As a cinematographer, Ericson Core filmed movies like The Fast and the Furious, Payback, and Daredevil. When he became a director on the true sports story Invincible, Core remained his own director of photography. So, for his second film, Point Break, he was still the DP and it was a doozy.
Point Break filmed in 11 different countries with athletes performing extreme stunts in the most extreme locations. Luke Bracy plays Johnny Utah, an FBI agent going undercover to root out an eco-terrorist. Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez) is still the leader of a group of athletes, but with more on their mind than robbing banks.
I got to sit down with Core to discuss the new Point Break, which opens Christmas Day.
Thank you for filming everything clearly so we could see all the amazing stunts. As a DP yourself, what are your thoughts on the modern shaky handheld style that usually obscures the action?
That’s an interesting question. There’s a couple things because I was the DP on the film as well. Ultimately, my goal was to get it as authentically as I possibly could.
I tried not to go too extreme in terms of the shakiness where things are obscured, but was very importantly anti the green screen or CG world that so many movies that are very successful and super entertaining do nowadays. I think it’s a trend to do things in ways that people do things that break the laws of physics all the time. We wanted to show it so in order to film it, we tried to get the momentum, tried to capture in camera the energy of that which sometimes requires shake and particular lenses to do that. But it was also important to see that action happening and not obscure it to the point that it was faked.
Because it was being done for real, it was wonderful. We didn’t have to hide things so much. We could see it clearly. If you shake too much and move things too much, you hide and you never get a chance for anyone to land. For this, I wanted to bring people into the world and have them connect with it.
What was your choice to tone down the colors of the shots?
As a cinematographer I always look for inspiration. As I look through photo books and imagery through the world, I have a tendency as a filmmaker, and I did it all the way back from Payback with bleach bypass, Fast and the Furious we did bleach bypass. Even though the colors of the new Fast and Furious movies are candy coated, the first movie if you look at it is pretty gritty.
I used a tobacco filer because of the smog in L.A. that I was trying to capture and vehemently hate but used it as part of the story. So for me, looking at images and trying to create a theme for this, I decided to tone down the world, to give it a bit of an edge to it, a bit of a sodium vapor green and a little bit of bite to it, to make it a little edgier.
To show that there was an underlying tension in our world. I think when you have the entire color spectrum, it’s a little too bright and poppy and a little oversaturated. I think the job as a cinematographer is to take the slice of pie that is all the color wheel and take the thinnest slice you can to tell your story through that point of view, both with lenses, both with lighting and color palette. By doing so, I think we created a look into the world through the eyes of our athletes and the world that they were living in as opposed to just the world abroad.
We’ve created a point of view, so toning down the colors and giving a specific look to it was all about giving a specific point of view that accentuated what the characters felt.
Can you not imagine how directors let someone else be the DP?
Not necessarily. I think there’s great collaborations and I have heroes of cinematographers that I would’ve loved to work with and hope to get a chance to work with someday because I’ll learn a lot from them and their experience level and talents are far greater than mine.
Interestingly enough, I was asked by the studio to shoot Invincible and I was also asked by the studio to shoot this film. It wasn’t my original intention. It was actually brought to me as a request in both situations. I think that, although it does require a lot of work and keeps you very busy, this was a perfect film for it in the sense that we had to go in helicopters, we had to be on the tops of mountains and the rest.
Video Village and sitting by a monitor 50 feet away saying, “Next” to the actors to go again, wasn’t this type of film. Trailers didn’t exist on our film. We were there. So a lot of the film was shot on my shoulder. I know Edgar and Luke appreciated that because I could feel their performance. I was there with them.
I was no farther away than you and I when I filmed it, which is very intimate. That feeling exists in the film, so the line blurred very much for me between being a director and a cinematographer because it was part of storytelling. So there are other directors out there, Ridley Scott and others who could easily be their own cinematographers and have incredible visual style, Michael Mann among others. But the partnership is always important.
This film, the smaller the crew in some ways, the better. Now that I’m used to doing it, I don’t know if I could do it another way.
As the director of photography, are you also operating a camera?
I did. On this film, we shot in 11 countries with 11 different crews. There’s probably 56 camera operators on this film, operators that are specific to wingsuiting, skydiving, surfing, snowboarding, climbing, all the way through. However, as the crews got smaller and the continuity of crew was very limited because we didn’t bring many people with us if anyone, I was the continuity as the director and director of photography.
So there was a point where I started operating a lot of it and I do have a background as a mountaineer, so hanging off cliffs is something I’m comfortable and skilled enough to do so I did it. It gave a continuity to the way the camerawork was but we were very much a handheld movie.
As epic as the visuals are, it feels very intimate between Utah and Bodhi. How did you create intimacy within these epic visions?
In Point Break, going to extraordinary locations such as Venezuela and Angel Falls, being at Chopu, being in the middle of Jungfrau and in the Dolomites in Italy, you have to have epic. The scale was beautiful and nature was a big part of our story so that was the epic of our story. But, there’s no place that I feel more humbled and small and powerless than in nature, because of the scale and the time and the power of nature.
In many ways, I felt the same way about the characters. Even though Bodhi is trying to make all this difference in the world by completing the Ozaki 8 and giving back, he’s truly powerless to make a difference. As Utah tells him at the top of the mountain, “You’ve done all this, people have died and you’ve accomplished nothing.” The fact is he’s made probably no difference in a way and it’s very heroic to watch his ideals in trying to do it, but he really is running at windmills.
So the idea of showing the intimate, both to connect characters in an intimate way, but also the smallness that we are within that world. So I think the intimate story between Bodhi and Utah was very important, that they could feel that real and that raw and that stripped down in nature was very, very important to the story and it’s how I feel and the extreme athletes feel and why they pursue what they do. These people don’t have huge egos. They’re actually some of the most humble and grounded people I know because they are in awe and humbled by their surroundings.
I thought that was very important to present in the film so it was very important to have the huge scale so that the audience could be awed, but then the intimacy to show the personal intimacy of what exists there.
Geography is important in action scenes. Does that follow even in a wave, that there’s a geography inside that?
Yes, absolutely. Very key to us, and in films it’s very easy whether people are left or right footed, goofy footed or not on a wave, the direction in which you ride a wave and trying to tell that story was really key in the film.
Frankly in the film one of the things that I hope helps keep things straight, we sort of color coded our actors. Utah became blue. Bodhi became his sort of blood red. Matias had green and there was a maroon and a white in particular that Roach wore, just so that we could separate our characters and get that sense of continuity throughout the story. Whether it be the colors of the surfboards, wingsuits, climbing gear or clothing all the way through motorcycles, etc. we always tried to color code things to some degree.
In waves and all these sports, showing the directionality is always very key and it goes right back to that idea of having the epic, to see the scale of where people are and then go back to the intimate of what they’re doing but always keeping that straight.
Point Break opens on December 25th.