No single person constructs their rise in the rough and tumble film business in the same manner. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo made his feature debut with Adam Wingard’s horror picture YOU’RE NEXT in 2011. He followed that by moving to the director’s seat, co-directing a documentary and heading up a separate narrative feature. Palermo returned to his DP roots on 2017’s A GHOST STORY, which tracks a dead musician (Casey Affleck) trapped in his former house with his grieving lover (Rooney Mara) — a story about love, loss, and the expansiveness of time. After being floored by A GHOST STORY and its images, I reached out to Palermo, and he graciously spoke to The BarnBurner about his influences, career beginnings, working with David Lowery, and future projects.
You grew up in Jefferson City, Missouri. What sparked your interest in film?
I always wanted to make movies. My best friend and I would watch and re-watch PREDATOR and ROBOCOP constantly when we were little kids. VHS copies of CHUCK & BUCK and RESERVOIR DOGS showed up in my early teens and we wore those films out. I got cold feet in late high school though, because filmmaking seemed completely alien and inaccessible so I dove deeply into fine art with the hopes that maybe I’d work at an advertising firm or something after college. It’d didn’t really stick and I found myself making music videos and then later films.
As a bit of a sports guy, I’ve got to ask: are you a Cards fan as most Missourians seem to be?
I never really liked baseball until recently. Most of my family is from outside of Kansas City, so we’re Royals fans.
Hate to be another person asking about “influences,” but , er, what film, short, or music video most influenced you as a cinematographer?
When I first saw DAYS OF HEAVEN when I was 18, I was really floored. It felt so raw and real, but also so emotive. I hadn’t seen moving images say so much.
And you’ve also sat in the directors seat [2014’s RICH HILL and 2015’s ONE & TWO among others], do you have a preference?
I’ve been focusing on DPing lately, but I have a script that I want to direct next year. I don’t have a preference really. I love to shoot, and I learn so much from all the directors I get to work with. I think I’ll continue to do both, but I see myself more as a DP.
Did you know Timothee Chalamet was going to be the star he is today? [Palermo directed Chalamet in ONE & TWO]. If you say no, I won’t tell him, haha.
Yes, actually. He was so great in our film and has such an energy. I know he’ll continue to do great things and make interesting choices.
So how’d you get plugged in with David Lowery?
The Sundance Institute connected us. My film ONE & TWO and his film AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS were in the labs at the same time and we became acquainted via that.
What drew you to A GHOST STORY?
At first the team. David and his producers Toby and James are some of my very favorite people. Then after that, it was the whole concept. It was totally right up my alley. I adore that little film.
What’d you think when you first read the 40-page script?
I was stoked. I thought it was going to be a lot of fun.
Did you consider any creative references before production began?
We talked about a lot of things. David and I both have a pretty big melting pot of stuff that we like. POLTERGEIST, UNCLE BOONMEE, JEANNE DIELMAN, BEETLEJUICE.
When you first discussed this movie with David, how did you envision the look of the film?
It flowed naturally and through trial and error. Some tricks we used to rely on just didn’t work anymore. Partially because of the type of film, partially because of the aspect ratio.
What did you shoot the movie on? (camera and film)
What was your general approach to the lighting?
As much as possible with the little means that we had. A few LiteMats, a couple KinoFlos, and a lot of negative fill. Often it was a process of removal of the Texas sun, or scheduling our days around light.
Are there any scenes that you are particularly fond of from a cinematographic point of view?
Once time starts slipping, I really like that sequence. We shot a lot of him roaming buildings and pits. David cut that sequence beautifully.
I understand it was a notably small crew, how many folks were on set daily and what did that add to the film?
Some days were bigger than others. Occasionally it’d be 16 or so crewmembers, others it’d just be David, Casey and myself.
I noticed the camera started to become more fluid as time started to slip by and enter ghost-mode, was that an intentional choice or am I overanalyzing?
Yes, that’s supposed to feel like a release after so many lock-offs, and to help make it feel as though time is accelerating.
Be honest, if you personally shot the scene from inside the house when the construction crew starts to wreck it, were you nervous? Or were you like, “hell yeah man, let’s DO THIS!”
To be safe, you never man the camera in scenes like that. You lock it off, roll camera, and step outside. We had the camera in a crash box as well, which is a big plexiglass steel-reinforced cube.
Any advice for young filmmakers trying to make it in a tough industry?
Just keep at it and don’t wait for permission. Make anything you can and just keep plugging away.
You’re currently on set shooting your next project, what can you tell us about it?
I’m shooting a new TV series for CBS and Scott Free called STRANGE ANGEL. David directed the first two episodes.
Last question: if I write the script for A Ghost Story 2: Back Under the Sheet. Do you think David will sell me the rights and will you shoot it for me?
Better yet — just make it and share it!
[Banner image via Andrew Droz Palermo & Indiewire]