What sort of approach did you and director Lorene Scafaria discuss in terms of how you were going to shoot the women and create these strong images of strippers?
From the beginning, we talked about this idea of control and the whole thing visually pivoting on this idea of these characters trying to gain control and the ways [by which] they try to obtain control. And also looking at these criminals, or like what society would call criminals, using means of gaining control the way that men usually do. Like all these famous gangster movies, where we really like love the main character, we kind of honor these character traits where they break the rules and they make their own rules and do whatever is necessary obtain power. We wanted to make a movie where women were allowed these kinds of things. So I think the conversation for us visually was about shooting our characters just like you would shoot in ways that are normally relegated to male characters. We talked about top lights, which traditionally you don’t light women with and we talked about shooting them in these massive low angle shots that made them look really, really badass.
There’s also a sense that they are almost athletes.
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We talked a lot about the fact that stripping is a feat of great athleticism and so we talked a lot about just photographing the experience of working the pole from [their point of view] as opposed to watching them from the floor. For a lot of it we are up on the stage with them and a lot of it is [shot] handheld. A lot of it is looking out over the ocean of eyes staring back at them while they’re working this pole.
Even the locker room where they all hang out, we put a lot of work into lighting and making it look like a sports locker room, not a backstage area. And the tunnel that leads them from the locker room to the stage, when you walk out you feel like you’re walking with football players out onto the field.
How did you work with the women behind the film to shoot a movie with strippers while ensuring that you’re capturing it from the female point of view rather than a male one?
It’s all about trust. The most complex conversations we had about how to shoot this movie was about the gaze. There is the male gaze in the movie, but I think the point is that the women weaponize the male gaze, they take control of [it] and use it to obtain power. The power of the gaze is in reverse.
How did you adjust your thinking?
It’s not that I had to avoid the subconscious male gaze, it’s more like we had to check ourselves and say, how are the scenes normally shot in films? How do you make a scene about a stripper being taken advantage of, without putting out into the world more images of women being taken advantage of by men? So for us, for example, in the Champagne Room scene with Constance Wu where a client goes too far, we made sure that the camera never goes above her eyeline, and never looked down at her, we never see her the way that he is looking at her, even while the truth of what is happening in the scene is that she is being treated poorly, the camera is completely aligned with her and stays in her experience.
How did you use different lenses and resolution to create a unique camera perspective when it came to capturing a sense of empowerment or desperation that the characters were going though?
So we shot on the Panavision DXL, to a large format, digital camera, and the thing that I loved about that camera was that you can modulate and change what sensor resolution you want to use, so we often shot a lot of really large format, like 8K. When they’re walking to the club, and they’re hunting or fishing for the guys at the bar, we want them to look as powerful as possible. Then, when the system kind of starts crashing down on them, they start losing control, we ended up shooting on lower resolution in 4K, on these longer kind of ’70s-style zooms and really press the frame down on them.