By Naveed Rozais
Independent filmmaking collective High School Junkies held a webinar on 6 December with cinematographer Fabian Wagner.
Wagner is an experienced cinematographer who has worked on massive film and television projects such as Game of Thrones (Battle of the Bastards), Sherlock, The Crown, Overlord, Victor Frankenstein, and Justice League.
The webinar took place ahead of 2021’s release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the director’s cut of the 2017 American superhero film Justice League. It presents Justice League – the fifth film of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and based on the DC Comics superhero team of the same name – as director Zack Snyder originally intended, before he left production and Joss Whedon took over his duties. The Snyder Cut is set to be released early-mid 2021.
Wagner spoke about the upcoming release of the Snyder Cut, sharing that it was an inspiring movement fronted by fans of Justice League and the DCEU, that says a lot about their commitment and love for Zack Snyder and his vision. Wagner also shared that it was also very encouraging for him to be able to see his work come to life as it originally should have.
Speaking on his own journey into filmmaking, Wagner shared that he had always loved film and television, starting to make his own short films before going to film school in Denmark, and then moving on to work in England, shooting various projects, from chap commercials to music videos, to short films and teen dramas. Working in television gave him the chance to work on big projects, including Season 2 of BBC’s Sherlock, and HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Wagner also spoke on how the industry has evolved since he first began working 15-20 years ago with his first TV drama, explaining that TV has become much bigger now in terms of scale, budgets, and ambition, and that there is now much difference between film and television, with the entire television process becoming more cinematic, from technical details like aspect ratios to overall look and feel.
Streaming has served to blur these boundaries, and Wagner observed that, on a personal level, he has held a rather bleak outlook on the future of cinema; something which, he feels, Covid-19 has accelerated. “I love cinema, and going to the cinema, and cinema won’t die as such, but it will become more of a niche. Now people have TVs and sound systems in their homes, and many will choose to stay and watch movies at home.”
Wagner also noted that big distributors are already aware of this shift, particularly now, with the pandemic in full force, with many of these distributors releasing movies on streaming platforms at the same time they release them in cinemas.
Wagner also answered questions on the film production process, sharing how storyboarding helps filmmakers communicate their ideas and plans to the various departments involved in producing a film or television show, like the lighting department, camera department, art department, visual effects department, and so on.
Speaking on the transition from film to digital in terms of shooting, Wagner explained that he was lucky that, when he started out, everything was on film, with the transition to shooting digitally happening only 10 or so years ago. Wagner shared that he enjoyed shooting in both mediums, and could appreciate the benefits and recognise the downfalls of both. Wagner did note that it was important for cinematographers to be able to choose the medium they would like to shoot on, something that is currently decided by the production team, and not the cinematographer.
Sharing his insight with up-and-coming filmmakers, Wagner encouraged being honest and true to yourself, explaining that “bullshit always comes to the surface sooner or later”. Wagner stressed that it takes a lot of hard work to make it in film. “It’s one of those industries where the more you give, the more you get. I worked for years and years and years and years doing things for free, trying to learn, meeting people, and clicking with people.”
He also answered further questions on the Snyder Cut, how it was produced, and what he hopes to see when it is released in 2021.
High School Junkies’ live conversation with Fabian Wagner can be viewed in its entirety on the High School Junkies Facebook page.