Chayse Irvin Interview: ‘BlacKkKlansman’ cinematographer
“The story’s totally absurd,” admits “BlacKkKlansman” cinematographer Chayse Irvin. When Spike Lee pitched him this tale about an African-American police officer (John David Washington) who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s, the DP “couldn’t believe it when he said it was true.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Irvin above.
The script, adapted from Ron Stallworth‘s 2014 memoir, “rode a line in-between the absurd and the very dark and racist.” But despite the varying tones in the screenplay, Irvin didn’t spend too much time in advance worrying about how to make it all work. It wasn’t until he was on set responding to Lee’s direction that he began thinking about what shots to grab. “It kind of works in my approach to cinematography,” he explains. “I very much believe that anything should be possible, and I try not to narrow my POV so much that it inhibits the exploration of what the film could be from within itself.”
That’s not to say he didn’t do his homework, especially when it came to capturing the look of the time. He turned to movies from the period for guidance, including the works of independent film pioneer John Cassavetes, who greatly influenced Irvin, especially in “how beautiful all the flaws were in his films.”
But most of their inspiration came from William Friedkin‘s Oscar-winning “The French Connection” (1971). In that particular police drama, “they did a wonderful job embodying, and actually generating, the spirit of independent filmmaking.” He adds, “they were using zooms, and they observed their characters from a distance, and they created a lot of tension using these techniques. I think that was something that I was really drawn to.”