American Cinematographer - July 2017 - 24

SHORT TAKES

I

Deeper Truth
By Derek Stettler

Fashion, music, choreography and cinematography come
together to create the dreamlike audiovisual experience of Opera of
Cruelty. This surreal experimental short was created for the undergraduate Advanced Production Workshop at New York University's
Tisch School of the Arts, and was born out of writer-director Max
R.A. Fedore's love of opera and theater. The title of the piece comes
from a philosophy called "Theatre of Cruelty," which was popularized by the 20th-century French dramatist Antonin Artaud. It can
best be described as a kind of theatrical exorcism for an audience, in
which performance and art combine to transcend thought or logic,
and shock viewers into realizing a deeper truth. In Opera of Cruelty,
the largely dialogue-free narrative unfolds nonlinearly over the course
of its 18 minutes to create what Fedore calls an "operatic nightmare," urging viewers to contemplate the themes of captivity and
escape as the characters slip between fantasy and reality.
To help bring the complex vision to life, Fedore - who also
plays the lead character in the piece - turned to fellow NYU alum
and 2015 ASC Gordon Willis Heritage Award nominee Oren Soffer.
Beyond the fact that the young cinematographer came highly
recommended by Fedore's professor Mary Lambert, the director had
been a fan of Soffer's work for several years. "I had been on a few
sets with him when I was just starting out at NYU and was always
struck by his professionalism and passion," Fedore says.
A freelance cinematographer currently working in the narra24

July 2017

tive-feature, commercial, branded-content and music-video worlds,
Soffer enjoys returning to shorts when he can, and was particularly
excited to work on Opera of Cruelty, the kind of project he calls
"soul food." With references to such films as Nine (AC Dec. '09),
Moulin Rouge (AC June '01) and Black Swan (AC Dec. '10) - as
well as the haunting styles of Eyes Wide Shut (AC Oct. '99), Mulholland Drive, The Cell (AC Sep. '00) and Macbeth (AC Jan. '16) -
Fedore knew he needed to call upon a cinematographer who could
capture that feeling on a student-project budget.
"I was a couple years out of NYU and not shooting student
projects when this one came along," Soffer recalls, "but I had
worked with Max on a couple of shoots before, and this project was
different from typical student films. Not just in the ambition, but in
how it would be executed."
To match the ambitious concept, the project employed an
equally ambitious production schedule. Shot at the end of June
2016, Opera of Cruelty captured more than 50 separate setups over
the course of two consecutive 12-hour nights in the opulent spaces
of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House - originally built as
an official residence for the U.S. President. Following that, the
production took a weeklong hiatus before moving to Kaufman
Astoria Studios for three days.
Given the high cost of the Custom House location, the
production had to move quickly and efficiently to capture everything
they needed. Arri's Alexa Plus camera was paired with Panavision's
SLZ11 24-275mm Primo 11:1 Zoom (T2.8), as well as a full set of
Primo Primes; the rig was often used in conjunction with J.L. Fisher's

American Cinematographer

Images courtesy of the filmmakers.

Photographed by Oren Soffer, the experimental short Opera of Cruelty fuses fashion, music and choreography in a
nonlinear narrative that slips back and forth between fantasy and reality.



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