Natasha Braier was advised to not sign on to lense the low-budget “Honey Boy” — let alone read the script — but you could say the experience she had on the film was priceless.
“When I got the script, it came with a lot of warnings: ‘Shia LaBeouf, no money.’ So my agent was like, ‘Don’t even look at this one,’” Braier revealed at Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Cinematography panel, moderated by this writer (watch above). “But I did look at it and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s like film therapy.’ I’m Argentinian and we all go to therapy in Argentina as a hobby. And my parents are also both Freudian shrinks. I read it and I was really moved. I always gravitate towards very experimental projects and things that are going to challenge me in some way.”
Written by LaBeouf as part of his rehab, “Honey Boy” is an autobiographical rendering of his life, growing up as a child star with an abusive father. LaBeouf plays his own father, James, in the film, while Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges play the young and adult versions of him, named Otis, respectively.
The film marks the narrative feature debut of documentarian Alma Har’el, and the director and DP aimed for a naturalistic, relaxed vibe akin to documentaries. “We wanted the cinematography to be stylized and we didn’t want to light for 360 degrees and have a flat lighting so that we could make sure we could see everything all the time,” Braier explained. “Having said that, I had to make sure I could see [LaBeouf’s] eyes all the time. How do you get the best of both worlds? It’s actually three worlds: the world of documentary, fiction and therapy.”
The entire crew was conscious of and sensitive to LaBeouf’s needs and process as he worked through his trauma onscreen in some very harrowing and intense scenes. Meticulous setups and marks and shot selections were out of the question because no one knew what LaBeouf would do from one take to the next.
“With the lighting, that was the biggest challenge,” Braier shared. “I didn’t know where he was going to be in the space and he’s like an actor that really uses the space in an amazing way. He’s very, very smart. So there was no way to predict. In most scripts, you could figure it out, ‘OK, they’re going to end up sitting on the bed.’ With Shia, you don’t know what he’s going to do and he’s going to surprise you and do something that is great that makes the scene 10 times better.”
Having to be “ready for anything,” Braier preemptively set up LED fixtures in every space she could, with wireless transmitters and receivers to control the lights. “I would be by the monitor with my headset, directing the operator and a bunch of dimmers, and basically I would just see. Rehearsal would usually be the first take and I would just figure out then what he’s doing and just dim. It was really like a DJ. After 20 years of doing this, it’s time to do something fresh,” she joked.
“And the second take, he would do something different, so it’s not like, ‘OK, I got it.’ So it was a constant organic thing where he was trying different things and I was trying different things. The good thing is because Alma comes from documentary and she has a very relaxed language, she’s not attached to continuity and to crossing the line and all the conventions of cinema language that most movies might follow. So she was OK with me trying new things.”
And after a few days, they did try to predict what the unpredictable LaBeouf would do. “We were betting Week 2, like, “Ten dollars he’s gonna [do this]!”
Video by David Janove.
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