"Glass Onion" Cinematographer Steve Yedlin On Puzzling Together The “Theatricality And Narrative” Of A Mystery
December 1, 2022

written by Ryan Fleming, Deadline

“Rian [Johnson] and I met when we were 18, 19 years old,” says cinematographer Steve Yedlin. “We started making films then, and we’ve been doing it together ever since, informing each other’s style and methodology.”

Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story marks the return of Daniel Craig as famous detective Benoit Blanc in the second installment of the Knives Out series. After receiving a mysterious invite from tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton), Benoit travels to Greece for a “murder mystery party” that soon becomes an active investigation. The film also stars Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Dave Bautista and Kate Hudson.

 While the locale’s may be different, Yedlin says the process of shooting a mystery hasn’t changed much since the first film. “Rian has it really clearly in his head, so theres no sort of spiraling or second guessing as to which things you’re going to see again,” he says. “In the original Knives Out, we have the normal kind of flashback where sometimes you see something once, you might see it omnisciently, and then you see it again when somebody is describing it, or vice versa… and in Glass Onion that got even more complicated.”

Yedlin says that he doesn’t consider any part of his job a challenge, but rather a puzzle to solve. “One thing that was a very fun puzzle to figure out was the lighthouse, because we have a section of the movie where the lights go out and it’s very dark and then this lighthouse is very theatrically and dramatically sweeping across the scene,” he says. Since there was no actual lighthouse, Yedlin needed to engineer a way to get the sweeping light in both the stage set and on location. “Because of the theatricality and the narrative of it, this lighthouse is always timed dramatically to the scene, like something happens and the light sweeps over it, so it’s not like the thing is just spinning and whenever it hits, let’s let it hit.” The solution was to have a spinning drum with a circular opening for the light to shine through, rather than a spinning light itself. “You can’t spin the light for a lot of reasons,” he says. “The edge of the beam isn’t sharp, the cables gonna get wound up, also its gonna be hitting things behind it that’s going to light up the set… we just want it to be dramatic but we don’t want it to be distracting.”

The lighthouse is one example of the type of theatricality that Yedlin and Johnson have been working on together for years, which Johnson calls ‘Theatrical Realism’. “Everything is based on something that’s a story element and then the theatricality just means its heightened, it doesn’t mean its pure artifice… it’s more about the feel of it than the literal because everything in the movie only happens within the rectangle.”

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