Interviewer Eric Steelberg, ASC talks to cinematographer Quyen Tran about her work in this harrowing Netflix drama, which depicts the complex and frustrating hunt for a serial rapist and the lasting damage inflicted upon his victims — especially one whose story is doubted by investigators.
The pilot for Unbelievable, photographed by Tran (seen above, prepping a shot on actress Kaitlyn Dever), was recently honored with a Peabody Award. She also shot two additional episodes of the series.
The cinematographer photographed Unbelievable with Panavision Millennium DXL2s paired with Primo70 lenses, employing the camera with special rigs in a subjective manner to replicate the experience of the primary character (played by Dever), drawing the viewer into her experience.
Over the course of this discussion, Tran also details her inspirations and mentors, the difficulties she has encountered while building her career, maintaining the delicate balance of career and family, how she found her creative voice as a cinematographer, and her collaboration with her Unbelievable director, Lisa Cholodenko.
Tran — aka “Q” — is based in Los Angeles and prioritizes story above all else. It was while shooting stills on an NYU thesis film that Tran caught the movie bug and decided to apply to film school herself. She attended UCLA, where she met cinematographer-in-residence Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, who became a valued mentor, along with Johnny Simmons, ASC.
Tran was featured in American Cinematographer as a Rising Star in 2017, and last year was named one of Variety’s 10 DPs to Watch. She was also the 2019 recipient of the UCLA Distinguished Alumni Award.
Tran’s latest feature, Palm Springs, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, was released by Hulu on July 10.
She recently was prepping a feature in New Zealand for director Espen Sandberg, and prior to that was in Calgary shooting the FX limited series A Teacher.
A native of Los Angeles, Steelberg’s upcoming 2021 supernatural comedy Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the cinematographer’s eighth feature film collaboration with director Jason Reitman, following The Front Runner; Tully; Men, Women & Children; Labor Day; Young Adult; Up In the Air and Juno. His other credits include 500 Days of Summer, Baywatch and the period biopic Dolemite Is My Name.
Note: Inspired by true events, this discussion on Unbelievable includes details on filming scenes of sexual assault and includes depictions of sexual violence.