‘On the Rocks’ cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd on finding ‘a sense of liberty’ shooting in New York City [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

On the Rocks” is the third film between Sofia Coppola and cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, but it’s their first set in contemporary times. It’s also the director’s first one set in New York City. Starring Rashida Jones and Bill Murray, “On the Rocks” follows Laura (Jones), who suspects her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her. When she mentions it to her father Felix (Murray), the wealthy playboy is more than happy to pitch in to tail Dean. Escapades ensue.

The film was shot in New York, presenting a ton of inspiration and options, but also difficulties. “Me, as a foreigner, even though I’ve been living in New York for the past 10 years, there’s always something about how you want to shoot New York,” Le Sourd tells Gold Derby at our Meet the BTL Experts: Film Cinematography panel (watch above). “It’s a beautiful city and at the same time very hard to shoot. Not just the logistics, but when you put the camera down, it’s very difficult to see the height of the buildings, the landscape of it. We tried to figure out how to have a sense of what could be the film with this character inside.”

Le Sourd and Coppola made a mood board, with each going in a different direction. “So we tried to combine it together,” he says. “As a Frenchman, I’m looking for like French New Wave … so I took a reference, wondering how you could give the same type of liberty shooting in the city, and it’s very hard in New York, I would say. And it’s probably harder now than 20 years ago or 40 years ago when Woody Allen did ‘Manhattan.'”

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To give an intimate feel, as if we’re peeking into Laura’s life, Le Sourd eschewed using establishing shots, taking us right into, say, Laura’s office or a restaurant when a scene shifts. He also shot on film and has actually never shot on digital. “The result is always going to be different, but it’s a matter of [figuring out] the location, the film stock, [whether] you push or you’re pulling out the film stock,” he says. “It’s always a challenge to say how much light I want to use when I shoot at night. I want light. I want a sense of the liberty of shooting, so it’s always a question.”

He also got to shoot a very unconventional car chase: Felix peels off after Dean in a convertible down several blocks in Manhattan. “It was fun. It was like a six-hour shoot only. We couldn’t have more time because of the budget,” Le Sourd states. “We put three cameras on a biscuit rig. It’s a very technical system to shoot and to have the speed we need with a low-process trailer. It’s a very complicated system.”

And yes, that was actually Murray behind the wheel. “Bill is a super good driver, and at the end he was so good and he didn’t stop at the right light, and the police shut down the night. We had to shut down the night because he didn’t stop at the right light!” he continues. “The police didn’t like it, so it was like, ‘OK, done.'”

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