Adrian Teijido (53) is one of the most established Directors of Photography (DoP) in Brazil, working all over the world. Videothink had the opportunity to interview the cinematographer on location in Colombia, where he is preparing to shoot the third season of Narcos, the Netflix series about the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar that is making headlines all over the world.
Adrian is a proud member of ABC.1 Besides his work for cinema and television he has also filmed hundreds of commercials.2 Even though the interview took place in the early hours of the morning in Bogota ahead of a busy working day, the cinematographer was happy to give us an insight into his work and the shooting of Netflix’ Narcos.
Interview with Adrian Teijido
Videothink: If I were from Mars, not knowing anything about life on planet Earth, how would you explain your job to me?
Adrian: There are many ways to define what a cinematographer does, but there is one definition I like best: I once heard an American camarographer say that we are visual storytellers: Along with the production designer – I’m responsible for interpreting the director’s view of the script. Not only the director’s but the producer’s too, in this case.
On Narcos we receive the script at the very last minute. They write and rewrite right up to the first day of shooting. We’re then responsible for interpreting it and conveying the right sensation to the audience. So, for example, we could be shooting a normal scene with two people talking. But if for any reason the scene calls for an element of tension, we need to figure out how to create that tension within the image, even if the scripted conversation itself doesn’t convey that tension.
So, to resume: we are visual storytellers. But instead of using a pen or writing, we use camera lenses, filters and light.
Technical aspects used to be a big issue for a DoP. Have technical innovations made it easier or harder to shoot a film nowadays?
I wouldn’t say it’s easier, because working digitally means there are a lot of extra elements. We used to have a way of thinking – a way of shooting – that now has changed a bit. Today there are around ten monitors on set. Monitors for the producers, for the director, for the crew etc. And they all want to have their say. So, before I’ve even finished a take, the producers are already discussing it, saying: “That’s too dark or that’s too bright.”
But then there are advantages too. The wife of the American cinematographer Robert Richardson once said in an interview that thanks to digitalisation, her husband can now sleep peacefully at night. This is true. As soon as we get back to our hotel rooms after a day of shooting, we know that the shots turned out ok. Before, when we shot on film, we had to wait until the next day to see if everything was all right. And more so if you were shooting in a place where the lab was very far away and transport was difficult. I remember I once did a feature film in the North of Brazil, where we had to wait a week to see the takes. So, in that sense we can now rest better. The moment I finish shooting I can rest assured that everything is fine. And while I’m shooting, the images go straight to my DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) and connects to all the monitors. So, the screens on set show the real image that everyone will eventually see.
Working in digital is definitely more comfortable but not necessarily easier. I don’t think “easier” is the right word. Because we have to deal with other issues now.
You’re a Brazilian, shooting a North American TV series in Colombia, co-produced by the French production company Gaumont that can be watched everywhere on the planet. How does this affect your daily work on such a project?
Yes it’s very global. I think it’s interesting to have this mix of nationalities. Of course sometimes it’s not easy. But at the same time, I think we are like musicians, so it doesn’t matter if the producer is American, Swiss or Japanese, we always find a great way to communicate, in a common, creative language.
And this show, I think, is proof that a global crew works. Even sitting together in meetings, it works really, really well. In the first season Lula Carvalho ABC, ASC was the DP of episodes 1 to 8 of the first Season. The Second and Third Season I share with Mexican DP Luis Sansans, AMC. Andi Baez Colombian director, he is also a Co-executive producer, and as a Colombian he became very important related Colombian Cultural facts. From an aesthetic point of view, I think one of the advantages of this show is that we’re shooting in Colombia. We have great sets that are completely different to what people are used to seeing on TV, especially in the U.S. In terms of drama, the character of Pablo Escobar starts off in a different world at the beginning. The main director of this show, Jose Padilha, is Brazilian. He directed “Elite Squad” and “Robocop”. He developed this show with Eric Newman, the American producer. However, a big part of the crew is from Colombia and Mexico. Other key crew members were hired from Brazil or elsewhere.
And the other global aspect about this show is that Netflix right now has around 150 million users around the world and around 50 million of them watch this show. So, for me it’s interesting, because people from all corners of the world look me up and get in touch with me. The other day I received a message from a gaffer in Kenya, another from a technician in LA and from a film student in Asia. It’s very interesting and it’s an aspect I enjoy. Not just because they get in touch, but because it means more people are watching what I’m doing – or trying to do – and they’re enjoying it. This world-wide accessibility is interesting to me.
I think TV nowadays is much closer to cinema than it ever was.
The protagonist of Narcos is a seriously bad guy. How did that influence the way you decided to shoot Wagner Moura, the actor who geniously explores the dark and bright sides of Pablo Escobar?
Well, it changes from episode to episode and from season to season. It depends on what we want to tell to the audience. Towards the end, his family leaves for Frankfurt and he is completely alone and the cartel business is starting to get him down. And in order to accentuate this loneliness, I think it was in episode 7 or 8 in season 2, with the director we decided to shoot with a very wide-angled lens. So, to portray this increasing tension and Escobar’s fragile state of mind, instead of doing close-ups with a normal lens like 40mm, 45mm or 60mm, we filmed him up close with a wide-angle lens, 21mm or 25 mm. This created a strange, unsettling feeling to the composition of the image, which mirrored the character’s fragile mental state. We often used such techniques to heighten the atmosphere.
And yes, Pablo Escobar was a very, very bad guy. He was a killer. But at the same time he was a man with a lot of charisma and a lot of people liked him. And this became an interesting aspect for us, in terms of storytelling. Here in South America bad guys like him often do good things for the people. They do a lot of good in small communities for example.
There is a shot in a scene in the episode called “Exit El Patrón” in Season 2 of Narcos, which is truly amazing: Escobar walks out of his hideout carrying a rabbit in his hands. He sets it free and then goes back towards the house. The camera moves with him, pans, draws back and seems to be a mirror of everything Escobar is feeling. How do you plan such a great shot, where art meets craft – while at same time preventing the camerawork from pushing the actor and director into the background?
Sometimes the director has an idea or I suggest a take. In this specific sequence, the rabbit was an important symbol, because Escobar’s daughter had given him the rabbit, asking him to look after it. Of course this back-story wasn’t in the script, but with the director, we realised that it was a very symbolic moment: the idea of setting free a caged rabbit. So, the rabbit ended up becoming much more important than was initially written in the script. The director and I started to play with the narrative of this rabbit on set. Of course sometimes we have angry producers breathing down our necks. Panicked they call the DIT asking: “Why the hell are they shooting an entire sequence with a rabbit?”
Well, we invent a lot of things on the set, without affecting the schedule of course, because it’s a very expensive show. We can’t afford to end the day without having filmed all the shots on the call sheet. But that particular rabbit sequence we invented on set.
Is it true that Netflix is among the players in the market that allow a maximum of creative freedom?
Well, I don’t think it’s a policy specific to Netflix. The bad guy on this show…well, “bad guy” might not be the right term here…but the guy who calls the shots is Paul Marks, the producer. He does the call sheets, manages the budget and the relationship with Gaumont. And being on location in Colombia means we have a certain degree of freedom, because the producers from Netflix aren’t on set with us on a daily basis. They don’t really control how and what we shoot. But yes, Eric Newman the executive producer and show runner is here with us. So any changes we make, we have to run by Paul Marks and Eric Newman. If for example the director wants to change part of the dialogue, we have to let the show runner know.
Jesse Moore is Eric’s representative on set and we go straight to her if we want to make changes. And she often tells us: “Do it as it says in the script first and then do your own version…”. It’s like working for an agency. They are our clients, so we shoot on their terms. Like in any professional working relationship.
Can you name the most important rule for a DoP? What is the most important thing?
The most important thing? Well, I think the gaffer. And of course a good relationship with the production designer is very important too. In season two and three of Narcos, we’re working with an amazing production designer, Salvador Parra from Mexico. So from the get-go, I know wherever I decide to point my camera, it will look good.
What advice would you give a young camarographer starting out in the business?
Well, there are a lot of things. There’s not just one thing. But the best piece of advice I could give, is to try and free yourself from technical thinking. Instead of thinking technically, we should think as storytellers. I disagree with colleagues of mine who blame the directors. I think we are all equally responsible when it comes to story telling. As cameramen we have to get involved with the story telling too and assist the director conceptually. So, first think conceptually, then technically. Don’t let technicalities restrict your ideas. If I feel a shot will be better, if I mount the camera on the ceiling, I have to go for it and worry about the technicalities later. I believe, in order to invent, we have to think freely. Of course with a show like this, with all the people and money involved, I have to be responsible but it always helps to think outside of the box first.
Adrian, thank you for your time and this great interview!
Light and shadow, good and bad: The upcoming HBO series “The Young Pope” (starring Jude Law and Diane Keaton) promises to be a highly interesting contrast to “Narcos”. “The Young Pope” is set in the Vatican, instead of Colombia and swaps drugs for faith, but promises to be equally as potent in content and image as the adaptation of Pablo Escobar’s life. Narcos: Netflix, two seasons to date, season 3 in production | The Young Pope, 1 season: +HBO HD, Sky Atlantic HD and Sky Go.
1 Brazilian Cinematography Association (ABC), an association formed by leading Brazilian directors of photography.
2 Adrian knows Condor Films, the publishers of Videothink, from working together on several shoots for TV-spots and image films.
Our Videothink interviews can do all but one thing: bore. In our interview section directors, creative heads, key people in the film world and other exponents of national and international moving image communication have their say. The articles so far, aside from Adrian, portray: Jörg Buckmann, Wigald Boninghttps://videothink.info/about-creativity/, Juerg Ebe, Patrick Merz, Movie Director Markus Welter and Kristian Widmer.
© videothink, transcribed by Nina Kaelin | © photos: Adrian Teijido, Netflix (header image)