Suki Medencevic, Suki Medencevic, A.S.C, Light and Face - The Art of Cinematography, IFH Academy, cinematography workshop, The History of Imagineering, American Horror Story, cinematographer, DP, DOP, director of photography,

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The Art of Low-Budget Cinematography with Suki Medencevic, A.S.C

Today I welcome back returning champion award-winning cinematographer Suki Medencevic A.S.C. I brought Suki back on the show to discuss Covid-19 and what Hollywood will look like after it passes, how to approach low-budget filmmaking from the cinematography side, and his game-changing cinematography course Light and Face – The Art of Cinematography from IFH Academy.

This workshop will walk you through how to light the most important and emotional subject you could put in front of your lens, the enigmatic face on a low budget. This workshop is unique in that it will literally guide you through the entire process of making your film. 

Suki attended the renowned National Film School (FAMU), Prague, Czech Republic, where he earned a Master’s Degree with Honors in cinematography. Shortly thereafter, he went to the USA looking for his big break. 

Since his first feature film shoot in 1994, he has been working steadily in the film industry, making numerous features and made-for-TV films, television shows, commercials, and documentaries including American Horror Story for FX.

He was involved in several high profile documentaries for Pixar, ILM, The Hearst Corporation, and he recently completed The History of Imagineering for Disney+.

In 2010, he became a member of the American Cinematographers Society (ASC), the world’s most prestigious cinematographers’ organization.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to bring this interview to you.

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Alex Ferrari 0:00
Now guys, I want to welcome back to the show returning champion Suki Medencevic and Suki is an ASC cinematographer. He is one of the original top 10 guests I had on the show. He has episode number nine. And I've been friends with Suki over 20 years now. And I absolutely adore him and I wanted him back on the show to talk a little bit about the Coronavirus how he sees production working moving forward, what he's heard about how Hollywood is planning to reopen kwibi and how that whole world and how changing a format and how cinematographers are shooting for that platform, as well as to discuss his new course light and face the art of cinematography. Now I've taken a lot of lighting and cinematography courses over the course of my career. And I've worked with some amazing cinematographers and taken master classes and workshops with some Oscar winning cinematographers. But I got to tell you that this course lightened face is by far my favorite cinematography course I've ever ever taken. I love that so much that I begged Suki to make it part of indie film hustle Academy, and launch indie film hustle Academy with this course in place because I needed to get this information this course to the tribe. What is so wonderful about how Suki teaches this course is he takes you from the very beginning the basic how to light a human face with one open light bulb. And from there he takes you through this journey in the course that at the end of it you're lighting, Blade Runner style scenes all around the face. It is it really is a game changing course. I'm super excited to have Suki on to talk about that and everything else we're going to be discussing in the episode and at the end of the show. I'm going to show you how you can save $400 on this amazing course. But we'll get to that after the interview. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Suki. But then I'd like to welcome the show Suki Medencevic How are you my friend?

Suki Medencevic ASC 4:28
I am very good. Very good. Good to see you my friend.

Alex Ferrari 4:31
Good to see you as well. You are a returning champion, sir. You are. You are one of the first guests of the indie film hustle podcast you were episode number nine. Back in the day when I was just a fledgling, fledgling podcaster You were so kind to be on my show and I never forgot that my friend.

Suki Medencevic ASC 4:54
Wow for you my friend anytime and I'm very happy to see that how indicum hustle has grown and become The Empire

Alex Ferrari 5:03
I don't know about an empire, but it has grown a lot of there's a lot more ears now than there was when you and I first had our conversation about the art of cinematography. But I thought it was a good time to bring you back on the show, not only because you and I teamed up to bring a new course to indie film, aka indie film hustle Academy, which is lightened face the artists in photography, which we'll talk about later, but also, you know, we're recording this during quarantine. We're recording this in a very unstable, unknown known time of what's going to happen in our industry. And I definitely want to touch base on that later on in the episode as well. But let's get I want to get into But first of all, for people who don't know who you are, how did you get into the business?

Suki Medencevic ASC 5:46
Oh, wow, that's a very long story. But in short, my entrance to the business was basically as straightforward as it gets. I studied cinematography in first in film school Film Academy in Belgrade. Back in Yugoslavia, and from there, I continued my education in Prague at funnel, which is one of the world's very prestigious film schools and probably want to, I will take top schools for cinematography. So upon completing my five years of studying on cinematography, Master program of cinematography, I managed to get to the United States, first as a guest of university, so I came to UCLA is what they call a visiting scholar, spend a few years among the students, but mostly doing like seminars and workshops with students, and also learning English because when I came to United States, I really didn't speak any English. And so I felt that was very important thing. And gradually, gradually, I think, I was looking forward and trying to figure it out ways to get in the film industry. Get into university was just my kind of like, entry port of entry, but really, getting in the film business was a whole different game. And when I, when I reached the point, even though I felt I was educated and qualified to do the job, I reached the point that really, to start in a film business, the moment you get the trends, you have to really deliver 100%, this is your moment. And I had also choice in the beginning to choose either going with traditional Hollywood route from like becoming a camera assistant, and gradually make it up to be cinematographer. But in my case, I realized that would be kind of like a waste of time, because I felt that I spent enough time in a film school to get educated. So I wanted to start as a cinematographer, which is more risky, more longer route, but back then that was the way kind of like you have to wait for the opportunity because the traditional way of getting your business was still very present. Like, you know, you've always assistant and go on and on. So, so I eventually got my first film break in 1994. Yes, I did. My Yes,

Alex Ferrari 8:15
I am very familiar. I'm very familiar with that film sir.

Suki Medencevic ASC 8:18
I know and I think that's the that's the You're my biggest fan when it comes down to the movie embrace of the vampire. My first film I did with Alyssa Milano, and the Jennifer Tilly and Martin campy was low budget, vampire horror movie shot in Minnesota in I think 12 days we had, right. And that was it. That was it pretty much from there.

Alex Ferrari 8:40
And you and you launch from there.

Suki Medencevic ASC 8:42
Interesting. The interesting detail is that from the movie, from the finishing the movie embrace of the vampire from the last day, I took a taxi to the airport in in a sample and took the flight to Taiwan to Taipei to do my second feature film called in a strange city, which was as opposite as it can be from the horror film. He was like, the nice lovestory omma with very nice budget, very relaxed schedule. And that was my second feature film. But getting on that film was very unusual because year before I was in Taiwan, doing a series of lectures and seminars so I sever some connections in Taiwan, but I never thought I will be doing film there. And then year later I get invited to do the movie, which was very unusual in many many ways. We can even have a whole podcast or Bravo or meeting Skype meeting just talking about experience working in different country.

Alex Ferrari 9:53
Oh yeah.

Suki Medencevic ASC 9:54
With a with a crew with a crew that doesn't speak English and I don't speak Mandarin or or Whatever the local dialect they speak. So we still managed to make the movie Despite all these barriers, but it was a challenge I have to tell you.

Alex Ferrari 10:06
So So you've been, you know, you've been, you've been, you've gotten a lot of shrapnel over the years working in this industry. You know, you've worked, you've done a ton of movies. What is the biggest mistake that you see young filmmakers make? When they start out?

Suki Medencevic ASC 10:21
Well, things have changed now in, in the last whatever, 20 years since I've been in this business, things have changed because more and more new filmmakers and the cinematographers the accessibility and being able to get in a film business, and make the film is far, far easier than it used to be 20 years ago, now, anybody who has even iPhone or or, or, or any kind of cheap camera, can do something, and, and, and make something make whatever the narrative for me is the mistakes Well, I see some great works by very aspiring starting filmmakers and cinematographers, but I also see a lot of not so good stuff. And I think mistake would be not investing in educating yourself in the language of what you're doing. So understanding visual storytelling, I think when it comes down, just in case of cinematographers, to me is the key element. Being able to point the camera, you will for sure, get it properly exposed, you will for sure with a couple of plugins, easily manipulate the image to look kind of flashy, or maybe even interesting and capture somebody's attention. But mistake is if you think that form will overpower the content is the way that you're going to tell the story that to me is something that it's most commonly and most commonly I see it on on and I see tons of films on on Vimeo on, on all kinds of stuff. I see it on YouTube, people post in their own channels, and you know, but but very, very rarely, I would say I see clear, artistic intent behind whatever you do, even if it's a small experimental film. I mean, I do see, of course, some great short films and some experimental, new things that but to me, a majority of the content that I see on now in the social media, obviously, is something that is more designed to just grab your attention, just to grab somebody, even for a couple seconds, get the click. So you can make extra, whatever money you want to make by somebody visiting or liking your content. And, and that's the goal. I think it's not the goal to be really storyteller. And it's more like, show how many likes you have and show how many followers you have. And and so I think in general in approach and philosophy, why are you doing what you're doing? I think it's the it's the main main mistake that I see among filmmakers and cinematographers.

Alex Ferrari 13:10
Now, you I mean, when you first started out, you started out doing low budget work? And is there any tips that you can have about how you would approach lighting on a lower budget because I know that the gear is a lot cheaper than it was when you were starting out. Now you can get lighting gear, very affordably good lighting gear very affordably. But how do you approach creatively lighting a low budget project,

Suki Medencevic ASC 13:34
You know, I approach every project differently, completely differently. And again, it all starts from the script, it all starts from the story. And if regardless of budget, I've seen some big budget films done with really, really minimum lighting the minimum package because the style calls for something that is very mild, call it naturalistic, something that you want the camera to be very much participating in, in the story, not to being intrusive, not attractive, not attractive, make a make point of being present in the story. So I've seen some really big budget films made that way where you really almost have no lights, and I can just name a couple like new world is it's the one that comes to mind, which was done pretty much without any single light, maybe just like one scene was done. And The Revenant also the the one that chivo lubezki did a few years ago, he is exactly example of that. I think the whole lighting package he had was a couple light bulbs that he used for like one scene or on fire, but that's it. So you really don't need to have a huge lighting package in order to tell the story in order to make interesting visuals. You better understand what is the purpose of the visuals that you're going to use and how you want to support the story. We live in times where it is than ever to make to make interesting in which we have cameras that are now digital camera, they're so sensitive to light that you can if you really want, you can show any field without any single light, basically relying just on the practical light sources. And with very little supplemental lighting. And I think this is kind of the way the filmmaking in general is now going going in a direction that we now because of the just like technical capability of the cameras that we are using, is enabling us now to rely far more on the actual practical light sources that we use to like every light source that you have to augment it, supplement it and and create something that is motivating this time, you can just put actual whatever the light sources and and it will give you what you need to get. So to answer your really your very complex question how you approach in low budget, I think doesn't really matter if it's a low budget or a big budget, it still has to again come down to, to what it is that you're trying to accomplish. And sometimes you might need more help from the art department and set dressing to provide you with the proper type of practicals then you will need from your grip and likely department to bring you all kinds of lights and you might actually ruin the whole thing that you might be able to just capture if it's done well

Alex Ferrari 16:22
Was kind of like you know, chivo if you look at tree of life, or or The Revenant is the kind of shots that he was doing doesn't lend itself to large lighting packages, you can't just mirando around and do these long takes. It's much more complex at cost. So it would cost a lot more money to do that. Am I correct?

Suki Medencevic ASC 16:43
Yes, but there was also another approach which is kind of interesting, you even see on some pretty decent budget films and TV shows that this kind of naturalistic or realistic approach is is very common like you will get on the set and you will have a set B which is built on the stage but it's built with a real ceiling real walls and everything Of course you have flying walls if you needed to. But in general, you still like it as if you are on relocation. And there's something about about studio lighting versus location lighting, it's very difficult for a lot of cinematographers to to switch the mode that even if you're going for very much realistic look it's very difficult to switch to more than that you can actually not turn on the light just because it's there not to turn on all the lights because you have them available I think it's far more interesting not to not even think that you're on the stage they think you are on real place relocation and understand the logic of the light and then create something that looks very much believable and naturalistic in terms of how the light works with the place and let certain mistake to be present. Like if you have let's say sunlight into just like creating some hot streak on the on the on the floor somewhere that you would normally have in location you have to you have to kind of think backwards and say how can I introduce light which is more realistic and naturalistic if you're going in that direction, then making it all perfectly balanced and and controlled and putting backlights where they don't belong and and have a light coming from whatever direction that doesn't really make much sense but again, it all depends what you're going for.

Alex Ferrari 18:32
So if you were if you were going to have one light that you were going to bring with you into battle in a low budget scenario, what would that light what would be your go to light like you like if I'm gonna go shoot and again I know it depends on story. But let's talk generally

Suki Medencevic ASC 18:49
Well I think if there is one light that I will use, I will use two lights. I will I will have I will have to have to obviously do lights, but I will use one or another Sure. And one of the one of them would be would be maybe you know one by one just like one by one light panel but light by the light and there are many manufacturers they make you know the small, Rosco led the LED led led one by one why led one by one I've been so many time in situation that you know everything looks perfect. And all you need to just to get the little bit beautiful light are typically in the close up of the actor but you want to lock it without lighting whole set. Having that light just little light next to the camera will give you that very invisible yet beautiful light which will not affect anything on the scene on the set. And it will it will make people look look look nice without any kind of distracting shadows or something that doesn't make much sense. So that will be that will be my choice because these lights nowadays LED technology has gone so far that they're so powerful and also the color of these lights is now so good that you can easily blend it with Many, many other tungsten sources or anything else you're using. And of course, my choice number one would be very skypanel 60. Probably because 60 is good size. And that that type of bigger, much more versatile light source can give me far more options if I need to light you know, even wider area, I can use it as a just like panel, which is size, maybe like one by two, or I can, I can, I can put like softbox may make it like convert it and turn it into something that is even nicer and bigger and make it beautiful, like soft key light wrapping light. And so it also these lights, specially airy skypanel is designed in a way that has extreme color accuracy, so the skin tone, everything is gonna look right. But also it gives me an option to change the color temperature, easily just pressing the button. Or if I want to create the effect of let's say, I don't know, the candle or TV or, or or lightning even. It's very easy. It's designed, it's almost like pre programmed. So you can just press the button and get whatever you want.

Alex Ferrari 21:13
So can you really can you quickly talk about color accuracy with these LCDs because I know that's a big issue with buying lower quality or cheaper LEDs. And people don't really understand the difference what this era is a CRT? And like what's the rating of it? Can you explain that just a little bit.

Suki Medencevic ASC 21:29
So so the whole thing about LED lights is that I don't want to get too technical about it. But people should understand that you know, not all LEDs are created equally. Why because not everybody needs high end, super color accurate LED lights, which is matching perfectly the whatever spectrum of your regular normal tungsten source. So in the early days, maybe like, six, seven years ago or so when LED is really started, like coming to the market and exploding as everybody is now making ladies, there are so many manufacturers but when you do really very accurate tests and line them up, you will see some of them are green, some of them magenta, some of them are purple, they have very weird color shapes, which we don't see by our eye because our eyes are not so sensitive to the whole this color discrepancies. cameras in our eye very quickly adjust to white balance and we have perfect color balance very quickly. But cameras don't you tell camera, what color temperature is and camera will follow this and if you say this is 3200 and you look at something that slit and looks kind of greenish or whatever. It's going to give you a kind of very strange color rendering. So a lot of manufacturers based on the research and based on the suggestions from Academy of Motion Picture and their certificate department as well as also American Society of Cinematographers motion image Council, we have also one division which is specialized only in research and and product advising. For the LED manufacturers, they developed a system of this color rendering car color rendering index, which basically explained how accurately the color is reproduced compared to whatever the standard standard light sources but color rendering index index is not only one there is there is another way of there's another way of really analyzing good what's the difference between good and not so good LED lights is and then basically you get into individual color and then it shows how each individual part of the spectrum is reproduced in the spectrum of your LED lights. So bottom line is the bottom line is this technology is advancing constantly. And if you are going by some more recognized brands when it comes down to the LED light source, you will be probably doing well. And of course it comes with the price in LED technology definitely get what you pay for.

Alex Ferrari 24:15
Now lenses glasses as it's called on the streets. It is no matter how advanced the technology gets, no matter how beautiful how many K's you're shooting generally speaking, the glass is the glass it is the eye of the sensor in your What is your go to lens or style of lens or manufacturer of lens because I know that's a really touchy subject for a lot of cinematographers. I'm a nice guy. I'm a cook guy, a clear guy, you know, like, you know, what is the lens that you love and why?

Suki Medencevic ASC 24:54
Well, I will tell you just recently I had the opportunity to See a really amazing test of 33 lenses lens sets one of the most comprehensive and extensive lens testing done by the NEA Anwar who is wonderful friend of mine, a member of the AC and also French French society AFC so what he did I think year ago they did this amazing blind test 33 sets of lenses I don't even know that there are 33 different types of lenses but actually they are including some of them never heard of. And so what they did they photographed identical scene by changing glands basically white shot and medium title shot of the same so they did 33 takes of identical simple scene. Yeah, in the girl inside the studio, she walks to the window comes back, they talk, she walks into medium close up. But enough of the setup, it was really well done to show how the lens is handling, wide shot, high contrast flare, sharpness, skin tone, everything you can see in this very short clip that was done with every lens what we did watching this test was we had no idea what we were watching, we have no idea what lens we are looking at, we just had some kind of whatever code and while we are watching we have to give it a grade what we like do we like it we don't like it and and without knowing what we are evaluating and then we watched it three times in random order. So which is which is great way to do it so it's not like you will recognize the pattern so there is no pattern so after reviewing these three times we were given the key and say the lens ACL x y was cook s four and the lens b l for m n was I don't know Zeiss summilux or size or whatever. So it was really amazing because there was a lot of mostly members from the ASC cinematographers and it was very interesting because after the screening we all ended up sitting and having coffee and kind of comparing notes. What was shocking to me to find out that some of the lenses which we will automatically just discard is like are this just you know, these are like no they will don't even bother these are not serious lenses had some of the most highest score I can tell you CP two CP two lenses which CP two is a cheap lenses I mean they're good size made by size but still they're just like steel camera lenses modified so that it can be used in in digital cinematography. All across people love them they're not like highest highest scoring lenses but their lenses they're

Alex Ferrari 27:58
they're like solid they're solid solid.

Suki Medencevic ASC 28:01
So how solid performance CPU i mean i don't even bother deal with them. But But I could change my mind because I looked at three times on three different three different events Yeah, I gave it a very good score of course some of the lenses some of the lenses as expected did really well like cook s five oh yeah. Interestingly enough my favorite was always cook as for and I love to cook as for and caucus for scored well in my test in my brand test that proves that I like cookies for I like the look of it I like the skin tone I like the contrast sharpness all things I like about this lens kukus five scored almost perfect for me which is amazing. But the biggest surprise to me and everybody else because I was not the only one who gave it a really really high not high grade was Russian made lens which I don't even remember the name something digital evolution something I don't know I have to go back to my notes and find out what lens but that lens particularly was almost everybody's favorite. And that really that was scored among all of us probably the highest and to me there was like wow, this lens is like $50,000 or, or even more and this lenses maybe I don't know, maybe like 10,000 or less. Wow. And it did absolutely like perfectly. This is some like it's a new new lens manufacturer. I don't know the name but to me. So this is one that's what a very simple question. What's my favorite lens? You know, it all depends. It all depends. I think that's why we always test because depends on like what we want to be going for if you're going for the film that requires if it's like Romantic period piece. Well, most likely I will not go for super sharp, crisp lenses that Give me this very like

Alex Ferrari 30:01
every detail

Suki Medencevic ASC 30:02
Yeah, everything you know you might have a lens which already held a built in kind of like natural softness in it and that's why maybe I don't know maybe size would be my my size is the classic size superspeed not not the master plan will be probably go choice or maybe going with cook as for Ruby probably because overall that's my February plans and it will it will do to the job interested in that panavision Primo lenses which we always used as a benchmark as the lens that defines the quality score. Okay. Not an open mic. Not on my test but the scored kind of Okay good. Yeah, that's good. No question. It's good lens but nothing amazingly better than I don't know. Let's say a C two. C two CP two.

Alex Ferrari 30:54
Which is amazing. Like when you say that, would you say they like as ICP TIG LEDs versus a pan of vision Primo?

Suki Medencevic ASC 31:01
I know and you're looking at like I don't know maybe $100,000 piece of glass versus $2,000 so it's really it's all subjective that's really what I want to do and no there is no universal lens there is no laser can be perfect for everything. No of course you know and also choice of lenses you know, not only in terms of like, which lens handles skin tone and contrast and flair and you know,

Alex Ferrari 31:26
stuff there's it's a complex question. It's a complex question like

Suki Medencevic ASC 31:29
you know, if you look at the films like Saving Private Ryan, I mean, Janusz Kaminski asked permission to actually completely remove the anti glare in coating so he wanted to get lenses is really looking bad that it has a flaring kind of all kinds of things that we've been for decades trying to get fix now like oh, no, no, we have to now bring me back to that completely kind of roll uncorrected look because that was the only lens that worked. That style of lenses worked so well for Saving Private Ryan, but it will not work for random

Alex Ferrari 32:02
Avengers. It won't work for Avengers. Yeah. For sure. Yeah, exactly. Now do you I know a lot of it because we've we've done some work together. We I know you'd like to write down sometimes your lighting setups Do you like do you do it all the time? Like you actually just like storyboard out your where the lights are supposed to go and give it to the gaffer. What's the process for you?

Suki Medencevic ASC 32:25
Well, the process is actually practices. I would say pretty much like main main mainstream straightforward. If it's location project if it's location show Well, I normally doing the textile during first during location scout, when we talk about what the scene is gonna take place. And when I talk to the director, okay, what is the concept here? Is it more like traditionally Dolly with coverage? Or are we talking camera handheld or Steadicam and we are looking everywhere going inside outside. So depending on what we are going for, will tell me what options I have. If it's a traditionally you know, house living room, and we've all covering the living room, hallway, bedroom, whatever, I will make sure to have enough light that can give me control and it's all about control. Because on occasion, you are always in a way depends on depending on on the situation what's happening outside and very often you might be already losing daylight, but you have to continue making making it look like it was nine o'clock in the morning. So my approach always is try to be as least as possible dependent on a daylight and available light. Because it's inconsistent it changes during the day. So I want to have enough light that I can create my light that will be same from the moment we step in and the moment we are up that requires usually planning and I will tell my gaffer Okay, we will be looking this way sun is coming from this direction. So we have to block the sun or do this or maybe soften the sun and but still get my HDMI lights, put them in the right position. So we know we can maintain this consistent look. That looks perfect eight o'clock in the morning but looks really ugly. No. That's kind of how I approach it when it comes down to interior. When it comes down to the exterior. Well, it really depends. On the show I was going for this the for three seasons called stuck in the middle we've been very challenging. We have been a challenging exterior, because the set was built between two walls of studios two stages. And for the exterior part, we had the window of light that basically goes between nine depending on time of the year but let's say between 930 in the morning until three and that's it. That's the when you have a sunlight and then after three o'clock you're in a shadow and basically everything just like completely overcast so for us to control The sunlight control the daylight on this particular very challenging location was a big deal much bigger deal than anybody would anticipate. Because I had to have my light in the morning when we start to light because we cannot wait for somebody to come out. So I had to light it in the morning with a bit light, airy marks or something on the calendar to give me exactly the light when the sun comes in, that will match at 930 when sun comes up, it will match what I was doing with with my with my light and the same thing in the afternoon. So when light is gone, I can still bring my light and continue continue, I think so. Exterior presents always big challenge lighting, lighting for exterior is always very challenging requires far more manpower, far more equipment. So I think when it comes down to the exterior, it's always much better to observe really well, what works in terms of the angle, how you can take advantage of what sunlight gets, you have sunlight standing by just in case you lose it, usually a couple of big guns, instead of just completely relying on what's out there. Because then we put your you put you in a situation that you have no plan B, when it comes down to studio a whole different situation. I can tell you like for instance, on this, on this big setup we had on stuck in the middle, we had a couple stages with a set in a pre production time. I had my plan via the floor plan and even 3d model 3d diagrams done by the production designer and our department. So they told me Okay, this is what we are looking, this is the living room, this is a stairs, this is a bedroom, this is a hallway, this was a kitchen. So we had all this sets and layout. So based on set and layout, I very, very precisely with my gaffer went. And we talked about what would be the best way to create, let's say, overall ambient light inside this room. How are we going to deal with the exterior, how we want to create that, behind the windows we see we see part of the set that actually is built outside. So we have to match the exterior, on on location with our exterior basically set build on the stage. So to create all kinds of different moods, we had to have a lot of lights, a lot of lights position, never, of course. Never, it never means that I'm going to use all of them. But it like being able to turn off some lights, bring them up, bring them down, it will be I will be able to quickly program different moods, let's say morning, at eight o'clock in the morning breakfast, I knew exactly the amount of ambient amount of my my sunlight effect and I would create something that will be programmed to stop. So it takes time. But very precise planning to get every light properly placed. And programs. So when you get in production, when you really get everybody in the set, you have to be ready to go in five to seven minutes. But that's why to me having everything in place. Even if it's just standing by you never know director my trainers, oh, let's get to me this shot or blocking my change. And all of a sudden you're looking different direction. So you have to you have to be ready to react to react and respond very quickly.

Alex Ferrari 38:26
So Suki we're we're currently as of this recording living in a COVID-19 world. And you know, as of right now Hollywood is pretty much shut down. What do you see production looking like in a post Coronavirus kind of world because we really don't know, it's not going to be what it was. So what what do you think what it's going to be?

Suki Medencevic ASC 38:45
Well, that's a big question that I don't think anybody knows anybody knows the answer? Well, one thing we know for sure things will change at least for for certain foreseeable future. I would say maybe at least for a year, maybe even more because it's not only film business, it's every business. And of course everybody's concerned about, you know, the the jobs and and security and balancing jobs. And safety is well, it's a big deal. You know, economy. I understand everybody's concerned about the economy coming back. But we have to be super careful, super smart about how we're going to do this. So I know they've been a lot of proposals developed by different studios, different production entities, and they try to figure it out. What is the safest way that we can we can go back to production still do what we do, but do it differently. I know there are some proposals. I think by Lionsgate they're proposing basically that entire cast and crew will be in a way created as a kind of like a cluster and isolated for the whole duration of production. So no outside contact you basically just between place of stay and a studio or whatever you're shooting. And that's it. I don't know how this is doable. But you know, everybody's everybody's trying to come up with some kind of solution to get people on the set. I mean, yes, we can have a mask, we can have protective equipment. But how can you be on the set and have your focus puller? Well maybe focus for a kindle the remote focus, but still, you know, somebody has to push the dolly, you have to get in the closeup of the actor? I mean, how can you make them six feet, I don't know, my feeling my feeling, the way I am seeing how things are changing is we will be seeing whole new different types of content that is going to emerge, people will start doing things like q&a now talking and creating something that makes sense. I don't know if we can make everything look like everybody's now in zoom. And we can create things which are kind of like, zoom style show, but that might be one way of knowing things. People might be doing a lot of like, I'm sure like projects, which would be skeleton crew, with very small cast minimum, chromium and lighting, minimum equipment, minimum, everything and still try to get some story. I'm not sure about big productions, how they're gonna do it, like Marvel,

Alex Ferrari 41:23
like, how is Marvel gonna do anything?

Suki Medencevic ASC 41:26
Well, I think they might do it differently they might do now. I mean, I don't want to be like, thinking completely futuristic. But, you know, who knows, we might get in a situation that we can, we can have virtual sets that every be that every, every, everything would be just like visual, they already have it, they use Mandalorian Yeah, Mandalorian use it for a Star Trek. So they use this concept of virtual sets to get into stage everything's LED, get your actors and get the cameras and you're creating show, which is you can place anywhere you want. So that will be one way of doing it. But maybe next step would be while you might have actor whose performance you can just capture and do the face replacement. There is actually a very interesting film I've seen a couple of years ago, which I would highly recommend to everybody to see. Five years ago, it was made his British film, I forget the name of the director, but movies called Congress. And it is with Robin Wright, and Harry katell. As lead but the concept, the premise of the film is Robin Wright is agent actress. And her manager, Harvey cutera is trying to lock the deal that she can be basically Robin right at this age in perpetuity. So she will never age. Interesting, interesting. Interesting. So what they do is they put her in this special kind of like sphere with a motion capturing array of 1000 cameras, and take her to the whole range of emotions and capture them. And from this point on, they can apply this emotion and her expression into any character they do and, and she'd always stayed the way she was at whatever age of 14 whatever she was when the movie was made. It's very interesting, very, very interesting field because second half of the film is animated.

Alex Ferrari 43:28
Very interesting, very interesting, really

Suki Medencevic ASC 43:31
interesting. Where you see now all these characters, including Tom Cruise, and Brad Pitt, and everybody's already in that world of so I don't know if it's gonna be futuristic to the point that we don't that that all the actors will just provide the emotions and expressions and and deliver the lines and then they will be later on implemented on 3d models of some avatars. I don't know.

Alex Ferrari 43:51
It's going to be it's going to be really interesting. I know at the at the studio level. When I saw the I've been watching the behind the scenes of Mandalorian. And you're just like, this is amazing. Like I heard about it, and I saw some of it. And I heard the rumblings and god knows what James Cameron's is working on right now on avatar, which I hear the technology there is like at another completely other place that we haven't even heard of yet. So the technology for those bigger shows, I think is going to make a big difference in post Coronavirus world but for independent filmmakers, on a lower budget, it's going to be smaller crews. It's going to be you know very minimal, very like you know, kind of like what I did with my last film, you know, three two crew members and some cat and we ran through though I couldn't make that movie now because there's no Sundance Film Festival so I couldn't shoot it.

Suki Medencevic ASC 44:38
You pioneer you pioneer pioneer the concept. I don't think you're a visionary. You're a visionary. Wow, wow. People know people will really Now come back to you in 404 you can you can really consult them and advise them this is how we did it. This is how you can have one person doing five positions and still still make something so I will I will say

Alex Ferrari 44:57
I will send you the check later, sir. Well Be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Now, there is something new on the horizon or it's not on the horizon, it's happening happening now kwibi and kwibi is is a very unique thing. I'm not sure if it's going to how it's going to survive in the future. But it is something that's going on right now. And I was talking to you off air about how shooting a quibi show is different. Can you talk about how they capture footage on set?

Suki Medencevic ASC 45:37
Well, I have not shot quibi project, I have couple friends, they have done it. And basically, it's, it's a whole new new way of basically storytelling, I would say, which incorporates the new trends of viewing content, as well as new trends of technology that we can use. So I found, I mean, who would think that iPhone is going to become like, all your other mobile phone that you're using will become the almost main way of getting, getting your whatever content is. So they can figure it out. If he if he if you limit the amount of time. So we are not, nobody's going to spend like two hours watching watching movie on on iPhone. I mean, some people will but let's say majority will not. But if you deliver whatever you're delivering in chunks of 10 minutes or whatever, that's something anybody can do while they're waiting in line or riding on the bus or on a metro or in a car or whatever. So that's something you can use your time to watch the content. So to start, that's interesting concept that you are breaking down, even if it's a full feature length film, you break it down into chapters, first chapter, Second thing, whatever you know, and then you have if you splice it all together, you can have a film. But what is most interesting about kwibi is the option that you can change the aspect ratio. aspect ratio is the same, but it's the are you are you viewing it vertically? Or are you viewing it horizontally. So imagine the nightmare now for for anybody who has to frame something that looks equally good in a vertical as well as the horizontal horizontal? Well, it's a challenge. But obviously, they figure it out that you can, if you're shooting with a high enough resolution, let's say 6k, six skaters often is good enough to give you enough of the horizontal as well as the vertical angle. So having the same same height, as well as the width, depending how you're gonna how you're going to orient the image. And all you have to do is while you're doing it, making sure that you know the content that is in horizontal if turned around and vertical will still work for the scene. And so I think that's, that's smart. It's clever. I honestly, I haven't been really getting much into kwibi because I have I still have to catch up with what was the show Game of Thrones, right.

Alex Ferrari 48:03
And Tiger King, obviously Tiger King, but

Suki Medencevic ASC 48:05
that's not that's not. Yeah, you already you already consumed that. Yeah, I haven't behind. But you know what I'm saying? Basically, it's like, yeah, that's new technology. That's a new thing. That's new way. And I think it's just normal thing that we are now seeing, seeing attempts by you know, big companies that, that create the content content creators that are going to use what is available, and just create something that you can watch.

Alex Ferrari 48:31
And they're shooting it with basically a 6k kind of camera and then just doing it all in post.

Suki Medencevic ASC 48:36
Yeah, don't even pause but you want to do it normally when you're if you're filming, you have your frame line. So this is for iPhone 10. iPhone 11 if you turn it around, so you know, this is for Samsung know, whatever, Samsung so they have all those they have all those frames. Yes, they have a spec so you can actually control it and say, Oh, yeah, that's gonna work.

Alex Ferrari 48:54
That's insane. That must be your first and on the tiger for like the free Yes.

Suki Medencevic ASC 48:58
But you know, and I think like everything else, you'll get used to it like okay, that's that's how it is. And you know,

Alex Ferrari 49:05
but you're also one of the you're very unique Suki because you've always been very open to change you've been you embrace change, you embrace, technology changes, you embrace things that are different in the way they're doing it. You're very open minded, where I know a lot of cinematographers who fight to stay the way things are, and they, you know, and they generally don't survive. So that's a big lesson for any cinematographer listening out there that you things are changing. So right I mean, I just remember film to digital, that took a decade for people to finally say, Okay, okay, airy, okay, read, I get it. It took you you were there you saw it, you know, it was it was like 10 years, but now things are changing so fast, so quickly, that if you don't change, you're going to be left behind.

Suki Medencevic ASC 49:51
Well, that's the nature that's nature. I think that's the nature of every business sort of every industry. I mean, it's it's it's non fact that adaptability. theory is key to survival. So if you're not willing and ready to adapt to new, whatever the new conditions while you will be like you will be left behind. And you know, I don't want to sound too philosophical, but you know, it's a human nature, you know, we as humans are programmed in a way that we want to be kind of set in our, whatever the frame of mind is, what gives you, it gives you safety gives you your like, safe zone, stepping out of your safe zone, it's always risky, it's associated with something venturing into unknown, right, no tiger, the tiger, the tiger can eat you around the corner, or something so so it's just by no human nature, we are, we are programmed and coded to stay as you are, especially if you invest a lot of time perfecting something, right and creating something and coming Okay, now I know how to do this analog, by the way that doesn't count, now, we have something new? Well, you have to be able to really, at least try and be open minded about it, you might not necessarily like it, but you have to be open to maybe, who knows, maybe something, something interesting might come out of it. I mean, you think about cinematography, you know, we were shooting black and white for whatever, you know, and then the color came on? Well, there's a technical or so there are cinematographers who just they know how to do technical or they don't care about black and white or black and white who don't know how to do Technicolor and then and then you know, things change and of course the cinematography advance and then we get into a point that we are shooting with only I don't know this lenses or that lenses I'm only politician or I'm only airy, how about the other one, then you have to be able to try different things, because just gives you gives you why the field and gives you better, better understanding of of what you what you really have available for you.

Alex Ferrari 51:53
Now, can you discuss the color, the impact of color on lighting? It's something that's, you know, within either the color of the light or the the production design, and what that does emotionally what that does, and it's a good another large question.

Suki Medencevic ASC 52:12
Where do I start with? Well, in my, in my aesthetics, I would say in the way I think about images, color is extremely important because colors have very, very strong emotional impact in storytelling, we respond to colors, and it's not psychologically physiologically the certain colors evoke certain kinds of emotional response. And for us, it's been known forever. And you know, when you think about in history of art, how certain artists use certain color to convey certain emotion, I mean, if you think about Rembrandt, or Caravaggio, or Fermi, or or I mean, I don't, I don't have to go any further. But if you think about it, not to even get into abstract, abstract paintings, where the it's all about the color, it's all about how you respond to the square piece of whatever the color orange position juxtaposed against blue or pink or, I mean, thinking about just expressionism and modern art or 20th century is just perfect example about bringing colors as a pure emotional way to communicate. You don't even know what you're looking but you're emotionally responding to the color. So in the cinematography, I was fortunate to get to be trained by one of the world's well at the time, you know, he was my my pedagogue at a film school in Prague. And he was one of the ones most worlds and faced in that part of the world most renowned experts on color. Yaroslav, Kuchera, he was the one of the pioneers, at least in that part of the world how to tell story emotionally, just by using the color another great example would be Vittorio storaro. I mean, I'm a big fan of the dodo Serato and his work. And he's one of the big proponents of using course not only lighting composition and camera movement, but the color can have a far bigger impact than no matter what beautifully amazingly design shot and if you look at his some of his films, you know, like conformist going even back into his early work, like conformist or even, I would say probably the best example would be one from the heart film that he did with that which is all about color. And there is a documentary with with storaro elaborates quite a lot about philosophy and aesthetics, and psychology of the color. So, to me, the color is really, really important tool in every time I get involved in project. I always bring up the question of color, what is the color palette, how are we going to communicate, whatever the scene is about and how are we going to support this by properly using color inset in pieces in addressing In the wardrobe, and then in the lighting, because this all has to be synchronized and perfectly, perfectly matched, otherwise, using wrong light color on the wrong type of set or wardrobe can completely negate and cancel, cancel each other. So yeah, color. I mean, there are, of course, some really contemporary great films are out there, which they do think aesthetically. Using the core is a very important part of the storytelling. And so even in the classes which I teach, I always try to remind the students to think also getting one layer deeper, which is thinking about how to use the color to emphasize the emotional impact of danger.

Alex Ferrari 55:46
Yeah, the one the one big example, I could just think of off the top of my head was the matrix, the original matrix, how it uses the green teal, kind of vibe in the matrix. But when you're in the real world, it's completely naturalistic, very D saturated in color. And that's with production design and with the lighting, but it has a very powerful emotion, emotional tie to the story.

Suki Medencevic ASC 56:09
Yes, and if you look at some of the more recent films like neon demon, yeah, sure by Natasha Brier, it's all about the color really, or even john wick, I mean, that. I mean, that's, that's the psychology of color used exactly, to tell the story and support the emotion. So that's, I mean, I'm very happy to see that their directors and cinematographers very strong color sensibility, they understand how to use it and really convey the idea or their films without any color, very reduced color palette. Like if you think about Revenant for instance, like no example there's like black and white almost all it's all gray, gray beige brown against the white and that's it's the world

Alex Ferrari 56:48
and it was stunning. And it was that time period it was that time yeah if you made that very bright and very like Michael Bay super bright colors

Suki Medencevic ASC 56:56
it will it will take you it will take you out of out of the movie without so I can I can I can give you another another beautiful example. Crystal kieslowski very famous bought off the earth whose work I absolutely admire read many, many amazing films he did. He did also three colors red, blue, and white. Which even in the title of the movie, he's using specific color to communicate the emotion that this particular film is so good is presenting. And I mean, that's film I always I love especially Red. Red is my favorite house my favorite selectively coordinated coordinated use of coloring storytelling. It's just just the right it just the right there. And it works really well.

Alex Ferrari 57:39
And in for everyone out there listening, do yourself a favor watch double life of Veronique.

Suki Medencevic ASC 57:44
If you're if you get a chance. Oh, absolutely. A and also one one lesson on film called blind chance.

Alex Ferrari 57:50
Yeah, I remember that one. I remember that line,

Suki Medencevic ASC 57:53
The transsexual American remake of this film, but also, you know, the great hold on to it. arterian collection, all 10 episodes of 10 commandments, just brilliant.

Alex Ferrari 58:05
No, no,

Suki Medencevic ASC 58:05
Very low budget, but very low budget. This is talking about low budget filmmaking with amazing, amazing storytelling.

Alex Ferrari 58:12
Yeah, that was that was also amazing Krzysztof kieslowski. Amazing filmmaker to study. Now speaking of directors, how do you approach working with directors? Because I know a lot of cinematographers out there Look, I've worked as a director I've worked with good cinematographers. I've worked with bad cinematographers. And, and there's always the reason when I work with bad ones generally, for my opinion, is that they're trying to impose their, their, you know, their, their, their want their vision for the for the film, and there's no dialogue, and there's no collaboration, it's just like, it's my way or the highway kind of thing. And that's what I I have a problem with as a director. So how do you approach How do you approach working with directors? You know, this

Suki Medencevic ASC 58:57
very interesting, very interesting question. And this is the, this is a question that doesn't really have straight answer. There is really, there is really no rule. And I will work with the range of directors, which are from, you know, what, just do whatever you want. Just do whatever you want, it's fine. I'll just take care of performance and just let me know you know, and I will be fine, too. On other parts of spectrum I want 25 millimeter right here, Dolly from here, and we go and we boom up and and then and then and yeah, and I want to do it in 10 minutes. That's another extreme. So for me, I have to be able to really adapt to adapt to the new new situation and and how certain directions I find it very exciting. So it's never the same, even with the same director depending on the scene depending on what we're going for, depending on the type of challenges that we have at this point on the set. How director will be able to, to communicate and come up with a solution like, like, you know, one of the directors that I did quite a few projects, he he likes to work very fast. And I understand that he likes to work very fast even when he has a time. Because he needs to be in turbo overdrive mode mentally, psychologically, in order to get creative in order to get things going. And, and he would even get to my case, like, oh, let's go to Scotland to find a week of No, no, no, I would just want to go. So I understand that I understand where this comes from. Some people will probably go crazy and react one way or another, I don't care, like, Okay, let me switch to my turbo mode, maybe we can synchronize and still get things the way the way director wants because at the end, at the end really is as much as cinematographer contributes to the film, but it's directors now. So I'm here to serve director's vision, I'm not here to make my movie, I want to make my own movie that I'm gonna take camera and shoot whatever nature videos or some experimental films or, or just take my still camera and make my still images where I'm the one and only outer of the image and I do images the way I want. But with the director, this is a team process collaborative process. And as a cinematographer, we have to be in a position that we can adopt quickly adapt to the whole method of doing things. Television is specifically a good example. Because like, if you're on episodic television, you'll get every director every week new director. And so in a way, you have to modify and adjust to directors way of doing things. However, as a cinematographer, you also have to protect the, the the style and integrity of visual integrity of the show. So that's kind of very interesting. And, and, and a tricky position to be in. But fortunately, a lot of television directors are aware as they come in as a guest director, well, there is a style that they have to be familiar with, when it comes down to the show. So if the show is designed to be all, I don't know, handheld, and quick, whatever, they cannot say I'm gonna go now static close up, not is not gonna work, right, it will be different, it will be different, different show, you can here and there give your own personal like signature, but it will be always, you know, has to be within the whole the whole big picture. So Suki, we finally got together and put together this course called light and face the artist cinematographer for ifH Academy. And I'm super excited about the course because after being a veteran in this business for over 25 years, I took the course and I learned a lot about cinematography, things that I didn't even know. So it is a wonderful course.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:51
Can you talk a little bit about what made you want to put this specific course together?

Suki Medencevic ASC 1:02:57
Well, I've been doing seminar seminars, I've been doing seminars, and, and workshops for pretty much 20 something years, among the students and and I'm fortunate to go through really, really good proper training academically as a cinematographer. So I always felt that having a structure and a method in teaching and learning is is extremely important is the foundation for anything, not only cinematography, for anybody, in any type of, you know, art, I found out that a lot of people, and some of them quite successful, are pretty good in what they do. But they're missing that missing foundation. But there's some great musicians that I came across. And there are some amazing musicians out there. But if you ask him to play anything, just basically they will not even know what you're talking about. He would ask him to transpose the music they will not understand. So I found out that he's like, if you want to be really good musician, there is a proper method, which is learning the basic learning the scale, learning the harmonies, learning the melodies, and then putting it all together. And then once you reach the point that you really understand what is the core, what is the essence of what you do, then you are far more free to experiment and do things your own way because you know the basics, you know the rules, and then you can break breaking rule just for sake of breaking rules, I don't think necessarily is always productive or creative. Maybe occasionally breaking some rules might bring you something but then how you venture into something different. So I've been teaching cinematography for quite some time in between the projects, doing workshops, and I found out that what students and aspiring cinematographers really respond to is when we go back to basics and when I guide them from very, very basic one single light, starting from the dark. And if you have a concept, okay, this is one single light, what you can do with this one single light image in painting that you're going to paint something, and you say this is one brush, this is one color, what you can create only with these two things. And if you find out what you can do with one brush one color, meaning if you can do the same thing with one light, even if it's a light bulb, in one frame, then you can easily build upon that further, then you can get Okay, I'm going to get now two colors, three colors, more brushes, then I can create masterpiece, big, beautiful, whatever I'm going to go is same thing in the music. Once you understand how the intricacies of each instrument work, what's the difference between violins and pianos and harp and you know, then you can create Symphony, because you understand you can sit down and write and feel completely comfortable that you are what you're writing for, for the violin and for the cellos. And for the clarinet or anything, it will at the end sound really well. So this is kind of my metaphor, explaining why I wanted to do what I did. So I felt there has to be way that somebody does it kind of like the way I always want it to be, I want it to be taught that way. Starting from very, very basic, and then building a building or building up structurally, and then explaining the styles explaining the concept and then really feel comfortable about it. So that's the reason why I really created the show the series, because I felt if somebody is really watching, and applying this knowledge gradually, after each course, doing your own thing and finding out what it takes. If I take light bulb and put it here and observe and get understanding what you can do with like how you can paint and create with light, what's happened if I diffuse the light? What happened if I add maybe one more light, or maybe if I put a color here? How is this image going to be changed how you can again, at the end, it comes down to whole emotional, emotional response. So I wanted to create a course which is comprehensive, but geared towards really understanding the core and basic of cinematography, which is using light from one light adding another one changing the color changing diffusion, changing all this element which gives you ability to to modify still the same tool, which is like and what's the subject is the face? Well, why the face because if you understand how to light the face, and all the details and intricacies interaction between geography and topography of the face, and how the whole things look together, how can you just slightly changing the angle and position on the right you can completely change the appearance of the face, then you will understand what you can do with a different type of light to the set or maybe some other product, you know, like some other object and subject that you're filming. So face is what Face Face is something we photograph. Like 90% of the time in your typical film or television or anything it's all about face. It's about performance is about capturing the performance in you with the light, giving it exactly right kind of mood, the right kind of emotion to enhance what his performance is all about.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:31
Well, I'm excited to bring the the course to to everybody out there interested in cinematography, it is probably the best cinematography course I've ever taken. And I'm very proud to have it as part of the indie film hustle Academy. Now I'm gonna ask you one last question, sir. What would be it advice for an SN a young cinematographer trying to break into the business today?

Suki Medencevic ASC 1:08:56
Well, if you ask me that question. Two months ago, I will probably give a different answer. Fair enough. But in the present day, I think as a young cinematographer, what you need to do, you need to educate yourself, think about what you do as a cinematographer. Think about every image that you're doing, why you're doing why you're doing this way, not that way. And understand the light everything will change cameras will be different lenses will be maybe different. But that one thing that will never ever change is the light. Still at the end of the day, there has to be some cinematographer somebody who would either put the light on on the face or on the set or on the scene or on the subject or taking the light away and controlling it but create something that communicate. So as a cinematographer, you have to understand how to communicate visually, which means invest in educating yourself. Study, study, find out Study painting see what they did and watch the movie I think forever cinematographers you can learn a lot from just looking at the film that's been done and all kinds of amazing cinematography achievements in the last whatever and decades and I think it can be educational can be inspiring can be stimulative. And, and then when you get the opportunity to, to film, whatever it is, don't think about how big or small budget is, think about how you as a cinematographers can give you can give your best to, to support the story. And that will be probably my advice, educate yourself and and get the understanding what really cinematography is all about. And that's going to make a very, really well rounded cinematographer and never give up. educating yourself. There's some beautiful cinematography is a field that is constantly changing. So that's the best thing about it, you'll never get bored.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:00
My friend, I could talk to you for hours about cinematography, but I do appreciate you taking the time out to talk to, to me into the tribe and again, so excited to be presenting lightened face the art of cinematography. I really do appreciate you being on the show and dropping your knowledge bombs, as I like to call them. So thank you again, so much my friend. Stay safe out there. Okay.

Suki Medencevic ASC 1:11:24
Thank you, you too.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:26
I want to thank Suki so much for coming on the show and really shedding some light on the whole COVID-19 how we're going to reopen, and all the great knowledge bombs dropped on the tribe today. If you want to get links to anything we discussed in this episode, please head over to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/388. And in there you will find a link to a limited time offer on Suki his new course light and face the art of cinematography. We are right now in a pre launch, early adopter time period. So up until May 23, you can get his course for $197. It retails for 697. So this is a once in a lifetime chance to get this course below 200. The course will never be offered at that price ever again. So if you want to take advantage of it, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/388 for the show notes, and you can find the link there or you can go just directly to ifhacademy.com. And also check out all of our other courses that we have there to offer you as well. And like I said in yesterday's episode, I will be working diligently to bring you amazing new courses to help you guys on your filmmaking or screenwriting path. And even if you're not a cinematographer, if you're a director, you want to take this course it'll be the best two and a half hours you'll spend during this quarantine it really will give you a real great foundation to talk to your cinematographer about or even God forbid, shoot your own stuff. Thanks again for listening guys. As always keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. Stay safe, and I'll talk to you soon.


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