Cinematographer Jakob Ihre discusses adapting to shooting on itital, lighting different characters for a thematic purpose, and how production design affects his creative choices.
This is an excerpt of the interview which appears in our case study on Thelma in the ebook Beyond Empowertainment: Feminist Horror and The Struggle for Female Agency, which is available for purchase here.
“We go out well prepared. But we really are looking for the unknown, to get those kicks, to get that adrenaline that we get when we find something new, when something happens in front of us.” Cinematographer Jakob Ihre has now been working with director Joachim Trier for more than a decade. They started collaborating on shorts in film school, and Ihre has shot all of Trier’s features to date.
Their new film, Thelma, is their first genre film after three realist dramas, and as such, required even more preparation than usual. There were so many complex lighting cues written into the script — from the strobe lights that trigger Thelma’s seizures to something as seemingly simple as the sun fading up. “Basically, with her powers and her feelings, with that comes a lot of lighting cues,” Ihre explained. One of the reasons for making a genre film was to give themselves license to let loose and play visually. Still, some of the greatest highs while shooting came when they went back to their roots, finding moments of raw, emotional truth, often with spontaneous handheld shots.'We are looking for the unknown, to get that adrenaline that we get when we find something new.'Click To Tweet
“I try always to choose a project which I can really invest my everything into. What’s unique about Joachim’s films is we know the stories very well. Even though this is a supernatural movie, emotionally, we are very well connected with the character. We find elements which are very personal to us. The way Joachim works, he wants you to be involved. He wants it to be my film as much as his film. I operate myself. I know the actors. I know the characters that they play very well. It becomes very engrossing.”
When working with Trier, Jakob Ihre is so personally invested in the project that his work goes beyond just his craft as a cinematographer; he’s a co-filmmaker. “Joachim could have been a Stanley Kubrick or a David Fincher if he wanted to, where he just does his thing and we all become someone who executes it. But he doesn’t want that from you. He wants a collaborator. He wants someone to explore with him. That’s what we enjoy the most when we look at the shot, while shooting, and feel we’ve discovered something new in this scene, or we capture a moment that we never thought would occur. He likes to discover this with us. He wants to find these moments with a band of collaborators.”'He likes to discover with us. He wants to find these moments with a band of collaborators.'Click To Tweet
This collaboration starts the moment Ihre sees the script. “I sit down with Joachim at first just to go through the script, everything story-wise, to understand the characters, the motivations. Some days, you might do two pages or four pages, and you go slowly forward, talking through the film.”Trier usually comes to these meetings with some visual ideas in mind, but Thelma felt different to Ihre.
“In the writing process, they [Trier and co-screenwriter Eskil Vogt] do a lot of research so there’s always a folder with visuals that they’re inspired by. For Thelma, that folder was bigger. It had more reference pictures than in other films that we’d made together because they were so triggered by images for the writing.”
Want to read the rest of the interview? Order a copy of our ebook on feminist horror beyond empowertainment here.