Anastas Michos: I was in South Africa wrapping up on another film called THE EMPTY MAN and literally ran into producer Michelle Weisler, who I knew from a project a long time ago. I met the director Vince Marcello over an improvised Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant and we got along fabulously. He invited me to join the adventure. The film was shot in Cape Town, South Africa, doubling for Los Angeles, CA.
PH: You worked with Director Vince Marcello on the first film and now this second installment. Can you describe your collaboration? What did your shooting process look like?
Anastas Michos: Vince is one of the most prepared directors I have ever collaborated with. Brimming with ideas, he loves to set me off in a direction and expand on his original thought. Prep is paramount -- we would visit locations, act out the roles, discuss camera placement, he would make up shot lists. I would invariably add to them, and then he would list them in order of "must-haves" all the way to "it-would-be-great-to-gets." There were several set pieces in this film that were story boarded due to the complexity of the VFX or the sheer pressure of the schedule. Vince in the master of the montage. A thirty second sequence could end up having 10-15 locations.
PH: How did you work with Vince and your team to make shot decisions for the film? Is there a "teen rom com" formula to shooting?
Anastas Michos: I have learned that the more ideas I pitch, the more fodder Vince has to work with. His “let me think about it” usually means “come up with another one." So, we cross reference everything from films to fine art to music. There is no formula per se, although the look has to be within the genre. The Kissing Booth 2 was following on the heels of the success of the first film and that led to making certain choices. With a romantic comedy franchise, the main goal as I see it is to please the audience and to give them more. "Good wasn’t good enough" is how we always treated this film and its predecessor. It had to meet the meticulous standards that Vince set for all of us.
PH: Did much of the same crew come back for the sequel? How was it working with new crew members -- did they provide fresh perspectives for new creative choices to be made? The viral success of the first film must have been exciting for you all!
Anastas Michos: It was mixed. In the camera department, I had three crew members that I had previously worked with in South Africa, albeit in new positions. I bumped up Meike Chinnery, my A cam first assistant on THE EMPTY MAN, to B cam operator. She did a fantastic job as I knew she would. She brought with her her second, Simone Howlett, who became B camera First Assistant who routinely nailed the lough long long lens work. Gaopie Kabe, was on A camera, this was one her first "big” film and we had a tremendous amount of technocrane work. She is outstanding. I know I demand much as a DP from the crew, especially the operators as I was one for so long. Kent Stram was the A cam first, he is the coolest most calm and collected first I know. Great energy and a great eye. I'm sure he’ll be operating in no time. Oliver Wilter was our gaffer, and nothing was too big nor too small for him. I mentioned we had some big set pieces and he dug into everything with gusto and it all looks great. Stephen Knipe, Key Grip, took every whacky ice I had for a rig and turned it into a reality. Very inventive and always a smile. The South African crew was fantastic.
PH: What's one of your favorite shots from The Kissing Booth? Why? How about The Kissing Booth 2? Why?
Anastas Michos: Hmmmm... I had several favorite sequences... some way complicated. Doubling the HOLLYWOOD sign at an abandoned airfield comes to mind, as does the DDM dance sequences, which required designing a large lighting rig for a concert type venue. Sometimes the simplest are the best though. As mentioned, we were in Cape Town doubling for Los Angeles. Easy enough on interiors but remember, South Africans drive on the left side of the road, in the states we drive on the right. I had the idea that we flop (revert) the image, print all the foreground bus stops and car license plates in a mirror image of themselves, have the actors' mirror images of the clothing logos, and shoot a big exterior scene… all on day ONE! Some departments thought I was nuts, but it worked perfectly. The cars all ended up driving on the “right” side of the road, the steering wheels ended up in the right position, the bus stops and all else had the right lettering… it was a great trick. As far as The Kissing Booth (first film), I think that I was most proud that we actually pulled off the look for the budget we had. Michele Weisler was amazing as were all the SA producers, we all had to come up with very inventive ways to expand the look of the movie, and it certainly worked.
PH: What equipment did you rely on for these films? Why?
Anastas Michos: I am a huge fan of Panavision. I know their lenses well and the company supported me every step of the way.
PH: How are you constantly evolving as a cinematographer?
Anastas Michos: I think that experience is underrated in a business that strives for the next hot thing. I’ve faced many lighting and camera challenges, and having a wealth of experience means I can take greater chances with images and technique. I love the one light set up as much as lighting up entire mountains, or the single intimate camera with an actor as much as the 9 camera setups.
PH: What's next for you?
Anastas Michos: I do have a film, a very dark thriller for 20th Century Studios, being released in August called THE EMPTY MAN. That was a much larger budget, so we got to dangle technocrats from helicopters and all sorts of fun stuff. And I’m about to shoot a Morgan Freeman thriller in the South.