While his body of work is quite diverse, cinematographer Eigil Bryld has built within that a bit of a niche in politically charged stories as reflected in his Emmy-winning effort on Netflix’s House of Cards, his recent turn lensing the HBO limited series The Loudest Voice starring Russell Crowe as Fox News creator Roger Ailes, and now on the feature front with The Report (Amazon Studios), written, produced and directed by Scott Z. Burns.
Based on actual events, The Report stars Adam Driver as Daniel J. Jones who is tasked by his boss, Sen. Diane Feinstein (Annette Bening), to lead an investigation of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, which was created in the aftermath of 9/11. Jones’ relentless pursuit of the truth leads to explosive findings that uncover the lengths to which the nation’s top intelligence agency went to destroy evidence, subvert the law, and hide a brutal secret from the American public. The cast also includes Jon Hamm. Sarah Goldberg, Michael C. Hall, Douglas Hodge, Fajer Kaisi, Ted Levine, Jennifer Morrison, Tim Blake Nelson, Linda Powell, Matthew Rhys, T. Ryder Smith, Corey Stoll, and Maura Tierney.
The Report tells a story that is both disillusioning and uplifting. The cause for dismay is rooted in an institutionalized cover-up as politics get in the way of the truth, fostering and protecting a torture program under the Bush-Cheney administration that is the antithesis of what America is supposed to be about. Yet the cause for optimism is Jones himself, the epitome of a dedicated, honest public servant who through the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report is looking to bring the facts to the American people and the world at large.
Bryld was driven by the importance of the story as well as the challenge of crafting the right visual approach to help do it justice. Bryld noted that the story was dense with names, facts and locations, further complicated by a fragmented timeline and flashbacks that had to be made visually palatable for an audience. In some respects, it was a paring down process akin to what Burns had to do as a screenwriter, taking a 6,700 page report from which was gleaned a 500-page summary and then trying to get that into the form of a 120-page screenplay. Bryld and Burns in turn had to take on that screenplay visually, keeping it engaging while informative for viewers. With limited shoot time and resources, the director and DP somehow managed to make the story relatable. A prime lesson learned by Bryld was the power of an acting performance.
“Adam managed to make this a personal drama through his performance,” assessed Bryld. “He lifted the story from being something profoundly important to also making it a human drama, causing the overall story to be even larger as we see what one man did, how it impacted him and others, and why what he did is so vital for any democracy.”
We see the obstacles that Jones had to overcome, his perseverance over seven years, buried in paperwork in a windowless basement room in the bowels of the CIA, sifting through millions of pages to find the truth only to have it derailed by a major cover-up effort. That human element embodied in Jones’ struggle gives dimension to a story which in the wrong hands could have felt “dry and procedural,” observed Bryld. “I really think this movie can bring about change, raise awareness because of how it connects with an audience.”
At the same time, there was a delicate balancing act in terms of depicting scenes of torture. While there were innocent victims, terrorists were also interrogated. Bryld said it wasn’t part of any mission in the film to make people feel sorry for terrorists. It was much more about what was happening as opposed to the specific person, giving audiences a sense of what was being perpetrated--despite the CIA’s own finding that the criminal act of torture wasn’t effective, not yielding any credible intelligence or information. The flashbacks were stark with an industrial-type lighting, designed to capture an unsettling, unnerving feeling as we become witnesses to torture.
To give the audience the proper handle visually, the flashbacks and present day were differentiated. Deployed in tandem with the ARRI Alexa Mini, the lens choices provided a distinct orientation. Present day was shot with master primes while the flashbacks involved uncoated ultra primes that pick up flare and have less color saturation. This helped make the flashbacks appear disorienting, as almost broken images. The present day is more matter of fact, clean and vibrant to help give attention to subtle nuances and to create tension.
Bryld and Burns
The Report marks Burns’ second feature as a director. His first was the 2006 release Pu-239, which was shot by Bryld. Short for Plutonium-239, Pu-239 delved into radiation poisoning at a Russian nuclear plant. Burns recalled that he and Bryld had “an incredible collaboration” on that first film. "I can’t take all of the credit but that movie for HBO established him (Danish cinematographer Bryld) in the U.S. I spent a fair amount of time singing his praises to other filmmakers. He’s done great work. Eigil understands me really well. He understood that with this challenging schedule on The Report, we needed an aesthetic that could be accomplished within that timeframe, something that wouldn’t get in the way of all the information we had to convey. We have similar feelings about establishing a cinematographic grammar for a project.”
In-between Pu-239 and The Report, Bryld has indeed accomplished much in the U.S.--including not only the Emmy win in 2013 for the House of Cards pilot directed by David Fincher (Bryld shot the first 11 episodes of the series), but also an Emmy nod three years earlier for the HBO telefilm You Don’t Know Jack directed by Barry Levinson and starring Al Pacino as doctor-assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian. Bryld reunited with Levinson on the HBO telefilm The Wizard of Lies with Robert De Niro portraying stock broker and investment advisor Bernie Madoff, perpetrator of one of the biggest financial frauds in U.S. history. Bryld’s other recent feature fare includes Ocean’s Eight directed by Gary Ross. In the international arena, Bryld garnered a BAFTA Award for best factual photography on the strength of Wisconsin Death Trip in 2001, and a Madridimagen honor for innovative cinematography on the basis of the feature Charlie Butterfly in 2003.
On the short-form score, Bryld lensed a branded content film following the life journey of Ingrid Silva from the slums of Rio to the professional ballet stage of NYC. Sponsored by Activia, Ingrid Silva: The Journey won a Cannes Silver Film Craft Lion in Cinematography as well as a D&AD Wooden Pencil, also for Best Cinematography, in 2017.
As for what’s next, Bryld at press time was in New Orleans lensing Deep Water, a psychological thriller feature directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas.
This is the fifth of a 16-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on SHOOTonline.com, with select installments also in print issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards gala ceremony. Nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards will be announced on Monday, January 13, 2020. The 92nd Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, Calif.,and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network. The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.