Left: Cinematographer Drew Xanthopoulos. Right: Drew and team on the set of Discreet.
Discreet: “When an eccentric drifter attempts closure with his estranged mother he learns that a beastly man from his past is still alive.”
Back in January, MPS Camera & Lighting supplied equipment, namely our Super Baltar lenses, for the indie film Discreet, by award-winning Writer/Director Travis Mathews (Interior, Leather Bar.). The film was shot by Austin-based director and DP Drew Xanthopoulos, a participant of the IFP Documentary Spotlight in 2014 and recipient of the Tribeca Film Institute’s Documentary Grant and Austin Film Society Grant for his forthcoming feature documentary, The Sensitives. Drew’s projects have premiered at Sundance, SXSW, Edinburgh International Film Festival, and AFI Docs, and his work has taken him across the globe. MPS chatted with Drew on the film and how he became a cinematographer.
Tell us a bit about your journey in becoming a DP. What do you like best about it?
It was actually kind of an accident. One of my films in grad school was set in Montana in winter and a couple of weeks before driving up there, the lead actor got cold feet and dropped out. I wasn’t able to recast in time and let the crew know that I couldn’t make the same film anymore but wanted to go up and shoot something since I had a carload of gear, costumes, and wonderful wintry locations waiting for me. Much of the crew bowed out except for the AD and AC so I wrote something on-the-fly while prepping up there and ended up shooting it myself. The film was on the experimental side and though it got some festival love, it mostly was noticed for the cinematography and people started asking me to shoot things for them. So I never sought out to try to be a cinematographer but sort of happened into it out of necessity at first.
What kind of stories do you gravitate toward?
I most love stories in which the character’s world is as an important a reflection of who they are and the decisions they make as any other element. Where the place is as much a character as the people so that the images can always embody emotion and subtext regardless of action or dialogue. I have a soft spot for myth and parables and stories that reach beyond the typical but that’s probably my Greek side coming out.
What equipment was instrumental to your process?
This is one of those projects where the lenses had the most bearing on the look of the film. The Super Baltars lent a texture and smoothness to the images that you typically have to torture over with filters and post-coloring. The 35mm in particular goes very milky when opened up all the way and we used that effect for specific “fantasy” scenes in the movie.
Any favorite stories or memories from set?
We were shooting an insert of bacon sizzling in a pan and had to roll on it a while. Our sound recordist, Nikki Dengel, seemed really excited and in a kind of trance while it was going on and when we finally cut she said, “You guys have to listen to this!” We each put the headphones on and after a few very soothing moments exclaimed that it sounded just like you were standing in the middle of a rainy forest. We found out soon after that the sound of sizzling bacon is actually commonly used to create a gentle rainfall in sound designs!
Discreet is currently in post-production and will have an expected festival premiere in 2017.
Writer / Director
Jonathan Duffy / Kelly Williams
Don Swaynos / Travis Mathews