Capturing comedy through the lens
As a director of photography, Lawrence Sher is basically the right arm of the director in executing the vision of a movie. It was his cinematic genius that helped propel The Hangover franchise into the upper echelon of comedy films. Sher has been in the biz for almost 20 years now, 14 as director of photography on some of the most popular films in Hollywood. Kiko Miyasato caught up with Sher while he was in Vegas—scouting for the third installment of The Hangover, perhaps?
Q: As the director of photography, how did it feel to make the first installment of The Hangover?
A: I’ve always been a huge fan of Vegas; I feel like it’s such a unique city. There needs to be a city like Vegas in the world. When I was approached by Todd Phillips to work on the first Hangover movie, I was certainly excited. The script was funny and I am a big fan of Todd’s work. We met, we got on and he hired me. It was super exciting because we both like Vegas and we were definitely aware of all the movies that had portrayed Vegas before. But, for us, the first Hangover was really an opportunity … to show a side of Vegas that people don’t normally see. It was Vegas during the day … the harsh reality of what is not under the gloss of the nightlife but actually that bright, hot, aggressive light that can be Vegas—particularly when you’re hungover.
Q: What was the desired, overall look of the movie?
A: The big thing was a bit of Vegas that people haven’t normally seen in movies. Unlike the night look and the part of Vegas that we’re used to seeing in movies, commercials and television, it was really kind of the anti-Vegas. It was the Vegas that exists perhaps more for the locals and the people that are roaming the streets during the day … looking for tigers and baby’s mommies and stolen police cars…
Q: Was any scene more challenging to shoot?
A: Certainly the opening toast where Zack (Galifianakis) gives the speech about the “one-man wolf pack”—that was challenging simply because we shot it on the roof of Caesars Palace. That’s often something people might do instead with a green screen or they may do on a stage and fake it … but we actually shot all the way up on a roof. It was a 360-degree view of Vegas and, for me, it was particularly challenging because you’re working in an environment 500 feet up in the air and there’s some lack of control being that high up. But it was really fun.
Q: What do you think is the coolest Vegas landscape?
A: There were some things in Vegas that we actually didn’t get to shoot, that if I get to shoot Vegas again, I would love to, (including) some of the approaches to Vegas from either the air or the ground. … Where you really see the Strip and it looks as beautiful as the Manhattan skyline, but in its own way. The skyline of Vegas, a little further away where you can kind of see from Mandalay Bay all the way to Stratosphere all in one shot, is really exciting.
Q: Besides the Hangover movies, what were your favorite films to work on?
A: I’ve had amazing experiences with every film I’ve worked on. Certainly Garden State. Due Date is another favorite of mine. I Love You Man. The Big Year. Paul. Those are all real exciting movies that I’ve done and had a lot of fun making.
Q: Is the cinematography for comedies different than dramas or other genres?
A: Traditionally, comedies have been relegated to a very small and sort of the bastard side of cinematography. But Todd, who does mostly comedies as well, (and I have) always felt that a comedy doesn’t have to be ugly, and a comedy doesn’t have to be un-cinematic. A comedy should have the same cinematic place as The Godfather. It should have the same level of treatment. We should be telling a story that’s cinematic and exciting for the audience—it just happens to be funny as hell, too.