Quyen Tran interview: ‘Palm Springs’ cinematographer
“It was really hard to establish tone. The movie borders on comedy and drama. We had to nail down the story and this unique tone first before we dove into the visuals,” confesses cinematographer Quyen Tran about shooting “Palm Springs.” She joined us recently for a webchat (watch the exclusive video above).
In the Neon film currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Nyles (Andy Samberg) is a wedding guest having to live the same day again and again with Sarah (Cristin Milioti). Tran was the director of photography for the film and explains that “it’s so low tech we had no money. We had to come up with very creative ways of tackling the technical and effects part of the film. We didn’t really have a supervisor.”
She adds, “The overhead shot of Andy on a pizza floating in the pool, really defines his character. It’s also so apropos for this moment in time in our history with this pandemic. Floating on an island, kind of a ‘lonely island.’ It kind of captures the whole essence of the film I think. It was really difficult because to shoot the whole movie we had just over 20 days. I begged for three cameras. That whole water sequence was shot in four hours. I had three cameras going. I was operating one, my B camera operator was on the crane and I had my friend on the underwater camera.”
When Sarah finds out she has been stuck in the time loop, she confronts Nyles at the pool. Tran says it was a challenging scene to get right. “The sequence where he goes under and she throws beer cans at him. It was not getting the propulsion that we wanted. The poor props people were really scared of hitting Andy. I said, ‘give me that beer, I’ll do it.’ So it was my first AC, who was a semi-pro baseball player, and myself chucking those beer cans into the pool so they would whizz right by him. I thought I had a pretty good arm; I was confident I wouldn’t hit him. Andy was like, ‘I don’t care, just hit me, it’s cool.’ All the water work was really challenging because of the lack of time. But it was so integral to the story.”
And for Tran, her work is all about telling the story. The former photojournalist reveals, “As a photojournalist you have one frame to tell a story. Moving into moving pictures I was like, ‘woah! You have a lot of shots at this.’ The story of ‘Palm Springs’ is about finding your purpose on this earth. In shooting the film I learnt that it’s up to the actors to tell the story. It was just amazing how well the actors could keep the arc so tight. Especially for a film like this where it’s all over the place in time. I wouldn’t say my work is gimmicky. I wouldn’t say it’s flashy. But it always moves the story forward. That is my aim at least. And to capture the actors’ emotional performances. As a cinematographer, we really have to understand the story to be able to tell it.”