Awards Daily chats with Jockey Director of Photography Adolpho Veloso about shooting during the magic hour, working with first-time director Clint Bentley, and what that final scene means to him.
Jockey is such a refreshing surprise when you see it. First-time director Clint Bentley (who also co-wrote the film) tells the story of an aging jockey as he faces down what could be his final laps around the track. The title character is played by Clifton Collins Jr., who most audiences know for his supporting work in Westworld and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, and the film is doubly sweet because you’re getting to see a favorite supporting actor finally get all the attention.
Jockey is also impeccably shot, thanks to Director of Photography Adolpho Veloso. I had a chance to email Veloso some questions about the film, including what it was like to get those sunset scenes, the palettes he wanted to use to contrast the decay on the race track, and what that final scene means to him.
Awards Daily: Congratulations on Jockey! This is one of my favorite films of the year. I read
how people describe the cinematography being able to capture that “magic hour”
between day and night. There are so many beautiful shots of sunsets. Was that a
challenge in being able to film during that sweet spot every day? Did that put
pressure on both you and the actors?
Adolpho Veloso: Thank you so much, I’m glad you liked it. It was definitely a challenge, as we could only do a few takes each day, and everything had to work at the same time. But everybody
was so on board with that idea that it ended up going smoothly. We decided to avoid
getting lots of coverage and instead have a lot of long sequences, which helped, too. We
rehearsed when the light was not perfect and then would shoot a few takes with the light
we wanted without worrying about having so many different sizes and angles.
AD: The colors in this are beautiful. I noticed a lot of golds and blues. What kind of
palettes did you want to use and how did they add to the tone of the film?
AV: When I saw the colors of the Arizona sky for the first time, I knew that was it. It’s so
beautiful—I think we couldn’t even capture it all. But a lot of the palette had to do with
what we saw on the racetrack for real. The combination of those impressive sunrises
and sunsets combined with the old tungsten and fluorescent lights they had inside just
made it so rich already that we just went very minimal for everything else.
I guess the only thing we really made pop were the costumes they use for the races. As
Gui Marini, the production designer pointed out, that’s somewhat of a reminder to
Jackson of the time he was a hero. They are so bright and colorful that they evoke a
sense of fantasy, which when compared to the decay of the surroundings of the track,
makes you understand why he’s struggling so much with retirement.
AD: I saw this film at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, and they said it was a pretty
quick turnaround when it came to shooting. What was that like for you as DP?
AV: On the outside I held it together, but on the inside, I was probably going crazy. We had
just 20 days to shoot everything and still wanted to allow time for all of those more
improvisational scenes. The whole crew and cast were amazing, and the vibe was
perfect, for sure. But it’s never easy and really requires everyone to be giving 100%.
AD: What kind of challenges did you face when shooting the racing scenes? Did
you have any experience filming horses or action like this?
AV: We didn’t want to shoot the races in the glamorous way they are usually shot. Clint
wanted to make a movie about the jockeys and their struggles, not the glamorous view
from the stands. So, we decided to be rough about it and stay with Jackson throughout
the races. I’d shot similar stuff before, but it was my first time doing it this way, so close
to the jockeys and shooting two entire horse races without any horses at all—not to be
added in post or anything like that, just not showing horses at all.
AD: What was it like working with Clint Bentley? This is his first feature-length film,
and yet it has a real confidence to it.
AV: Clint wrote me after watching a documentary I shot since he wanted to incorporate a lot
of improvisation with non-actors and wanted that to blend well with the scripted scenes.
So that was a bit what we went for. Trying to make the documental scenes look less
documental and the scripted scenes less scripted, so they’d all fit. I can’t wait to work
with him again, as I’m sure he’s going to be one of the greats soon. He was portraying a
subject that was so close to him and that he knew so much about, so he easily
mastered it. He is also a very kind and humble person.
AD: My favorite scene of the entire movie is the last scene when he walks out
following the race and the camera follows him. Clifton talked a little bit about how
this scene came about when I saw him in Savannah, but I’d love to hear how this
worked for you.
AV: That’s my favorite scene, too. I guess it’s always hard to watch your own work without
critiquing it. We are constantly analyzing, seeing problems, remembering what
happened on that shoot day, etc. But every time I watch the film, it’s that last scene
where I just lose it all and get emotional about it. Clifton delivers so much without saying
a word that it couldn’t end in a better way. And the music matches it perfectly. For that
scene, I was there watching this genius in front of me, so as the cinematographer, I just
followed whatever he was doing.