Conversation

with cinematographer

about the feature film PARKING

MARIUS PANDURU

Marius Panduru works again with Tudor Giurgiu in the feature film Parking, their second project together. Been chosen again by this director is not a minor fact, since the figure of Mr. Giurgiu is quite prominent in their homeland, Romania. Tudor has been president of the Romanian National Television and he is the founder of one of the most relevant film-related events in Central Eastern Europe, the Transylvania International Film Festival. He even has a two-pages profile on the last editions of the Lonely Planet travel guide to Romania.

Parking is inspired by the autobiographical book Apropierea. This book tells the experience of the Rumanian poet and writer Marin Mălaicu-Hondrari, as an immigrant working as security guard in a ramshackle car park in a remote area of Southern Spain. The project became a very emotional experience by choosing the same car park where the real story happened less than twenty years ago. The main actor, Mihai Smarandache, followed the steps of Marin by getting in this Spanish spoken project without knowing the language, giving realism to his performance. There was a point in the shooting, in which the present-day security guard, Mihai and Marin were together at the cark park as if putting together different layers of reality.

Marius Panduru is a person that brings politeness and respect around himself by giving example with his impeccable behaviour.  After long weeks of freezing and tough night shooting, I could not even visualise Marius with a discourteous grimace or a rushing word for anyone around him. That can give us a sight of his craft mastery and how he had always everything perfectly under control.

"I just captured what the wonderful location offered us with generosity."

For those who does not know you. Could you please introduce yourself? How did you start in this business?

I started this career by accident. My main desire was to become a Commercial Pilot. Aiming this target, I started to look for flying schools, watching many commercials and internal movies about the pilot career. All these films were very well done, showing a wonderful, amazing world, full of heroic times. They avoided to talk about the long-hours routine spent in cockpit without doing much because the modern navigation is almost completely computerised.

That is how I discovered the manipulative power of the picture. My vision about the pilot job was built in my mind by these very good commercials, using a creative language with a specific goal. As I understood the nature of that language, that had the capability to create and shape my dreams in some way, I have decided I wanted to learn this language and I changed my mind.

I graduated from Film University in a very hard period for film production in Romania. At the beginning of the nineties, there were around forty productions per year. While I was at the University, Romania arrived to produce only one public funded project.

Because I am a lucky person, just in my last year spent in Film University, the government started a huge project to relaunch the film industry. The project was very effective and one year later, I made my first feature film as DOP. It was a Romanian - Swiss coproduction, shot somewhere in the Danube Delta. The environment was very rich and beautiful there and, as a result of that, people noticed my work and my images. Even if I consider the nature as the real artist, not me. I just captured what the wonderful location offered us with generosity. I could say that I have been lucky since then, because after this project I worked for at least two feature films every year. This rhythm continued until the COVID19 stops us running.

Lamborghini commercial

Parking official trailer

How did you get involved in this project? As I understand, it was not your first time working with Tudor Giurgiu. How is your creative relationship with him? Does he gets involved in the visual aspect of the project or he gives you more freedom?

It was my second project with Tudor. The previous one was a very interesting political movie in which I discovered Tudor's magical way of storytelling. He has an excellent ability to balance the language ingredients in a way to keep the audience up and down, between realism and dreamy emotions. His style of working is quite requiring with the cinematographer work in a very pleasant way. Each scene should be a piece of a visual story, not just exposing an action, but embracing the moments with a sensitive and judicious visual approach. We spent long time talking about the way we should create the ambience, about the colours and textures. Even if he is very involved in the visual process, I have never felt his intrusion in my work.

I usually offered him some options for certain situation and, after long debates, we found together what I hope was the best way of shooting it. He never imposed his ideas without talking about the reasons for any decision. For me, it was a great time spent together, with very intense moments but always being nice and creative. I think an essential element for our craft is the sense of humour and Tudor has this ability to make difficult moments to look easier.

 "Tudor has this ability to make difficult moments to look easier"  PHOTO: Bea Hohenleiter

Could you let us know about your visual proposal for the film regarding the cinematography? It seems that you had a realistic approach as a starting point. It is very interesting how you intensified the raw feeling of the car park with your lighting, and how you mixed warm and cold atmospheres. What was the concept behind these stylistic choices?

 

The film is about a poet living in a dusty, raw car parking. Living in a wreck camper van could be a nice experience but not for long time. Surrounded by cars, trash and rats the life is very hard, difficult to imagine like a poetry environment. Our vision about poets is very romantic and the key point of this story was to create a romantic environment in that unremarkable car parking. It was more like a technical space. In this unfriendly area visited by thieves, rats and the underworld, we have a small, warm and cosy island where everything around starts to be melt in poems.

The camper van is a piece of Adrian's home and this space embrace him as in a warm hug. There is a counterpoint between outside and inside, between coldness and warmth. This was our main approach, to create a separation between the parking world, with its real industrial poetry and romanticism, but neutral and lifeless; and the inside world, personal environment, where all these patterns are translated into poems.

We tried to separate very clearly all these spaces by evoking each of them with a specific colour palette and light. Because ninety per cent of the action is during the night we had more control of light quality and this was a great advantage. The outskirts streets are more conventional, lit by sodium orange coloured lamps, warm but in a conventionally way, the dominant colour being more a rusty orange. It is a different warmth than the clean tungsten inside light bulbs, more cosy and familiar.

The parking is lit by different kind of lighting sources, but in a neutral or coldish range. Led panels, mercury gas bulbs and fluorescent cold colour temperature tubes, created an unfriendly space, more like a neutral industrial environment. In the middle of this space we have Adrian's island, his piece of Romania, a spot where he creates poems and he spends his personal life. We decided to use clean tungsten lights for this region just to create a contrast with the rest of the space.

We also tried to keep the local colour dominant of the place where the story happens, with reddish brown earth tonalities contrasting with deep blue sky. However, we adapted the colour palette according to Adrian’s emotional involvement.

In this way we decided to split the actions in two main separate categories. One was the personal, emotional vision and the other was the neutral, objective reality. Thus we choose two different lenses kits, anamorphic lenses for Adrian’s emotional experience, and normal spherical kit for the rest of the actions. I think it was a good choice because the contrast is obvious.

The introduction on his emotional life is on the San Juan’s fire camp party when he started to feel with his heart. The optical change creates a poetical background with fire flames distorted by the anamorphic lenses in a very dreamy manner. We tried to immerse the audience in a special emotional world manipulating the optical tools and increasing the colour qualities, making them more vivid like into a fairy world. The fire scene was very good for me to create the quality contrast clearly separating the real world by the inner, emotional one.

After his first pleasant experience, the meeting on the white plastic table, under raw, white fluorescent tube colour, created a very specific distinction between what is real and what is our vision. I tried to keep a hand held camera like a documentary witness of the story, discovering the world by the main character eyes. It was a way to create a convention of reality, tuning down what could become too sweet, too delicate.

 

Do you feel comfortable shooting this kind of feature film? Have you found any challenges in this project?

 

I like to shoot all kind of stories. I think this is the greatness of this profession. We have the unique opportunity to experience a wide range of emotions. Trying to express our vision about the world, we develop our main philosophy. Even if it is often superficial, it gives us possibilities to taste different bites of life from very diverse environments.

The first exam is the script. If I can find something interesting, something that can feed up my life experience, I start to enjoy shooting, expressing my vision and communicating to the others my way of life perception. I think every project is challenging, no matter how complex it is. Sometimes it is much easier to create a believable complex scene with several cameras, cranes, stunts, explosions, pre-light days… than to build an emotional scene with two persons around a table talking about their feelings. It is a matter of how we position ourselves in front of life. It is not quite rare the fact that the inner, human show is more interesting than the external, spectacular one.

"There is a counterpoint between outside and inside, between the coldness and the warmth"

Did you use any references from other films or photographers to develop the visual style of the project? Which were these references? Did you have a long preproduction? How was it?

 

I always like to use references, like a mood-board, for our vision about the future film. If it is my first collaboration with a director, I like to create our own language building a base of visual patterns, from paintings, photographs, films or any other arts. All these references are not a model for the future picture, they are like words, rudiments of a new language. We can discover shapes and colours in different objects and all these can lead our minds to a specific emotional construction than can be translated later into a two dimensional picture. We have to build our vision from many pieces to finally find a language, a new filmic language. I really do not remember the specific references for Parking. I remember we used some Nan Goldin pictures, different paintings and other film stills mainly to establish a colour palette.

 

Did you have the freedom to choose the camera and lighting equipment we were using? How was the process of choosing to shoot those 8mm film scenes?

Unfortunately, it is getting harder and harder to choose your equipment for independent projects. For me, the first option is film, 35 mm or 16 mm, but is very difficult to convince the producers to change their habits of shooting on digital. I am not a good friend of the digital at all. I do not like the shooting procedure, and I really hate its picture clinical aspect. For me, the negative is still a very organic way of creating visual stories. Apart from that, I consider that film, because is more expensive, make all people much more responsible and aware on set. The idea that we have an unlimited medium creates a too comfortable playground. We are shooting unlimited takes, and that is not the way to make better film.

Another very dangerous tool is the monitor. It looks like if you have a calibrated screen you can create the picture just by looking on the monitor. For me, that is a very dangerous way of working because you lose the contact with the real set. To have a solid visual perception, you must understand the difference between reality and your canvas. To understand the light, you should look at the three-dimensional space on set, and to translate all this factors for a two dimensional medium, you must be aware of what is behind the scenes. Maybe I belong to an old generation, but I assume my limits. I like to understand what happened in a real set not in an interpreted one.

For Parking I had the freedom to choose the digital equipment. I chose a RED Dragon, a quite nice sensor in my opinion, certainly adequate for our film. The 8 mm scenes were designed as personal moments, not flash backs, or archives, but more like a memory layer. It was like the way a writer picks up moments for future books. We, as filmmakers, pick up moments for a personal future film. We did it on 8 mm to create a distinct layer from the main film, looking up for very specific scenes that creates a life approach to Adrian. We started to test this format in our scouting in Asturias and part of these scenes are in the film. Everybody enjoyed these parts in film considering them the most effective. For me is like a small victory against the digital as well.

"The 8mm scenes were designed as personal moments"

Is there any element that you consider fundamental to keep the coherence of the photography you were doing in this project? Do you have any piece of equipment or something related with the workflow that you feel necessary to have in every project you work in? Like your light meter or a specific set of camera filters?

As I was saying before, we split the story in different moments with specific optical and light treatments but keeping them coherent. Doing a rough recap, we used warm colours for inside camper van and Adrian’s island in car park and a neutral to coldish light for the rest of the park. We used those two different lenses kits for different moments of Adrian’s experience. Anamorphic for his love story, more poetical and mild. Spherical and sharper for the rest of the real life scenes. We used mainly hand held camera to create a documentary convention, in a way to be part of the main character life, and to add more realism for the scenes.

I always use my light meter. Well, a calibrated light meter, it does not matter if it is mine or not, it should do the same thing. I am completely for the use of the light meter for digital as well. Some assistants tell me that for digital I need a mouse more than a light meter. For me it is an indispensable tool for film or digital in the same way. I don’t have a trick or some specific tool that I use to create a special look, I think every project has a particular personality and you have to find the right way to adapt your instruments for each requirements.

You are used to work both in a national and international environment. Is there any condition you try to impose depending on what type of project you are working on, like bringing with you your usual gaffer or focus puller? As I understand, you had not worked before this project with anyone from your camera (excepting the 1st AC) or lighting team. How do you set up these new relationships with positions as relevant as the gaffer, for example? Do you like to keep track of everything they do or you prefer to give them information and autonomy?

I would like to work with my regular crew, it is more comfortable. It is not about skills but more about the communication. Working many years with a certain team, you can create a particular language and it is easier to save time. For a focus puller, for example, you know exactly how much you can risk, how much you can push his abilities. On the other hand, on Parking I had a wonderful crew. I was absolutely astonished by their warm way of being and their professionalism. The grip and light crews were from Spain and it was one of the most beautiful experiences until now. I would be happy to work again with them in a project anywhere.

To keep it short, I am open to work and to know different people. I don’t like to impose my vision to anybody. I always ask my gaffer for an advice talking more about the ambience and style, not about specific head lights or fixtures. I prefer to talk more about the design of a scene and to let him choosing the tools.

Trailer de la película Detroit

Trailer of the first collaboration between Tudor Giurgiu and Marius Panduru

Do you feel more comfortable working with a big crew behind or in small projects where the working atmosphere is more intimate?

I am comfortable to work with all kind of crews, depending of the project. If you need a big crew and the number of people is limited, I am not very happy. One of the most important things today is to work very fast. Time means money and for complex situation you can’t be in time without workers. However, if you have a very small, intimate scene, the big crew is useless and sometimes uncomfortable. In this case I prefer one or two persons with small fixtures without crowding the set.

You belong to the Romanian Society of Cinematographers. How did you end up belonging to this collective? Could you explain us how it works and how useful it is for the professionals that integrate this organization?

I am one of the founders of the organisation, so I am member de facto. Like everywhere we try to keep the values of our profession as high as it is possible. The rules are the same as in every country. As a part of the big Imago organisation, we must keep the same rules. On the other hand, we have some specific, local problems and RSC tries to cope with them. We fight for our Copyright rights but this is a long term activity involving more political aspects. RSC has already a tradition organising each year great masterclasses, with very famous guests from other societies. I like this moment because it is a rare case when we can meet each other in the same place. We are a small group, around twenty members, and we try to keep the level up across this hard period, as well.

"I tried to keep the hand held camera as a documentary witness of the story" 

You have been doing lately very interesting projects. Are you more interested in narrative or commercials? What would be your ideal project in a near future?

I definitely prefer narrative projects. I always try to choose to work for feature films, but I am open to do all kind of projects. You can learn things from each shooting day, commercial or not. It is important to accept it, to immerse yourself in the story and to find the best way to translate your vision to the audience. It is as if you had to narrate a story to a different kind of people. If you tell something to a very educate people, you should use a specific language. For a more genuine audience, you should adapt your words to their power of analyses. But, at the end, everything has the same purpose, you must be understood.

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"To me, the negative is a more organic way of creating stories"