'It should be a drama with superheroes in it' the cinematographer Boris Mojsovski on TITANS

Renowned for his work on the hit US TV shows Taken, 12 Monkeys and the DC Universe series TITANS, the cinematographer Boris Mojsovski talks to Mandy News about how he got into the world of TV and film plus an inside scope on what it was like working on the Titans.

7th December 2018
/ By James Collins


How did you get involved with the camera, how did that take you into the film and TV industry?
My father is a cinematographer - I grew up around cameras and film people. I knew the lighting gear as my dad owned a lot of it, I also knew cameras and I was allowed to play with everything - I had a stills camera around my neck most of the time.

After finishing my film studies, I started as a director but people knew about my camera and lighting skills. I loved doing both directing and cinematography, then at some point the two started conflicting in my mind and how the film industry defines one’s job. I was pushed to choose between directing and cinematography but I tried to refuse and do my own thing. 

As I kept getting more and more jobs as a cinematographer, my writing deadlines suffered as well as the developments of the project. I was directing and writing less and less. It is only recently that I have turned back to directing and writing because I simply reached a point in my cinematography career to be able to choose the projects more and manage my time better.

Knowing many aspects of the filmmaking process is very helpful but I find that knowing film theory and film history is imperative for becoming a good cinematographer. Essentially, it boils down to understanding why something works and the ability to reference paintings, photographs, other films or TV series. It allows one to precisely define the style of the project she or he is undertaking. 

I find that there are many film and TV professionals nowadays who come from various backgrounds without the understanding of what filmmaking is or what it wants to be - people try to communicate through the language of film without knowing the language itself.   

How did working on Titans come about?
I was in Prague shooting the finale of 12 Monkeys when I first had conversations with the producer Rob Ortiz, pilot director Brad Anderson and the showrunner Greg Walker. I remember our first phone meeting - I was in a production van at around 5 am after a very difficult night shoot in a beautiful Bohemian forest, tired and not really a 100% concentrated on the Titans’ world. 

The meeting was about 45 minutes long and I remember liking everything they pitched. We were going to shoot anamorphic - they loved a phrase I accidentally coined: “It should be a drama with superheroes in it” and everyone wanted it to look and feel like a movie - cinematic was the word used a lot. The word cinematic is used a lot in the TV world these days - I’m almost afraid of it because it means very different things to different people depending on their backgrounds. But, in the conversation with the three above-mentioned gentlemen, there was an obvious understanding of the word - they all came from film backgrounds and they didn’t use the word lightly.

After the meeting, I remember talking to my driver Milos about how perfect the conversation was and how I managed to stay awake. We both joked that there was no way I’m getting the job, it would be too easy.

But I did get the job to my delight - they called on August 17 (my birthday) with the news.

What is like working on the show, and what are some of the stylistic choices made that contribute towards the look and how it is shot?
We ended up shooting spherical, 2.0:1 aspect ratio which allowed for more dynamic framing and already had a bit of that cinematic feel just in the ratio itself. We decided to go with a muted colour palette in the design and costumes, only the superhero costumes came closer to the primary spectrum but in the details only. The image was desaturated with a cyan dominance in the mid tones and shadows. Our blacks were lifted, the contrast low but controlled so the blacks never got milky.  We exclusively tried to side light everything with very soft sources and no fill light - the appearance of the single soft source on the actor's faces was the overall goal.

This lighting approach allows for very elegant simplicity - I often said to our designer. John Dondertman defines the spaces with practical lights and I just fill the middle for the actors. John was very aware of light and lighting, we had a lot of practical sources to help define the locations and inform the mood. The show has a very dark undertone in its mood so the lighting and framing support that. 

Classically grounded modern look was what we executed - we drew from the American cinema of the seventies with a melange of visual details from Seven, Most Violent Year, Batmen Returns and Klute.

Being involved in the DC Comics world, are there things you can and can't do, to stay true to the comics and character, etc? 
That’s an interesting question. Yes, there are some limitations and they are more connected to the fan expectations than anything else - which is fair. Our co-showrunner Geoff Johns was our guide with his vast knowledge on everything DC Comics related - it was quite remarkable to observe as he would explain the most intriguing and seemingly small details from the creation of the character to the present. He is a walking encyclopaedia of all comic universes and a fantastic guy.

We had to stay true to the history of the characters and their world but we had the freedom to update and twist the world within itself.  We were tremendously supported by Geoff and all the executives on this series.

You have also worked on massive franchise shows like 'Taken' and '12 Monkeys', what are you currently working on... what's coming next?
I’m currently in Europe shooting Knightfall - a period drama about Templar Knights. It’s a lot of fun to work within the world without electricity. The series is quite epic in its scope - great actors and a good crew. I’ll be working on Season 2 of Titans after Knightfall - I’m looking forward to reinventing our dark world and offering a new perspective.

What advice do you have for up and coming Cinematographers? 
That’s a tricky one, always. 

It’s easy to be wise once you achieve some of your goals - it is much harder to be wise while you are climbing the mountain. But I will say that knowledge is power, knowing your job well is super important. Even more important than that is the passion for cinema - that should never leave you or be forgotten.  And the last one is to be, and stay, super stubborn but pure, keep pushing and trying for the right reasons.