How the DP Behind Sundance Hit ‘Tangerine’ Created a Cinematic Look with an iPhone

Radium Cheung, HKSC, talks to Indiewire about how and why he used a mobile phone to shoot Sean Baker’s new film – and why he doesn’t plan to shoot another film on a phone ever again.

Since meeting on the set of the cult TV show “Greg the Bunny” back in 2006, Radium Cheung, HKSC has collaborated with cinematographer-director Sean Baker on Baker’s 2012 “Starlet” and, most recently, the Sundance breakout hit “Tangerine.” In between, Radium has kept busy working as everything from a gaffer to a camera operator and lighting technician on a series of films and TV shows, including “Margin Call,” “All is Lost” and “The Americans,” for which he shot a handful of episodes.

But while the Hong Kong native shot “Starlet” using a Sony digital camera with anamorphic wide-screen lenses, for “Tangerine,” he and Baker opted to shoot using an iPhone 5s with a special anamorphic adapter for the iPhone developed by Moondog Labs.

While “Starlet” had a bleached look, “Tangerine,” an unconventional buddy pic of sorts involving two transgendered prostitutes in L.A. on Christmas Eve, pops with saturated, bold colors.

Indiewire recently spoke to Radium, the co-cinematographer of “Tangerine” (along with Baker), about how and why he created the film’s cinematic look using an iPhone.

I absolutely loved “Tangerine,” which is such a gorgeous film. I know you shot on an iPhone, but you also treated the film quite heavily in post to give it its unique look. Was that through color correction?

Yes, color correction. We basically did the opposite of what we did on “Starlet.” We drained the color on “Starlet.” On this one, we boosted the colors more, so we went the opposite direction — probably to do with the fact that the whole movie took place in one night on Christmas Eve. There were a lot of these holiday lights that were all around the environment. Sean wanted to boost that more. Taking advantage of that, we made that more pronounced.

In general, you seem to have a preference for natural lighting. Was that the case with “Tangerine” as well?

In general, for me as a cinematographer, I’ve always preferred more naturalistic when it comes to the lighting. I have very low tolerance for over-lit imagery. The trend in any kind of art form, movies or what not, back say 10 years ago, we had higher tolerance for things looking too manicured, too perfect, too beautifully lit. It was okay then. Now, if we produce that kind of image it takes audience away. They are constantly reminded that they are watching a movie because things don’t look that great, that manicured…

Catch the rest of this article on Indiewire.