Igor Martinovic is an Emmy-nominated cinematographer whose work includes “House of Cards,” “The Night Of,” “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and the Showtime limited series “George & Tammy,” but the best advice he ever got was not from a fellow cinematographer, a teacher or even a director he was working with.
Instead, Martinovic told TheWrap, it came from “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” screenwriter and “American Gigolo” and “First Reformed” director Paul Schrader, in an interview Schrader gave about what he and director Martin Scorsese were trying to do when they made “Taxi Driver.”
“He was talking about (Robert De Niro’s character) Travis Bickle, and he said they were trying to make a documentary of Travis’ mind,” Martinovic said. “That was the idea that taught me the most about filmmaking, the idea that you’re actually making visuals that represent somebody’s state of mind.
“So on ‘George & Tammy,’ I borrow a phrase from Paul Schrader and say we’re trying to make a documentary on George and Tammy’s minds.”
In the exclusive video that accompanies this story, Martinovic talks more about the challenges of shooting the six-part limited series, which received nominations for cinematography and costumes, and for lead actors Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, who play the iconic country singers George Jones and Tammy Wynette.
“The idea was to have a subjective portrayal of their lives,” Martinovic said. “We wanted the audience to feel what they felt through their lives and careers, to follow the emotional journey they were going through.”
The series contains a number of onstage performances in which Shannon and Chastain perform live. “We incorporated the audience’s view, so the cameras would be placed behind the audience, in the audience, on the sides of the stage, underneath the stage,” he said. “But as things progress, the camera comes closer to them. It’s with them onstage, behind them on the same – it becomes much more personal.”
Martinovic and director John Hillcoat looked at thousands of photos and videos from throughout the second half of the 20th century, and used lighting and lenses that were true to the period. “We wanted to find a visual language that would represent their struggles,” he said. “At the very beginning, when the relationship is going well, there’s lots of primary colors, lots of complementary colors. And then as, as they dive more into the into the world of drugs and alcohol abuse and physical abuse between two of them, we drain the colors out. The image becomes murkier and darker, and we introduce more silhouettes and more shadows.
“I think that’s what I’m most proud of – capturing the emotion and creating a visual layer within the narrative that helps audience to connect to these people and their experience.”
See Martinovic’s comments about the look of “George & Tammy,” as well as comments from Shannon, Chastain, Hillcoat and executive producer Abe Sylvia in the video above.