Brazilian Cinematographer Larry Machado on ‘Dry Wind’

A conversation with cinematographer Larry Machado on Vento Seco (Dry Wind), an exploration of sexuality, obsession and life in rural Brazil – interview by James Cunningham 

Recently nominated for Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival, sexual fantasy intrudes on sexual reality in Daniel Nolasco’s playful, explicit, and stunningly beautiful Vento Seco (Dry Wind) from visionary Brazilian cinematographer Larry Machado.

Sandro (Leandro Faria Lelo) in ‘Dry Wind’ – DOP Larry Machado

AC – How did you get involved with Dry Wind, and what was the original vision for the film prior to starting pre-production?

LM – Vento Seco started in 2016, when I met director Daniel Nolasco and we filmed together the short film Neptune, which is actually a shorter and somewhat conservative version of Vento Seco. It was a great experience for us to start working together and for me to begin to understand what it was like to film in the city of Catalão, Nolasco’s hometown.

From then on, we made another short and two documentary films, one of them Mr. Leather (2019), which is a documentary about the leather fetish scene in São Paulo. This was an important experience with aesthetics, and with people within the leather and bondage communities.

Vento Seco was part of the journey that we started in these previous films. It was as if I had already done that. For me this film is a contemplation of fetishism, extravagance, and also of melancholy, explored through simple living situations about friendship, death and love in that city. In my view, the film’s tension resides in the opposition between Sandro’s restraint and the film’s extravagant aesthetics. I think this film is about the language of camera movement, scenography, characters and lighting.

AC – As cinematographer, what was your collaboration like with the production designer Carol Breviglieri during pre-production on the film?

LM – I have known and worked with Breviglieri since my first years in film, we have a great working relationship. We worked a lot with mood boards that we often shared with each other, with the participation of Nolasco and also Dan Lemos from the art team. 

Breviglieri also kept me up to date with the costumes, which is a fundamental factor in the aesthetics of the film. She was always very colourful and added various forms of reflection, with various pieces in leather and also in latex which created very interesting sparkles. I worked to make lighting add value to these pieces. The costumes were also important for the choice of our colour palettes, although I find it quite varied. The pink that is often present in scenes with Maicon came about because of the pink of his swim trunks.

AC – Colour is such an important part of the film. Can you talk about your liberal use of colour, and the colour palate you chose for the film?

LM – Much of the proposal for the use of colour in the film would be to be a counterpoint to the figure of Sandro. The entire cinematographic apparatus, camera movements, zoom, lighting and colours, would be a way of expressing what could be inside the character; what he ‘saw’ but did not express with his body.

We envisioned the lighting of the film in a theatrical way, very influenced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s iconic queer classic Querelle (1982, cinematography by Xaver Schwarzenberger), which gave us a great freedom in the creation with the colours. Everything was possible. Any lighting effect could be a good idea for almost every scene. 

There was a lot of planning, but some decisions regarding colour and lighting came up during the shoot. The red light pulsates in Ricardo’s car when Sandro refuses to scratch it, pink is present in several scenes in which Maicon appears and echoes the colour of his swim trunks.

The city itself brought many lighting ideas, the centre of the city was covered with RGB LED strips, some squares were lit in green, the green and cyan of metal vapour and mercury lamps from the streets and the fertiliser factory, in some way, influenced our choices.

Colour became a way to highlight our dream sequences, such as a night scene and a golden shower, or when a character enters a lake with the dog, the policeman scene and the blood moon when Sandro meets Ricardo and Maycon together. They are scenes of almost unique colours, violet, blue, yellow and red.

Rafael Teo Philo as Maicon in In ‘Dry Wind’ – DOP Larry Machado

AC – What factors did you take into consideration when choosing your camera and lenses. What camera and lenses did you shoot this film with, and why? 

LM – In the region of Brazil where I live, it is not a place with a very active audiovisual market. It has grown a lot in the last ten years, but it is still very small. We do not have large rental companies with many equipment options and with more affordable prices as in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.

In addition, policies to promote cinema in Brazil are very fickle, especially now with our right-wing Bolsonaro government. We are always thinking about ways to produce and market our films completely independently and be able to do this in the best possible quality. We acquired a Red Scarlet Dragon in 2018, which is a robust camera, with a texture that I like a lot and with a good dynamic range, and in my opinion it is a very versatile camera and fits many proposals.

We used two Angenieux 16-40mm lenses and a 45-120mm Optimo, which are excellent lenses and would give us the zoom range we needed. We use the 45-120mm in most scenes and also the Angenieux 24-290mm Optimo just for one scene where we needed greater distance.

AC – Can you speak briefly about your own crew in the camera department?

LM – Kaco Olimpio was our focus puller, we met in college and I had worked with him in several different roles. I was his second assistant camera on several projects. Tothi Cardoso is a great friend and my partner, also works with Kaco from time-to-time. Chico Macedo was our key grip and Elinaldo Revis was our gaffer, they are a very important duo for the cinema of Goiás, with incredible experience and professionalism. The gaffer’s assistants were Rosa Caldeira and Janaína Ribeiro.

AC – I really loved your use of those neon/LED strip lights throughout the film. I noticed you used them in multiple locations, as well as in a number of vehicles. Can you talk a little about your decision to use them, and generally about your approach to lighting on the film?

LM – The neon lighting aesthetic came out of image research, not just from films, and we started to think together about all the lighting elements, because after all the lights were also part of the scenery. We curated a collection of of practical LED lights; RGB of all types, tapes, hoses, spots, which we would then use in our locations; the factory, in cars, in the nightclub, in the dressing room, for example.

I think the use of ‘neon’ or ‘led tube’ is a global fashion, which ended up being a facility that I found to give all the colour we wanted for Vento Seco. I was also influenced by many Brazilian pop and funk videoclips. I started to think that it would be interesting for the film to use them as practical lights, to function as an artifice that also dated the film at that time and was also a reference to these video clips that I find visually significant.

Querelle was very much on our mind, and we aimed to be as extravagant with the light as Sandro was so restrained. The LED tubes were a way of bringing the colour and aesthetics we wanted in a ‘modernised’ way.

Then there is a culture of very strong ‘automotive lights’ we referenced, in which cars are covered with RGB led strips, even a boat we used was covered in them. This culture is quite heterosexual, which was another reason for us to add these lighting cues.

We used a kit of four tubes of 60cm Andromeda CameTV, which responded much more than I expected. They were very practical and we used them in practically every scene of the film.

A scene from Daniel Nolasco’s ‘Dry Wind’ – DOP Larry Machado

AC – I’m wondering if you had any specific film references in Dry Wind? There is a shot of the main character with fireworks going off in the background which reminded me of a similar shot of Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain with fireworks going off in the background. Was this an homage? And what other filmic references did you use?

LM – Vento Seco has several tributes to several queer films, symbols and characters, very direct references and some scenes are reproductions of scenes from these films. Sandro’s scene with Maicon’s motorcycle is a direct reference to Scorpio Rising (1969, cinematography by Kenneth Anger) and the scene where Sandro enters the lake with the dog is an homage to Boys in the Sand (1971, cinematography by Wakefield Poole). And yes, also Brokeback Mountain (2005, cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto AMC ASC) among others.

For photography the main references are Scorpio Rising, Querelle as well as cult queer classic Bijou (1972, cinematography also by Wakefield Poole). Scorpio Rising is a really beautiful film. For people who only shoot in digital, the texture that the film has is something that always impresses me, the way it illuminates with unnatural hard lights with unjustified sources is something unusual nowadays. The tendency is to use several diffusion layers in all light sources. 

The film has a ‘glow’ and some very interesting lens distortions, and so does Querelle and Bijou. This glow effect was extensively worked on in Dry Wind. Bijou also influenced me in the way of lighting, the use of colours, that ‘glow’, lens flares, as well as the behaviour of the camera and use of zoom. It seems to me that it is a very vivid camera, with a certain impression and improvisation that I really like.

I would like to have brought this aesthetic from the 1960s to the 1980s closer and tested some lens filters, but it was not possible. We used a black Pro Mist in most scenes and added more glow and flares during post-production.

AC – I’d love to ask you about shooting the amusement park ride sequence. How did this sequence come about, what was the planning behind it and how did you film it? 

LM – This was one of the scenes that worried me the most. It was a very long sequence and with details that happened during the scene; all of this spinning. I knew I could count on our key grip Chico Macedo and best boy Jarves Calixto. We paid a visit to the Kamikazi ride a few weeks earlier, which was enough for Macedo to figure out the kind of equipment we would need. 

He set up a structure with tubes, handcuffs and rods, and placed the camera outside the ride. It was a very secure structure and we didn’t need to choose a more compact camera. To illuminate, we again use the led tubes and two 1200w HMIs with cyan gels.

I believe that for actor Leandro Faria Lelo (Sandro) it was much more difficult. It is really very difficult to stay focused spinning like that.

AC – Were there considerations for shooting the more sexually explicit scenes in the film? How were nude shower scenes shot, was there a more limited crew, how were the sex scenes planned and blocked? What was it like filming them for you behind the camera and for the actors in front of the camera? 

LM – In order to shoot the nude scenes, there was nothing very special that doesn’t happen in any film. Each scene is always different. The nude scenes in the bathroom were quiet, there was no need to reduce the crew, it was a very relaxed environment. 

For the film’s sex scenes, more concentration and silence was needed. We tried to shoot continuously for a few minutes without cutting, and re-positioning our camera only as much as needed. In some scenes, it was necessary to make more rehearsed camera movements, which required concentration and great patience on the part of our actors, who were extremely professional. There’s a sex scene which takes place at a livestock trade fair. We dressed the location with some black tarpaulins and tried to be discreet, so as not to attract the attention of the employees and people walking by.

In the leather bar scene, in which a cowboy (João Sá) masturbates on another man (Marcelo D’Avilla) in a dog mask, we shot the scene for real. The whole team was involved. The scene had a certain timing that was created by the camera movement and zoom. João Sá is an actor who specialises in live performance and has incredible control of his body. If every movement was correct, assistant director Larissa Sisterolli would give the actor a cue and shortly after he would reach orgasm for us, which we would film. We only needed one take. For me it is very easy to shoot these scenes, I just take great care in making sure nothing goes wrong so as not to disturb the actors.

A scene from Daniel Nolasco’s ‘Dry Wind’ – DOP Larry Machado

AC – How involved were you in the post-production process? Was your footage graded and if so, who did the grade? How involved were you with this process? 

LM – The colouring was done by Dodô, Adonias Dantas at the O2 Pós Studio. The post-production process started with camera tests on some locations during pre-production, when we tested looks, mainly for the scenes of ‘American night’ and ‘blood moon’, but nothing very special and without creating look-up tables (LUTs) in advance.

Colour grading took two weeks, during which the director and I followed the whole process, and for me Dodô’s colour work which was very surprising. He understood very well that we wanted extremely vibrant colours, high-contrast and that we were open to possible styling with glow, flares and whatever else was needed.

AC – Do you have a favourite shot or sequence in Dry Wind? Why?

LM – I really like the sequence we shot in the leather bar. I think it’s a synthesis and the apex of all the fetish and energy that the film brings. I like how it starts, I like the silence that remains throughout the sequence and the slow pace and progression of events that happen as we lead the audience to the final conclusion. I also like how the scene brings with it many fetish codes shown in small details and of course, the final orgasm which is really beautiful.

Another scene I like, and it’s the opposite of the leather bar scene, is a conversation on the banks of the lake during twilight. It’s a very simple and raw scene that puts our feet on the ground, and makes us understand a lot of things even if not verbalised.

AC – Finally,  looking back on what you and the director had originally set out to achieve making Dry Wind, do you think you succeeded?

LM – We are all very proud of what we’ve achieved in making this film. Many things changed along the way, but they have led to a film that we are very proud of.

Larry Machado studied Cinema and Audiovisual from the State University of Goiás, Brazil. He serves as cinematographer for films, television series and music videos.

James Cunningham is editor of Australian Cinematographer Magazine.

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