‘Being the Ricardos’ cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth on helping Aaron Sorkin ‘evolve his visual storytelling’

Aaron Sorkin and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth first became acquainted on the set of David Fincher’s “The Social Network.”

“The last shot of ‘The Social Network,’ Fincher wanted to avoid the emotional goodbyes to everybody and left with one insert to be shot that Aaron directed and I photographed,” Cronenweth tells Gold Derby in the “Meet the Experts” cinematographers panel. “That was really our first director-cinematographer collaboration back at the end of ‘The Social Network.’”

More than a decade later, Sorkin and Cronenweth have reunited in an official capacity as director and cinematographer for “Being the Ricardos,” Sorkin’s third film as a director and his first with Cronenweth behind the camera.

“He loved his experiences on ‘Molly’s Game’ and with Phedon [Papamichael] on ‘Chicago 7’ and Phedon got an Oscar nomination on that, it was a beautifully photographed film,” Cronenweth says. “But it was predominantly stuck in a courtroom. My experience with a lot of director-writers is that they’d be content with two people at a table talking the whole time and you could watch every word and it would be fun. But [Aaron’s] such a smart guy and complete storyteller that he understands we can bring so much more to it if he allows the photography, light, camera movement, blocking, actor movement, all to embellish his words. That was our goal and the hurdle we had to overcome: break some of his old habits and comfort zones and bring this to some new life he hadn’t really gone for. He said he really wanted to bring some of the visual styles Fincher and I had done over the last few movies we had done together.”

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“Being the Ricardos” takes place in 1952, during a tumultuous week of production on the set of “I Love Lucy.” The era, Cronenweth says, was of particular interest to him, coming from a family of Hollywood creators. (His father, Jordan Cronenweth, was the cinematographer on Ridley Scott’s classic “Blade Runner.”)

“He sent the script first and once I read it, it was a no-brainer,” Cronenweth says. “I love ‘Lucy,’ I love the whole genre, I love their lives, I was curious about the things behind the scenes and having a family who has been in the industry for a very long time, I kind of heard a lot of different things. It was an exciting opportunity to hear more about it and learn where the magic came from.”

From there, Cronenweth says, it was a matter of moving a willing Sorkin out of his usual comfort zone. “He’s overtly aware of his style. He made it very clear to me that he wanted to evolve his visual storytelling,” he says. “He wants to become a more diverse filmmaker in choices of light and blocking sequences, staging actors and conceiving scenes where you can have more action and camera movement if necessary — if it serves the scene.”

“Being the Ricardos” stars Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz. The film is out on December 10 before it debuts on Amazon Prime Video starting on December 21.

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