In this 48-minute episode, interviewer Nancy Schrieber, ASC talks to cinematographer Edu Grau, ASC, AEC and director Rebecca Hall about their creative approach to this period drama depicting a friendship affected by race politics.
Set in Harlem in the 1920s, Passing is an adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name and recounts the thorny-yet-tender renewal of friendship between two light-skinned black women who were high-school classmates: Clare (Ruth Negga), who “passes” as white, even to her white racist husband, John (Alexander Skarsgård); and Irene (Tessa Thompson), who does not try to “pass” and whose husband, Brian (Andre Holland) is black.
The film premiered to critical acclaim at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and acquired by Netflix.
Hall had worked with Grau previously, albeit on the other side of the camera; she had performed in two films Grau photographed — The Awakening, directed by Nick Murphy, and The Gift, directed by Joel Edgerton.
During their initial meetings about Passing, Grau was immediately impressed with Hall’s strong vision for the film. She had already made two unconventional decisions — they would shoot in black-and-white and frame for the 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
To that end, they employed Arri Alexa Mini cameras paired with vintage anamorphic Round Front Lomo lenses, using only the 4:3 center of the image.
Grau (above) was born in Barcelona and studied at the Superior School of Cinema and Audiovisual of Catalonia in Spain as well as the National Film & Television School in the U.K. with a concentration in cinematography. After photographing the short The Natural Route (aka La Ruta Natural), which won the Jury Prize for International Short Filmmaking at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, Grau shot his first feature, director Albert Serra’s Honor of the Knights (aka Quixotic/Honor de Cavelleria), which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
The cinematographer then collaborated with fashion designer Tom Ford on his directorial debut, A Single Man. Among its many accolades, the picture was named one of the “most stylish films of all time” by Vice and GQ.
Grau’s other feature work includes the drama Arthur Newman, fantasy drama Animals, crime thriller A Single Shot,romance drama Suite Française, historical drama Suffragette, thriller Buried, crime drama Trespass Against Us, action-comedy Gringo, and biographical drama Boy Erased. Grau also photographed the “Born This Way” music video for artist Lady Gaga, which has more than 287 million views on YouTube.
He became a member of the ASC in 2021.
Born in London, director Rebecca Hall (above) grew up in artistic family — her father the stage director and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and mother an opera singer. As an actress, she has starred in such films as The Prestige, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Town, Iron Man 3, Trancendence, Teen Spirit and Godzilla v. Kong., as well as the series Tales from the Loop. Passing is her directorial debut.
Distinguished not only for her expert cinematography in narrative and documentary projects but her tenacious efforts an educator and mentor, Nancy Schreiber was honored with the ASC Presidents Award in 2017. Her recent feature credits include The Nines, Shadow Magic, Miss Virginia and Mapplethrope. She has also shot episodes of the TV series Better Things, The Family and Station 19, and was recently featured in the ASC Clubhouse Conversations series for her expert work in the show P-Valley.
Additional reporting by Patricia Thompson