American Cinematographer - June 2018 - 26

SHORT TAKES

I

Tragic Night
By Lauretta Prevost

"I've been camping through the desert for two weeks with
only camping clothes and my wedding dress and just found out I
actually have a seat at the Oscars for My Nephew Emmett," wrote
Laura Valladao in the International Collective of Female Cinematographers forum shortly before the ceremony. "Anyone have a dress I
can borrow?" After its 2017 Student Academy Award win, the
production was one of five live-action shorts to be nominated for a
2018 Academy Award.
At the 2016 reception following her acceptance of the Volker
Bahnemann Award for Cinematography, Valladao was tapped on
the shoulder by Kevin Wilson Jr., who asked her to shoot his prethesis short. The Brooklyn-based narrative and commercial cinematographer - who hails from the San Francisco Bay Area and
came to New York for her MFA in cinematography at New York
University's Tisch School of the Arts - was initially unsure she
wanted to take on another student project, rife as they can be with
learning curves and stretched budgets. This one was an ambitious
period piece shooting in rural Mississippi. After Valladao and Wilson
sat down together, however, she was on board within five minutes.
"Wilson is one of the most genuine and charismatic humans that
exists," Valladao says. "You want to be around him, and be involved
in what he is involved in."
My Nephew Emmett is inspired by the true story of Emmett
Louis Till, a black teenager from Chicago who went to Mississippi in
1955 to spend a summer with extended family. A white woman in
26

June 2018

the small town accused him of whistling at her, and shortly thereafter her husband came to the black family's home and abducted
Emmett, whose dead body was pulled from the river days later.
Emmett's mother held an open-casket funeral, and the brutal killing,
coupled with the acquittal of the murderers, became a landmark in
the civil-rights movement.
The events resonated deeply with Wilson. My Nephew
Emmett is told from the perspective of Emmett's uncle in Mississippi,
Mose Wright. Played with grace by actor L.B. Williams, Mose
becomes fearful after hearing of Emmett's alleged social transgression. Mose sits vigil that night, dreading that men may come for his
kin. They do, and he is powerless to intervene. In the short's final
moments, Emmett is driven away into the night, and the movie ends
with newsreel footage of the real Mose Wright.
As darkness is central to this short feature, low lighting was
a prominent part of the aesthetic - and in keeping with the time
period, when electricity was limited. "The low-light situation played
a role in creating the tone on set, and operating long, intense takes
in the dark definitely brought me to a place, emotionally, which I
think affected my work positively," Valladao says.
The primary location played a large part in the look, with
dark wood serving as negative fill. "We only had a few 1.2K HMIs,
so it was 'HMIs on parade,'" Valladao recalls. "We'd dance them
from window to window, keeping them outside to act as moonlight." This strategy was coupled with Lekos aimed at show cards
and bouncing back toward the actors. "We were going for a supermoody look," the cinematographer notes. "I wasn't afraid of the
dark."
➣

American Cinematographer

Unit photography by Joe Zakko, courtesy of the filmmakers.

In 1950s Mississippi, Mose Wright (L.B. Williams) fears for his teenage nephew Emmett Till, who
is visiting from Chicago, in the short My Nephew Emmett.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - June 2018

Contents
American Cinematographer - June 2018 - Intro
American Cinematographer - June 2018 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - June 2018 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - June 2018 - 1
American Cinematographer - June 2018 - 2
American Cinematographer - June 2018 - Contents
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