I got the awesome opportunity to sit down with, Justice League Cinematographer, Fabian Wagner ASC BSC. Let’s get straight into it!
**NO SPOILERS for Justice League**
Matt – For those who don’t know what a Cinematographer does, how would you describe your role?
Fabian – In the broadest sense, it’s putting the director’s vision onto screen. It’s just creating the mood and the feel of the movie, and the mood and the feel, the director is after. Something that serves the story and the characters and the genre. That’s the creative part but then it’s also about organising everything else around it. Creating the mood and the feel with the lighting, the framing (of shots), the movement of the camera etc.
M – How did the opportunity come about?
F – I have no idea.
Both – (Laughs)
F – I’m still in shock. I was in shock about it for ages. I had my agent from America call me saying that Zack (Snyder) wants to meet me in London last February. I nearly fell off my chair. I’ve always liked Zack’s stuff, like 300 and Watchmen are one of my favourite films and I’ve always loved his visual style. I know Larry Fong (Batman VS Superman Cinematographer) and Larry is his usual DP. I think he’s a great DoP (Director of Photography). I couldn’t believe he wanted to meet me. We sat down and he told me about Justice League and we chatted for about an hour or so. I left and had a few more interviews over the next few weeks, with various producers. Debbie Snyder, his wife, was one of the producers, and Chuck Roven. I was in LA for Game of Thrones and I was in the colour grade with Joe Finley (Game of Thrones Final Colourist) and I had a phone call from my agent saying that they just offered me the job. Ihad to fly back straight away and start prep.
M – That’s the dream phone call right there
F – It was a dream come true. I literally couldn’t believe it. I was driving to work all during prep thinking this is just mad.
M – You’ve done a lot of TV, is there any difference in your approach to working on TV to Film?
F – Nothing. I mean there’s no difference really in approaching it from my point of view. I grew up in TV and low budget film making so this was obviously a huge step because it’s a massive movie. The only bigger movie I had done before was Frankenstein, which was something like 40 million, so this was just a huge step up. But I don’t think I approached it in any other way, I mean, I didn’t expect to get this job and they just threw me into it which was great as well. They were already in prep so I just turned up on a Monday morning and I just started working and I just did the usual and what I always do. I read the script and started having ideas. I spoke to Zack a lot who knew what he wanted to do very well. I met Patrick Tatopolous, the (production) designer and started talking to him. I talked a lot to John Des Jardin, DJ, the VFX supervisor because there was a lot of VFX in the movie. I didn’t have any time to really think about it before hand which was a good thing, as I just started working, having ideas and started getting creative.
M – As you said, there’s a lot of VFX in the movie, how difficult is it to cinematically shoot on a green screen, and keep the lightning consistent throughout the movie?
F – I kind of built up a really good relationship with DJ straight away. DJ and his team are great and really creative. DJ basically said to me: look you come up with your lightning ideas and how you want to approach a certain scene and we will work with you and work towards what you’re doing on set, we will work with you to create the final image. They are super experienced and really collaborative guys and it was a fun process. It gave me the freedom to come up with loads of different ideas of how to light certain scenes or sets, some of which had a lot of green screen elements. They came up with concepts of how it’s going to look and we talked about the style, look and colour of that certain set; so I could implement it into my colour lighting plan and it was something they could carry on. That was a lot of fun. It’s not hard to keep it consistent. I think once you know what you want to do and once you have made a plan of how you want to do it, you just stick to that plan and make it work. Zack had said to me from the beginning that he wanted this to be slightly different to what he’s done before, he wanted it to be slightly more naturalistic, less stylised, so as soon as I knew that, I knew how to approach it and we sort of elaborated from there.
M – Did you want to give each superhero their own visual identity or was it what the scene required?
F – I don’t think I thought initially about giving them each their own different looks. We were mainly talking about giving the whole movie one certain look. Although, Aquaman for example has a specific look when he’s underwater because he’s in a very different environment. A lot of it is pretty natural because the look came from a combination between the art direction, the set design and the lighting in the sets that we had. That’s how they all sort of got their individual look. In the end the cool thing is, most are all normal guys. Flash is just a normal guy who lives in a warehouse. Bruce Wayne is a normal guy who becomes a different character, they are all normal people essentially. There wasn’t preconceived looks for each character for them to be hugely different. For me it was more to find an interesting and slightly different look to the prior movies.
M – Did you look at the previous DC movies? What would be the differences between them and Justice League?
F – Yeah I’ve seen all the other DC movies because I like DC and I like Zack’s work. I looked at all of them as a reference because I love Larry Fong’s work and his lightning style. I looked at them for inspiration but I was trying to find my own look for it.
M – Technically, how did you and your team achieve that sort of look and style?
F – Well we shot 35mm, which was decided before I had even come on board which was great. I hadn’t shot film for a few years and it was really nice to expose film again and operate a film camera. I tend to light simply; I didn’t really approach it any other way. Most of the normal scenes I lit classically, I’m always trying to make it as simple and effective as possible, I hope. I like simplicity. I used mainly tungsten lights for the interiors. I love tungsten lights and the quality of light they give. I used to love negative fill to get a nice contrast in the image.
M – From the trailers, there seems like there were some really great locations. Do you have a favourite?
F – We had a lot of sets. My favourite set was probably the top of the roof when Gordon switches on the Bat light for the first time. That was a great set and a cool scene with Batman being up on the gargoyles. That was one of my favourite shots to do just because I love Batman. That was like a real true Batman moment. I just felt like a little kid on that set with the Bat light. Iceland was a great location, that’s where we finished the shoot. We were just in a really remote part of the island with a beautiful landscape. That was a really fun week to shoot out there. I just enjoyed every day really, I came to set every day thinking this crazy, I can’t believe I’m doing this. Every day was fun.
M – Did you have a favourite shot or scene? The Batman signal?
F – Yeah that was probably my favourite. That shot is probably one of my favourites. I mean there’s a few but I can’t really say without giving something away. (laughs). But yeah, Batman, on the gargoyle, in the rain, the lighting strikes, that was just a cool iconic shot.
M – Would you consider doing another DC movie or even a Marvel movie?
F – Bloody hell yeah if they asked me. I just had a really fun time and I would love to do another one. If I got the opportunity I would definitely do another one.
M – These final 2 questions are questions we ask all our guests. Who is your favourite comic book character?
F – It would have to be Batman. Since I was a kid I’ve always loved Batman.
Just because I never knew whether he was good or bad. I just love that character.
M – If you were going to have a Stan Lee cameo, in Justice League, what would it have been?
F – For me?
M – Yes.
F – Oh my god (laughs). I’ve no idea, I’ve never thought about it. (thinks).
But I should have gotten into the bat suit like on a wide shot when he’s just in the background.
M – Yes! You should have done that.
F – Should have done that but I’m too small for that. Ben is really big and very strong and he’s a lot taller than me so it wouldn’t have worked (laughs). I wouldn’t have fit into the bat suit but that would have been really cool. Zack had a cameo in one of the shots, he’s sitting in a cafe.
A massive thank you to Fabian for taking the time to sit with me and chat about Justice League. You can catch Fabian’s work in Justice League on 17th November and follow him on Instagram at @FabianWagner87!