DOP Martin Ruhe Interview On The Midnight Sky & George Clooney

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DATE : 23rd Of December 2020

Martin Ruhe

Martin Ruhe is a German cinematographer known for his work on the film Harry Brown. Ruhe has mainly worked on commercials and music videos, and is also known for features, including two films directed by Anton Corbijn: Control, a biopic about Ian Curtis, and The American, a thriller starring George Clooney

Speaking of George Clooney, The Midnight Sky releases 23rd December and The Movie Culture spoke to Martin Ruhe about his work on The Midnight Sky and working with Director/Actor George Clooney again.

Greetings Mr. Ruhe, we at The Movie Culture are thrilled to have you. We certainly hope that during times like these you and your family are doing well.

Martin Ruhe: Thanks, and I have the same wish for you!

Q. To start this interview we have to ask you about The Midnight Sky, do tell us about the Movie and how it first came to be?

Martin Ruhe: George and I had worked together on Catch 22 and that was great fun and he liked how it turned out. When I was in LA for the premiere of Catch George told me about Midnight Sky saying it is like Revenant and Gravity in one… How could I say no to that!

Q. The images from The Midnight Sky look amazing and given you have shot it, How does that make you feel?

Martin Ruhe: It feels great. It’s exciting to see it out there. 

Q. What was the approach you took for shooting The Midnight Sky given the story is Sci-fi, was there an extra effort you took?

Martin Ruhe: It was a bit more complicated than the films I did before. What is happening 30 years from now? How do you envision the near future? How does space travel look then? And then of course there’s a lot of technically more complicated things to shoot: Zero gravity, astronauts in space, shooting in real ice storms, complex vfx work which also needed great collaboration between all departments…. The first reaction to the script the feeling you have then was my guide in the process.

Q. The Midnight Sky is directed by George Clooney, how is the conversation between you (DOP) and Clooney (Director) like developing this story and it’s look?

Martin Ruhe: We went thru the script together and talked about visual references, films like The Andromeda Strain, Gravity, On The Beach, Everest and a few others. Our production designer Jim Bissell did a lot of research talking to people who know a lot about space… And then we put it all away and made it our own.

Q. We couldn’t help but notice that the world is in danger in The Midnight Sky and not to look far. We live in a similar reality, how does that make you feel that something you shoot starts reflecting reality?

Martin Ruhe: It is crazy to see how much has changed in so little time since we started shooting. The Corona epidemic, the fires around the globe as we see them now did not exist when we started shooting. The environmental estate is not great but I think it makes you feel like it has impact what we do right now and right here. We should look after our environment and the people we love more. 

Q. What is your approach to shooting a film? How do you figure out Lighting and and are you strong on pre-visualization?

Martin Ruhe: My approach is always to find that feeling or point of view to a story. That informs how I want to shoot it, which language… Handheld, dynamic… more tableaus and still… I want to keep it open until I know this. To get there start with the script, talk to the director, look at locations or find references if you are in studio settings. Lighting will fall into its place. I am not good at saying this is my way to light this and that will be our look… I often do not know before we start shooting. Once you start shooting and you are prepared everything will happen naturally. Within the first couple of days you understand. I think it is good to stay open.

Having said all that… on this film we needed to pre-visualise a few sequences to figure out how to do them. Our VFX team was great and showed me how to.  

Q. You at this point in your career seem to be doing great (we mean it) what is your approach going ahead is it more Mainstream or Indie Fare? What is your preference?

Martin Ruhe: I do not think like that. First is the script. Does it get to me? Do I like the story? And is it a story I want to tell? Then who is the director? Do we connect? Do we share a vision? I love making films and I love doing very different films. Mainstream or Indie is not important to me.

Q. The Midnight Sky is up next to be released, do you think about what the critics are going to say about your work? Should critical evaluation matter to one’s work? 

Martin Ruhe: It is nice if critics like the work. It is even better if the audience likes the film and it gets seen by many. If our story can touch them, we made some right choices. When you make a movie, critical evaluation does not come to mind. You make it as personal as you can and then you hope the world reacts to it. 

Q. If we may, we wanted to Segway into Fan Service by asking; What was it like  working with George Clooney?

Martin Ruhe: It is great to work with George. He has worked so long in the business and with so many great directors… He loves his actors and deeply understands every aspect of the story. And he is a very visual director who also takes risks. So… I love it.

Q. Speaking of Clooney, you have worked with Ewan McGregor and George Clooney both Actor/Directors, do you find there’s a difference between a traditional Director and an Actor/Director?

Martin Ruhe: And also, Julie Delpy. All of these directors loved their actors and felt strongly about protecting them and giving them the space they need. Also, I feel they had a deep understanding of what a scene is about and what is important in the moment. When shooting I try to give them as much space as possible and I do not want them to be concerned with any technical stuff but fully be able to do their performance. 

Q. Every Cinematographer has raised their opinion on the whole Film VS Digital argument, where do you fall on that spectrum?

Martin Ruhe: This discussion is not so important for me. With digital the process is faster, you can shoot with less light, the cameras are smaller and that allows you to tell stories you maybe were not able to shoot before. Also, digital has come a long way. I shot my first digital film with Harry Brown on tapy on a Sony camera. The decision was purely budget. We embraced it and made it a film with the right look for its story. Film asks for a bit more discipline. To have only few labs left makes it more complicated. 

I have shot films with both and am still happy to shoot with both. Some of my favourite films recently have been shot on film and some on digital. 

Q. Given The Midnight Sky is a Sci-Fi film, how much of it is CGI and how much did you and George insisted shooting in real life?

Martin Ruhe: Even when it is CGI we did our previz and figured out the shots we wanted. Matt Kasmir our VFX supervisor (and also a great collaborator on Catch 22) helped us to use the right tools to find our shots. We used a virtual camera and previsualized our two set pieces/action scenes. That way we knew what to shoot practically what would be CGI and so on. We had a model of our spaceship and designed a lot of shots with that virtual camera. Then the VFX department did a fantastic job filling the gaps. A lot of the final shots were based on our previz. In the end we all worked closely together to get to what you see on screen/tv now.

Q. Speaking of Cinematography, in your days as an aspiring Cinematographer is there anyone who you looked up to as an idol? Was there a favourite movie which you saw and that made you fell in love with the artform?

Martin Ruhe: When I was 15, I saw Once Upon A Time In The West for the first time in cinema. I grew up in a small town and the cinemas in summer would show mainly old films. I loved that film it was so intense and got me hooked. I watched all the films I could get into during those summer weeks. I also saw Il Vitelloni by Felllini and did not understand too much but it was about some friends in a small town in Italy. they all talk about what life can be and nobody dares to leave the town, only one in the end gets out into the world. That film gave me hope that I could get somewhere. Hopefully I remember it right…I have not seen it in a while.

Q. While researching we found out that you wanted to be a Director, could you tell us about that and are there any plans to get back to it?

Martin Ruhe: That was purely because i did not know anything about film. And if you do not know but you want to be part of it then you want ot be a director or an actor/actress. So when I had my first job as a runner in film I saw what a cinematographer does I knew that is my job. I loved it. And I never wanted to do anything else ever since.  

Q. The Movie Culture is situated in India and we being fans of your work, we’d like to know whether you are aware of Bollywood? If yes, is there an actor you admire or a film?

Martin Ruhe: Unfortunately, I do not know too much about Bollywood. I have had enquiries to do Bollywood movies but so far it has not worked out yet mainly for schedule reasons.

Q. You have a background in Music Videos and Commercial, how is shooting a film different to that?

Martin Ruhe: Think of a marathon versus a short sprint. And then also because commercials and music video rarely deal with real emotions and real actors but much more with the cliches of it. Only movies dive in deeply into emotions and explore those.

Q. We hope you are doing well in this Pandemic, and we have to ask, is there a binge watch party you have done with your family or friends? If yes, which show or movie Franchise?

Martin Ruhe: I watched a couple of German tv shows like Das Boot (season 1), Babylon Berlin, Slobørn… Just to see what happens in my home country. I have not followed too many tv shows because if you start them it is six or ten hours of your life – at least if you are not doing season 2, 3, 4, 5, … I prefer to catch up on movies I have not seen. There’s one exception:  The Long Way Up because it is Ewan in it and I love what they do in the show. 

Q. Do you have any future projects lined up which you’d like to share with us and your fans?

Martin Ruhe: I am sorry but nothing is confirmed yet and I cannot talk about potential ones yet.

Q. Being a great Cinematographer such as yourself, is there a key advice which you give to people trying to make it big? Given the vast competition in the media field, how does one cope with rejection, any words?

Martin Ruhe: Keep on going. It cannot be a reason not to do it because so many want to do it… I had moments when I prepared to become a taxi driver to keep my dream alive. In the end I was lucky and it was not needed. But you have to stay true to your heart and be strong on your decisions. Then there will be a response. Middle of the road does not give you any direction. 

With this we would like to wrap up with the interview questions. The Movie Culture would indeed like to thank Martin Ruhe for agreeing to this wonderful interview.

The Movie Culture Synopsis

Couldn’t agree more about the advice Martin Ruhe gave at the end, thought provoking indeed. It is also wonderful how he answered the debate about Film VS Digitize which we keep having despite the various technological achievements we have had over the years. 

It was indeed surreal to get to know how Martin Ruhe and George Clooney approached shooting The Midnight Sky which just looks bonkers and The Movie Culture Review will indeed be coming up.