The cinematographer behind Maestro reveals how he filmed the movie’s single-shot Thanksgiving argument scene between Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan.
The Oscar-nominated film Maestro explores the fearless love story between American composer Leonard Bernstein (played by Cooper) and his wife Felicia Montealegre (played by Mulligan).
Though he was married to Felicia and cared for her up until her death, Bernstein had numerous relationships with men during their marriage.
In an emotional scene in the movie, Bernstein returns to the family’s apartment in New York on Thanksgiving morning after an all-night bender.
An explosive argument unfolds between Bernstein and Felicia, in which she warns her husband that he will “die a lonely old queen” — as New York’s Thanksgiving Parade floats by outside their window.
The powerful argument scene in Maestro, which was also directed by Cooper, is filmed as a one-shot take without any cuts.
A Single-Shot Scene That Was Not Planned
In an interview with Variety, Maestro cinematographer Matthew Libatique revealed that the pivotal long-oner took over three takes.
The cinematographer also revealed that the single-shot aspect of the scene was not planned. In fact, it actually came about as a result of the strength of Mulligan’s performance in the movie.
Variety reports that Libatique approached the scene as normal when it was time to shoot the Thanksgiving fight. The cinematographer expected lots of coverage, and the scene would be pieced together based on performances
Cooper knew what he wanted from the scene — a wide shot with the two characters. In his conception, Felicia was sitting in the chair, and Leonard entered the room and sat down.
“It was two people sitting in a wide shot, and it just wasn’t happening,” Libatique tells Variety.
On the second take, Mulligan decided to get up from the chair and went over to the window.
“The third take, she was at the window at the very beginning of the scene, and that’s what you see in the film,” Libatique says.
“It was so intense, and the pacing was so real — they’re cutting each other off and responding to what each other’s saying, it felt like there was no dialogue.”
After they filmed three different takes of the argument scene, Cooper asked Libatique how they were ever going to be able to edit it in post-production.
“The tone of it, the emotional aspect of it, and the performances on both ends were fantastic and we were sort of lensing up her side of the coverage and [Cooper] just looked at me and said, ‘How are we going to do that? How are we going to cut in her performance?’
“So the single-shot aspect was born out of the greatness of their performance — it wasn’t planned.”
A Film With That Uses Different Aspect Ratios
Libatique shot Maestro using Kodak film and used various cameras including the ARRI Alexa, RED, Sony, and ARRI 65. In choosing aspect ratios, 1:85 is used after Felicia has died. But a large portion of the film is in 1:33.
“We fell in love with the aspect ratio,” Libatique tells Variety.
“I like to think that that frame embraces the characters, and when he’s alone at the end of the film, it expands out to 1.85 and that embrace is gone.”