, while maintaining speed and efficiency in shooting.

Q: Are there any particular scenes in “Super 8” you can talk about where you really pushed the envelope on lighting?
LF: I don’t think there’s anything in the movie that hasn’t been done before. I’m really happy though, that J.J. let me light some scenes as dark and moody as I did.

Q: There are several visual effects in this film. How did you adapt your lighting for the visual effects shot?
LF: It’s actually the other way around. I try to find out as much as I can about what the final composite will be, through conversations with the production designer and the VFX supervisor. If there is any motivation for interactive lighting, for example, we try to give that to them. But ultimately, their job is to integrate their work into mine, which they did. Incredibly so.

Q: You had worked with J.J. Abrams on the series “Lost.” Was it different working with him on a feature versus television?
LF: J.J.’s goal is to push the envelope always, whether it’s in TV or film. Because of his experience in both worlds, I think he brings his cinematic sensibility to his TV work, and a smart efficiency and clear storytelling to his film work.

Q: Do you have any favorite Panavision lenses? If so, why?
LF: I love the feel and clarity of the 27mm spherical Primo, and, I always carry the 4:1 and 11:1. On “Super 8” the 60mm close focus anamorphic was our favorite.

Q: Out of all the projects that you have shot, what was your favorite? And why?
LF: I can’t say I have a favorite project at this point in my career. I do learn something new all the time. And, every time, I’m just happy to be able to work in this amazing industry.