In “Sanctuary,” a hotel chain heir (Christopher Abbott) and dominatrix (Margaret Qualley) pays to enact his submissive fantasies that escalate into a real-world power struggle when the client wants to end the relation. The entire film takes place within the confines of an upscale hotel room (with a quick detour down the hallway and into the elevator), but this isn’t a filmed stage play; The beautifully crafted and meticulously conceived visual style of director Zachary Wigon and cinematographer Ludovica Isidori makes “Sanctuary” a gloriously cinematic experience that is as dynamic as it is provocative. Every expressive possibility is grasped and explored, as Wigon and Isidori constantly find rich visual corollaries for the characters’ internal tensions and shifts of dominance. The film expertly maximizes the limited resources of an indie film, so IndieWire reached out to Wigon and Isidori for their advice on how to make the most of space, time and money.
Keep the visual language evolving throughout the film
One of the reasons ‘Sanctuary’ never gets boring is that Wigon and Isidori refused to repeat themselves as the film progressed. “In the script, there are no repeating beats,” said Wigon. “Every line in the story is somehow different, and you’re never where you were at the beginning of the movie. What you’re doing as a director is taking those beats and translating them into cinematic terms with camera movement, blocking, staging, composition, music and color. By this principle, if every joke is different on the page, then there’s no reason you should ever cinematically repeat yourself in your translation.
At first Wigon and Isidori argued that the script had different movements which lent themselves to a slightly different visual style. For the opening section, in which the two characters act according to a set script, Wigon kept the coverage static. “Because they’re trapped and blocked, the camera is trapped and blocked,” he said. Once the dominatrix moves away from the script, the camerawork goes to the Steadicam. “Everything is floating because now everything is suspended. What’s going to happen? Everything is confused and things are changing”.
Later in the “Sanctuary” movie, when the characters seem to spiral, the camera spins out of control with them. “That was the only scene in the movie that I didn’t shoot or block,” Wigon said. a shot that goes on for about two and a half minutes, and I just told Margaret and Chris to unblock and the camera operator went handheld and followed them in. And it was just right for the feel of that particular sequence, which I wanted to feel particularly unhinged, as if anything could happen, as if we were off the rails. This approach carried over to every scene in the film, as Wigon created not only a narrative but also a visual progression.” You’re basically trying to read what’s different about each sequence and then go as far as possible stylistically in a way that supports what’s going on.You never want to repeat a frame because as soon as you do, the viewer’s eye starts to say, “I’ve seen this before.”
Plan ahead as much as possible
The precision of the camera lock and placement in “Sanctuary” is a result of planning and rehearsals, even if Wigon didn’t have much access to his actors beforehand. “It’s an independent film, so there wasn’t much time for rehearsals,” Isidori said. Since actors were unavailable, Wigon and Isidori spent the evenings before production building up a video shoot list with anyone they could enlist to fill in for Abbott and Qualley: production assistants, friends, even Wigon’s brothers. “We did it with a phone, just to make sure the editing worked,” Isidori said, adding that they also came up with a general philosophy of how the characters would move: with a kind of heightened reality motivated by emotions. “He has a theatrics, which is fun as long as he’s in character. We wanted to make sure we always followed that line and never forced the motion so that it didn’t make sense. Obviously working with Margaret and Chris there were some adjustments on set, but a lot of it was a predetermined shot list night after night with random people.
Create a visually interesting space
In keeping with the film’s sense of heightened reality, Wigon and production designer Jason Singleton conceived a hotel room set that is more visually different than what one might find in an actual hotel suite. “There are a lot of contemporary hotel suites where everything is beige,” Wigon said. “It may look cute in real life, but it would be pretty boring to watch it for 90 minutes.” Wigon came to Singleton with a concept of the hotel room that he had what he described as an “extraordinarily busy” interior design. “Jason said, ‘We can do something in this universe of commitments, but we’re going to have to reduce it by about 20 percent or it’s going to be too much, it’s going to overwhelm the eye.”
Isidori worked closely with Singleton to control color on set and use it as a narrative tool. “There are two kinds of colour: there is the color of the room and the color of the lighting,” Isidori said, noting that he carefully controlled both to add further dynamism to the images. “The first time you enter the bedroom, there is a warm red tungsten light. The second time around, there’s a lot of green, which technically comes from outside, but it doesn’t matter where it comes from: the point is that the anger and turmoil is seething. The characters are getting rougher and messier, so I put in that green to give you an uneasy feel. Isidori also did subtle things with the color of the light to emphasize both the differences and the connections between the characters. “In the first bathroom scene, they occupy two worlds and their lighting doesn’t necessarily match, but it’s complementary. There are scenes where one character is dressed in blue and the other is dressed in red, but there will be some red in the blue and some blue in the red, as if the colors are infiltrating each other’s frame. other — the colors contaminate each other. ”
Save your greatest photo snaps for when they matter
While the camerawork never gets in the way of the performances and the story, ‘Sanctuary’ has some extremely awkward shots that make the audience aware of the making of the film – and this was entirely intentional. “We weren’t pretending to make a nature film,” Isidori said. “We’re not pretending the camera isn’t there. Sometimes it will draw attention to itself if it helps support the narrative. According to Wigon, bolder devices—like a shot where the camera reverses, switches between characters, and then snaps back upright—were reserved for big dramatic shifts. “You have to pick your moments for imaginative deals, and that’s usually when you’re plotting new moves in the story,” Wigon said. “Turning moments lend themselves to that kind of stylistic flourish because one chapter is coming to a close and another chapter is opening, and the bloom is a nice way to signify that for the audience.”