How Comics and Oscar Isaac Dictated Moon Knight’s Cinematography

We chatted with cinematographers Gregory Middleton and Andrew Droz Palermo about immersing themselves in the Marvel Universe and trying to keep up with its many artists.

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By Brad Gullickson Published May 4, 2022

welcome to world builders, our ongoing series of conversations with the industry’s most productive and thoughtful behind-the-scenes craftsmen. In this post, we chat with Moon Knight cinematographers Gregory Middleton and Andrew Droz Palermo about the show’s cinematography.

Comic book adaptations have a distinct advantage or disadvantage over other projects in terms of cinematography. Gregory Middleton Y Andres Droz Palermo did not create the moon knight universe. He existed decades before they got involved, and while the character was never as popular as Spider-Man or the Hulk, there are fans of Moon Knight and his knives are sharp. Get out of line, don’t venerate the source material properly and you’ll be cut.

Marvel Studios never puts a reflective surface on their projects. They know that comics are their thing, but they also understand that the characters and worlds found on the page need to be felt on screen. When talking about adaptation with cinematographers, they often reveal their process in two ways. Either they ignore what came before, or they immerse themselves in it. On moon knightMiddleton and Palermo chose to embrace comics.

Cinematographers fell into the books. Some of what they found inside puzzled them, but the rest thrilled them. moon knight it’s a complicated endeavor, juggling multiple perspectives and the realities they create. The costumed vigilante precariously manages his dissociative identity disorder, which means his body is piloted by multiple people, each played uniquely by oscar isaac.

series directors Mohamed Diab, justin bensonY Aaron Moorehead drive the narrative forward by first hanging it from Steven Grant’s point of view. In episode two, we jump to Marc Spector. In episode three, their relationship evens out until it all blows up in episode four. Each chapter required the cinematographers to flirt with a different mood, and the comics offered proof that the stylistic mix could work.

“We had a great resource in comics,” says Palermo. “But comics have done so many different things. I bought a bus just when I got hired, and it was a lot of the older pictures, and I really liked them, but I couldn’t get too excited about it. None of that was a real visual foothold for me. Then I saw some of the most recent races, the Jeff Lemire [and Greg Smallwood] stories, and it was like, ‘Oh man, this is amazing. There’s a big cover where Marc is ripping his face off; My God, I was like, ‘There’s no place this show can’t go.’”

For DPs, the comics inspired their commitment to moon knightthe narrative of . Comic panels lack compromise, and the possibilities within them seem limitless. Middleton and Palermo strove to achieve the same effect on their canvases.

“The only thing I learned when I was doing vigilantes for HBO,” says Middleton, “is that with a comic, everything is drawn by the artist. They can put everything where they want and they can put all the elements. We try to make the same consideration for this program. Don’t frame something, and don’t do something unless it fits where we are with the story and what we’re trying to achieve or not. We try to be very careful with that.”

Middleton and Palermo worked through hundreds of comics and ranked their favorite parts. The challenge quickly evolved to surpass the best visual flourishes offered by illustrators like Greg Smallwood. The translation was beyond intimidating.

“Comics are what got me so excited,” says Palermo. “The asylum stuff where every character you’ve met before is a different character there. The orderlies are Billy and Bobby, and some of the characters are sphinxes, and you can open a door, and there are pyramids floating in space. There’s a picture in that run where you see the pyramids in the middle of New York City with sand stacked fifty stories high or something. What image! I really hope our show can be as bold as these comics were.”

moon knightThemes of identity and perspective helped cinematographers embrace and adapt these epic images. Each episode takes the audience into a specific realm, not only in terms of mindset but also categorization. The filmmakers saw moon knight like a series of video shelves, each episode representing a different shelf.

“This particular way of telling a story was quite unique,” says Middleton. “Each episode is almost a different genre. The way jeremy [Slater] wrote the script, the first episode is like a horror movie from Steven’s point of view. And Mohamed loves continuous shots to make things feel as real as possible. We put the camera on Steven to experience the madness of him and the audience to experience it with him.”

The series frequently plants the frame in Oscar Isaac’s face. Middleton and Palermo believe that our investment is based on that particular landscape. If they could tell the whole story enclosed in that frame, they would. Both filmmakers are in awe of what the actor delivers in each episode.

“That is the place that is most interesting for the viewer,” says Palermo. “I care about people. Spectators love the bells and whistles. We love these big action sequences, but you have to stay rooted in character. [The show] it has to be pushing something forward for them as individuals. It can’t just be action for action’s sake, or it goes in one ear and out the other.”

no other moon knight the shot better represents the style rooted in the character and performance than the climactic invocation of the costume scene in episode one. Steven Grant locks himself in the museum bathroom. He is trembling, petrified. In the mirror, Marc Spector asks Steven to hand over the body so the disguise can come off and the werewolf beating can begin.

Initially conceived as a series of edits, director Mohamed Diab wanted to keep the anxiety and terror in one shot. However, landing a shot could cloud the excitement by getting too technical. In Middleton’s mind, it would only work if they could free Oscar Isaac to do his thing.

“We didn’t want to use motion control,” says Middleton, “because that would have resulted in Oscar having to act to a pre-programmed time, and it’s a great thrill. When Oscar plays Steven, he panics. He thinks that he is going to die. That performance is a very active thing, so you have to make sure that he can drive the pace of that. He also has to be Marc and try to figure all of that out. Once he was comfortable, you want the performance to feel alive and feel like it’s really him and not like we’re doing a special effects shot.”

The sequence never flashes. Marc and Steven exist together in the frame, with the supernatural threat pounding on the door. The camera zooms around Steven until he relinquishes control. The camera stops on the body; we witness Marc’s inauguration. The suit envelops the avenger and the audience is relieved.

“I shot it handheld with a prop,” Middleton continues. “We shot all the elements to make sure we didn’t move the camera too much, that we could shoot Oscar without motion control in the mirror so we could track him later. And he was able to reproduce the whole scene, which is great. because in his performance at the end, Steven is genuinely terrified and it’s touching. That was at the end of week one, on day five, and I’m looking at this, and I got goosebumps.”

The moon knight the cinematography is due to the comics and Oscar Isaac. Middleton and Palermo wanted to do them both justice, get out of their way and let them communicate emotion. They are equally proud and amazed when they comment on what they have achieved in these six episodes. The Marvel series gifted them with an incredible playground where the inner life of a body dictated its surroundings. They went where the perspective demanded.

moon knight is now streaming on Disney+.

Related Topics: Marvel Explained, Moon Knight, World Builders

Brad Gullickson is a weekly columnist for Film School Rejects and a senior curator for One Perfect Shot. When he’s not rambling about movies here, he’s rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Catch him on Twitter: @BocaDork. (he/he)

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