Wolfgang Thaler and Sebastian Thaler are the father/son cinematography team behind Netflix’s well reviewed Transatlantic. Having previously worked together, the lensing duo sits down with Awards Daily to discuss what made this show so different from their other collaborations. They also reveal what challenges and advantages working in Marseille posed for creating the show’s visual palette.
Awards Daily: What attracted you both to this project?
Wolfgang Thaler: The historical aspect, Varina Fry, shooting in Marseille in the south of France, having an international crew, and of course shooting a project again with Anna Winger after working with her on Unorthodox.
Awards Daily: That actually leads to my next question: what was it like working with Anna Winger?
Wolfgang Thaler: It is very easy for me because we love each other and appreciate each other’s skills, and just know each other very well. It’s always possible to discuss the script with her and this is very important for me. Because I need to know the background of the stories and the characters. This is what I need for my inspiration.
Sebastian Thaler: Same for me. I got to know Anna during Unorthodox and it’s a pleasure to work with her, she has great ideas. Plus to work in Marseille was really a nice adventure to support this project.
Wolfgang Thaler: Sebastian was not unknown to Anna Winger because I didn’t have time to do the color correction for Unorthodox. So they know each other very well.
Awards Daily: One thing I noticed in watching Transatlantic is how bright everything is even in the darkest of night. I wondered if that was partially where you were filming or as part of a contrast to the darker things that were going on within the story.
Wolfgang Thaler; This is because when I found out that the story is fictionalized, Anna Winger didn’t want an antique story about Varian Fry so it means you have to do something with your images. If the locations are so beautiful, so wonderful, and it is such hard work to bring them back to 1940, it would be a shame for the audience to not be able to see these locations and the art departments’ work. On the other side is also related to the look that we tried to create for this show. It means we want to have it look like a modern film. Maybe Sebastian can say more; he was very deeply involved with this.
Sebastian Thaler: Of course there was this approach that you are in paradise in southern France and hell is happening. So this was the contrast that we wanted to show, for example the blue of the sea was always the emotions for the characters–this was the way out to freedom. Paradise Is usually nice and bright and in the real world filming it was very nice and colorful. Everything wasn’t dark and ugly even when the times were ugly. This was the contrast we wanted to reproduce in the show.
Awards Daily: For me one of the most intense shots was in the final episode with the beach scene at the beginning where the police are clearing it and you land on that shot of the broken doll. It was chaotic but so controlled. What was shooting that like?
Sebastian Thaler: That was a very stressful scene to shoot because we had just half of a day to shoot it. We had rehearsals two days before and we were setting up different small scenes on the beach. In the beginning we tried to capture this refugee camp by getting shots of the people who lived there. We tried to tell small stories of what could happen in this small microcosm of the people there. But it was a very intense scene to shoot.
Wolfgang Thaler: You have to mention that often we had to share one shooting day because the locations are very expensive and it’s very difficult to keep people from going to the beach. We each had five hours to create these shots, and after he was finished I had a few hours to do these evening scenes that were at the beginning of the show. For everybody it was very stressful to share one location on one day.
Awards Daily: Did either of you have a particular shot that you were particularly happy with or proud that you were able to do?
Wolfgang Thaler: You know sometimes you’re very happy if you get the shot and it’s beautiful or well done and you couldn’t imagine before you start shooting how it will look in the end. For me personally the embassy was a difficult location concerning light and because it is a long room and there is one light source from a big window. If you look outside the window there is always the sunset so it is very bright. The wall inside was very dark so overall this was quite a challenge. I was very happy how it looked in the end. I couldn’t imagine it at the beginning, so for me this was a surprise and I was very happy with it. Sometimes you are happy if you have a lucky shot like just good weather. Because most of the time as cinematographer the best light situation is passing by because nobody is able to predict the situations. So you are happy in such situations if you are able to catch them.
Sebastian Thaler: For me it wasn’t my episode but I had to replace Wolfgang in the party scene in episode 3. I was very happy too to do the scenes there.
Awards Daily: You guys have worked together on a couple of projects. How did that dynamic work for this show?
Wolfgang Thaler: This time it was different because we shared our ideas, our inspirations, and learned from each other. For me it was a new situation because I was not the boss. The projects before we had a different kind of cooperation. He was doing a second camera or second unit or focus for something. This time we were at the same level. We have been discussing the look and the aesthetic and, for me, a really beautiful wonderful experience. It was amazing working with Sebastian. We know each other very well and we have, let’s say, a similar style and a similar aesthetic feeling.
Sebastian Thaler: A similar approach to doing things as well. And for me it is really wonderful to share experiences and to share the work and prepare something for Wolfgang and vice versa. Because the shooting schedule was so intense we had to, like Wolfgang was mentioning, share a location. Sometimes I was technically reviewing the locations and it was an intense time of trust building between us. I knew my father could trust me on my decisions and vice versa and that was very beautiful to really exchange ideas and experiences and to create something really new. I hope the show benefited from that a lot.
Wolfgang Thaler: For me it was very new. I was listening to his ideas, listening to young ideas. I am experienced. I know what is working, but the young ideas or approaches were perfect for me. And as an experienced cinematographer sometimes I have to step back and trust my coworker. In this case Sebastian; I had to trust him because then I got something completely new.
Awards Daily: Any final thoughts?
Sebastian Thaler: The only thing is try to watch the show in HDR because it’s really a different experience and also a different experience to shoot for HDR. The show definitely looks different in high-definition range and adds something three-dimensional to the images in the show.