Getting Inside the Mind of Brendan Kuroki Uegama, DP for Amazon's hit horror anthology Them

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Brendan Kuroki Uegama, CSC, is an incredibly dedicated cinematographer to his craft and to the art of filmmaking. He works tirelessly on each story he takes on to understand the nuances and intricacy of the project. In creating competing visuals his images continually compliment and help elevate each project he works on. 

Recently, Uegama lensed Them: The Scare, the second season of Amazon Prime’s hit horror anthology. Previously, he shot features including: sci-fi-romantic comedy hybrid Moonshot from director Christopher Winterbauer for New Line & Berlanti starring Zach Braff, Cole Sprouse and Lana Condor, which received positive reviews for its quality visual aesthetic; MGM’s Child’s Play, directed by Lars Klevberg and starring Aubrey Plaza, Brian Tyree Henry, and Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky; and Electra Woman & Dyna Girl for director Chris Marrs Piliero, an official selection at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

PH: Hi there Brendan! Can you share your production background? How did you get into cinematography? 

Brendan Kuroki Uegama: I've always had a passion for image-making. While in high school, Photography was my favorite class and I spent a lot of time in a dark room. Filmmaking was something I always wanted to do but at the time I didn't know how to get into it as I had no connections in the industry. So I picked up a video camera and shot my friends skateboarding and snowboarding. Shortly after I found myself shooting motocross videos, but I knew I didn't want that and always wanted to tell stories as a filmmaker. I studied cinematography in film school, and from there, I kept pushing and building and eventually, the projects got bigger and bigger.

PH: Can you talk about your work on some of your other projects, including Moonshot, Child’s Play, etc?

Brendan Kuroki Uegama: Both of those features were great projects to do. Filming CHILD'S PLAY and working with Lars Klevberg on such an iconic IP was a great challenge to take on. And MOONSHOT was a really fun script that was full of great visual opportunities. They both included freedom to work with vibrant colors in new ways. I loved that idea for each of them. CHILD'S PLAY's theme allowed me to bring a heightened color palette to it than I would in a more grounded show like MIKE, for example. My moonlight was more blue and vibrant.  I used aggressive colors to try and amplify the intensity and at times I let the light be more theatrical. There were no rules and I embraced that.

MOONSHOT  is about two people leaving Earth behind and traveling through space to a colony on Mars and the invitation for color was all over this project. Act one was based on Earth, act two was on a spaceship and act three was on Mars. I allowed act one to be the most natural of any act.  But once we got on the spaceship the intensified colors were everywhere.  I imagined the ship going through different light modes to help the passengers stay "balanced" to the time of day shifting, since in space it would feel dark the entire time. So the ship's internal light would move from warmer colors in the morning to very saturated blues in the evenings. And depending on what was happening it would get either more oranges or red. Then when we get to Mars, the tones from the planet are felt throughout the colony. So an orange-yellow color washed many of the rooms as if it was the daylight coming in.

This three-act idea was supplemented by the lenses.  I used a different lens set for each act. really allowing them to have their own identity all within the Moonshot look.  Working with director Chris Winterbauer on this was really great as he was so open to pushing these ideas and boundaries.   

PH: How would you define your creative process? How did you infuse your own creativity and personality on screen? 

Brendan Kuroki Uegama: I work very hard at finding what the show should be. I do that through hundreds of conversations with the director, brainstorming ideas, discussing references, images and films. I dissect the script and focus on really understanding the story beats, the characters and the director's idea that we want to present. In prep, I come at it from all angles, throwing many ideas into the mix and finding out what sticks. My main goal is to make the best film we possibly can.  My creativity comes from knowing all the ideas we want to tell, finding a visual motif for that one project and working to express them uniquely within the world of that show.  

PH: When it comes to selecting which projects to work on, how do you determine which makes the cut? 

Brendan Kuroki Uegama: I need to like the script and get along well with the director, and I need to know we have the means to execute the vision that is in our heads and in the script.

PH: What drew you to work on Them: The Scare?

Brendan Kuroki Uegama: In short, season one of THEM and the creator, Little Marvin.  I then learned it was an anthology series and that this season was a new storyline. They sent me the script for the pilot episode and it was just so damn good and well written. I loved it and knew right away I wanted to do it.  

PH: What was your creative approach on this project? 

Brendan Kuroki Uegama: It was really like how I described earlier. I read the scripts as many times as I could and came up with as many ideas as possible. Everything that I thought could be in alignment to the show I would pitch to Little Marvin and pilot director Craig Macneill. Most ideas we kept and the ones that we didn't were just never meant to be. I used multiple types of lenses and formats to express certain storyline elements. I wanted the choices to support the story as much as possible and I stayed mindful of new ideas and new ways of approaching things.

PH: Speaking of creativity, how do you continue to push creative boundaries for your projects? 

Brendan Kuroki Uegama: It may sound super simple, but really I just try to think outside the box as much as I can.  All those crazy ideas that flash into my mind, I try to hold onto and think of ways to express them.  I like to meditate on ideas rather than just going with my first thought. Sometimes I come back to that first thought, but it's important to go through the process of elimination to get there.  

PH: What types of challenges did you encounter, and how did you navigate them? 

Brendan Kuroki Uegama: The challenges are endless on all productions, so it's important to understand the outcome you desire. Whether the obstacle is creative-based, resource-based or technology-based, you find ways to navigate around the obstacles to get to the desired outcome. Challenges or limitations cause you to think more creatively and often the outcome is even better. And sometimes you just need to be flexible as long as it never diminishes the outcome. 

PH: What do you love most about the work you get to do? 

Brendan Kuroki Uegama: Filmmaking is hard work, yet to me it's undeniably the greatest career. I love the whole process of making films from prep throughout production. The collaborations of creative minds coming together, the discovery process, shooting, all of it. When I take the step back to reflect on it, I feel so lucky to be able to do what I do. 

PH: As with many roles, the ability to adapt is incredibly important. Can you talk me through how you identified the specific needs of each project you work on based on the script, cast and crew involved, and the overall goal for the project? 

Brendan Kuroki Uegama: During prep, I work at understanding the script the best I possibly can. I'll speak with the director about their ideas to try and get to know what their dreams are for the film. I'll then break apart each scene and spend time trying to imagine the final edit in my head. How can we visually tell this story? How can the camera move to enhance the story? How do the colors fit into this?  I'll work with the director on creating storyboards or shotlists. I really love to storyboard a film because it only helps me visualize it and to know what's most important to telling the story. That way, when we are on set and a new idea comes up, or we need to pivot for whatever reason, we know the truth of the scene and how it relates to the rest of the shots. By knowing the film so well in prep, I can then determine what's needed and how I can be sure to execute it properly.

PH: Can you share any of your upcoming projects?

Brendan Kuroki Uegama: Not yet, but soon!

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