Cinematographer Ayinde Anderson set out to film the coming-of-age skate punk story “North Hollywood” with a rich, cinematic style that would be the last thing viewers would expect from an authentic cast pulling off real stunts in the community where they live.
Because he’d had so much time invested in writer-director Mikey Alfred’s world of skate parks, tubes and rails, shooting dozens of web videos with him before embarking on filming “North Hollywood,” he says, he understood inherently that he wanted “this kind of grand, Scorsese-esque, strong visual imprint.”
Cinematic scene composition, lighting and camera placement were essential to the approach he says – “A very specific technical approach both in the skating and the filming. It’s just adjusting the language for the big screen.”
Alfred, a serious local skater himself, founder of the skateboard company Illegal Civ and co-producer of Jonah Hill’s “Mid90s,” who cast his friends in supporting roles, doing their own tricks with boards, had a majestic vision for his story of a kid who is determined to turn pro, Anderson says.
Indeed, the team’s high ambitions for “North Hollywood” included courting the Sundance fest and major distributors. Yet the team found a distribution deal elusive – so, with classic street hustler attitude, he put the film out on iTunes, where it’s become a viral sensation.
Anderson, while a student at the American Film Institute, met Alfred through a fellow student and was drawn into his world, determined to help him move from skater/documentarian to feature film director.
After collaborating on YouTube series “Summer of 17” in 2017, the two arrived at a visual style that celebrated both street culture and big-screen imagery, the cinematographer says.
The community of skate kids is diverse and integrated – as is the production team – and Anderson, as one of the relatively few Black DPs working on feature films, says the path forward depends on more future filmmakers seeing successful role models they can relate to. “It’s really just a matter of exposure and understanding that this is a viable career path,” he says. “We’re all just growing together, which is really nice.”
Because the skaters were performing real stunts, at one point flying down a large staircase, Anderson came around to an approach where they were allowed to work on them in the location to be filmed before the cameras were on, he says.
Rehearsals were a big part of ensuring that the action fit with camera moves throughout the production, Anderson adds, but at times he also needed to respond to new directions the performers were taking.
At one point, after a skater got a difficult and hazardous trick nearly perfect but was becoming exhausted, Anderson says, the script was tweaked to incorporate that outcome. “The scene actually evolved. Everybody just adapted the story to fit that moment.”
The script was otherwise quite precise and Alfred had come up with a full and detailed shot list, Anderson says. “We took that and tried to enhance it where I felt it could be enhanced and otherwise left it alone.”
In one scene between Michael (Ryder McLaughlin) and Rachel (Miranda Cosgrove), originally scripted as a heart-to-hear talk with the two seated at a table, Anderson says, he instead had them move throughout a house, looking for ways to elevate the dialogue-heavy scene.
Throughout the grueling two-month shoot, Anderson used an Arri Alexa Mini with Panavision anamorphic lenses to create a more epic “big” feel.
Anderson says the indie approach was thrilling, if sometimes nerve-wracking as the crew scrambled from one setting to the next, prepping shots and angles to capture just how impressive the skaters’ moves were.
One major challenge was to visually match the multiple locations, all places Alfred had grown up and put into skate videos over the years, Anderson says. “We shot in every kind of location that you can squeeze into a film.”
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