For as long as he could remember, Timothy Scott Bogart dreamed of making a movie about his father’s life. Neil Bogart was the co-founder of Casablanca Records, the label behind such iconic artists as Donna Summer, Kiss, Parliament, Village People, and more. The younger Bogart’s friend, cinematographer Byron Werner knows the story well.
Written and directed by Neil Bogart’s son, Timothy Scott Bogart, this drama, and music-filled biopic tells the story through the eyes of the elder Bogart as remembered by his son. “This is a personal story for Tim,” says Werner. “His dad died when he was eight, so he didn’t have a lot of years with his father...a man who did all these great things and who launched all these great artists. We all wanted to tell these amazing stories, like having the Village People do the ‘YMCA’ letters because they really couldn’t dance! Even if you don’t care about the man, you care about the music.”
Werner and Bogart connected during the production of the war drama The Last Full Measure, when Werner was DP for the project and Bogart was one of the film’s producers. “There’s this sort of odd ‘art imitates life’ connection between what Neil did and what Tim was doing,” says Werner. “Neil was launching Casablanca after he left a deal with Warner Bros. and created his own label and distribution, which was unheard of at the time and very risky. And here was Tim spending years trying to get an indie done – it’s the same level of bonkers as getting music made, but he really was following in his father’s footsteps.”
After years of trying to get Spinning Gold made, Bogart secured $27 million for his film – not a small amount for an independent feature – but didn’t have a director. Werner says, “One of our executive producers, Lawrence Mark, told Tim ‘You’re spinning your wheels; direct it yourself,’ which is exactly what he did.”
It was another music film that convinced Werner to choose Cooke Anamorphic/i S35 SF lenses for the movie.
“A Star Is Born  got me interested in these lenses,” says Werner. “I tested them in Los Angeles at Alternative Rentals with only one question in mind as we knew that anamorphic was the way to go: Would Special Flare enhance the storytelling? The answer was a resounding absolutely yes. They really helped sell the music and the idea of a single vision. I love that they aren’t a normal linear flare. Each lens has a unique flare, open up to T2.3 and the flare is different than T4. They really are different. They really are special and added an element to the movie for the visual storytelling.”
Photography started in Montreal, with lenses supplied by Alternative Rentals, and would pick up after a pandemic-enforced hiatus in New Jersey with lenses from TCS in New York.
Werner’s Anamorphic/i S35 SF primes included the 32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 65mm Macro, 75mm, 100mm and 135mm for an Arri Alexa Mini shooting 2.39 at 3.4K. On occasion, Werner would bring in a second camera for certain sequences, when necessary, but this was primarily a single camera shoot to capture Neil Bogart’s vision and him telling the story.
“Tim and I collaborate heavily, but it was his vision,” says Werner. “Whenever possible, we would shoot from the perspective of the viewer to feel like it was Neil’s memory, with single shots and longer shots. It was a singular vision as much as possible, but we still have standard coverage and cuts. Normally, with a narrative, you don’t move the camera when it is unmotivated, but here everything is driven by the music so we can move the camera and use that movement as much as possible.”
One of Werner’s favorite lenses was the 65mm Macro because of its flexibility. “We designed multiple shots for the macro. One starts tight on a reflection of the keys of a piano as Neil plays a song, then pulls out as his wife joins in with her left hand to play with him. That’s not possible with other anamorphic lenses. To go from the macro out significantly wider is great. And the lens is a real workhorse.”
Werner’s go-to lens was the 50mm, due to the camera moving as much as it did, but he found himself moving between the 50mm and the 65mm, with the 40mm playing a big role as well. “Neil was always on the move – a mover and a shaker – and so were we, with wider lenses our stylistic choice.”
Werner created different looks for the different periods of the film. “For the flashbacks to the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s until 1975, we had different looks, but not with different cameras and lenses – I felt very strong about using color and light to do that. The movie is based on Neil’s memory, not what may be true or false, so the highest highs and lowest lows are exaggerated with slight color differences, combined with costume and art design. Being able to do that is what helped drive me to these lenses.”