Interview: ‘Bloodline’ Cinematographer Jaime Reynoso Talks Kyle Chandler and the Florida Keys

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One of the late-breaking series for the Emmys this year is Netflix’s “Bloodline,” which has received both Golden Globe and Emmy nominations. Despite the critical success, the series is concluding with its 3rd season, an unusual occurrence in today’s TV landscape. However, the show has a devoted fan base, and with Ben Mendelsohn winning Outstanding Supporting Actor last year, there are many fans in the Emmy Academy. This week, the final season premieres with a shortened 10 episode season. Kyle ChandlerSissy SpacekNorbert Leo Butz, will all push for nominations, but they aren’t the only ones. In fact, the series will look to crash the below-the-line category party. This week, I sat down with Cinematographer Jaime Reynoso to discuss his work on the series, and the world of the Florida Keys.

AF: Jaime, you grew up in Mexico City?

JR: Yes I did, I was born and grew up here, but I studied in the states. So I was in Los Angeles from like, 1990 to 2000, to then come back here.

AF: What caused you to pursue a career as a cinematographer?

JR: You know I used to take pictures. When I was a very young kid I had a late start learning how to read and write.

In the nice red socialist ‘70s, there was all kinds of pedologic theories.  So I happen to be in one of the schools that happen to think that school was a formative place, not an academic place where you memorized data, but where you learned how to work with people. So they let some of the kids like me, “Oh you don’t want to write? Well you can draw pictures.” So I don’t remember how long this was, but my Mother used to tell me that I used to paint and draw when I was young. That stopped at some point in the teenage years when after years of drawing Spider-Man and soccer

So I don’t remember how long this was, but my Mother used to tell me that I used to paint and draw when I was young. That stopped at some point in the teenage years when after years of drawing Spider-Man and soccer goal keepers I got bored. So then I picked up photography in high school, so I’ve always had the image with me from the start. So I was starting photography in high school, and I had friends whose older brother were starting cinema. I always liked, and would go to festivals when I was like 16. You know it was a yearly sort of sample of the art house movie production. For that month, every afternoon we would go see a foreign film. It was evident later, 18 or 19, that we wanted to make movies. I wanted to be a photographer in movement, so a cinematographer.

AF: And who were some of your early influences as a cinematographer?

JR: You know I don’t know. I mean in that sense I’ve always admired the group that everybody else says, the late Michael Ballhaus, Gordon Willis, but I didn’t have that obscure french cinematographer that I observed and admire. I mean there is one, but you I don’t see myself. Over the years, and sometime in the early 2000s, or late 90s, I started seeing the hand of Chris Doyle, in the way, I lit things. But it was in a very roundabout way in the time where a lot of the cinematography in the world had Chris Doyle’s influence. But I can’t really tell you that I’ve been influenced by the ones I like the most. In that sense, I wouldn’t know really. That’s you guys’ job.

AF: So what first attracted you to work on “Bloodline?”

JR: It was really the other way around. I needed a job and I got the job that would change my life. It’s not like I was picking and choosing. I had been doing a TV series in South Florida, and I knew the crew and the weather. The reason they called me, and I know this for a fact I can assure you, is that at least eight cinematographers didn’t want to do it or couldn’t do it. This fell into my lap. Little did I know this was going to be the best project ever. I don’t think something better in years, you know because this was one of those projects that you don’t run into every year. The writers are incredibly talented, they assembled an incredible cast, just the project is overall good. My contribution to it, although small, is only good because it’s in this project.

I see the cinematography as the product of a lot of people. I’m highly inspired by the writing, so in that sense, I don’t feel incredibly gifted. I feel incredibly lucky to have been on a job, or to have stumbled in the right job at the right time that I had sort of this creative itch I hadn’t been able to scratch with previous projects. All of a sudden, boom, the project that needs that same itch I had been having, it’s just incredibly fortunate. If I had stumbled into “Bloodline” in the year before or three years after, I would have missed the match made in heaven.

AF: I saw you also worked on “The Glades” and “Ballers” so you have quite a bit of familiarity with South Florida.

JR: Yeah, “The Glades” was the first one, and “Ballers” came after. The “Ballers” crew hired us after the first year of “Bloodline.” They actually moved their schedule to hire us just because it made sense for them.

AF: That’s awesome. What’s unique about shooting in South Florida?

JR: Well its got the best crew ever. It’s my crew. I just came from shooting Los Angeles, but if you go any other place in the country, or other countries for that matter, and people are passionate, they are cultured. You know, their name is on the line. So what’s incredible about Florida besides the sun, and the wind, and the weather, which is very unique, is the workforce, the labor. Particularly good, talented, willing and hustling.

AF: How is shooting for a series on Netflix different than shooting for a network like HBO or USA?

JR: I don’t know if it’s just Netflix, but we very rarely hear about “oh yes Netflix is interested in this,” or “Netflix is interested in that.” It’s just a lot more adventurous. You can swim in the deeper end. It feels like in the other networks you sometimes have to stay in the shallower water, a little more formulaic. However, on “Shooter” for example, they’re welcoming my unusual eye to the point where I’ve already directed one episode of season 2 and I’m slated to direct another one. So now a lot of the TV shows don’t want to be approached as a TV show. It’s also like a lot of the directors, cinematographers, and producers are like “Oh, it’s a TV show” and we’re instantly treating it like the dumb brother. But I think right now, television is actually the smarter brother. Most of the films now are people that go to the gym in spandex doing the same movie over and over.

AF: And because of that I’ve seen you wanted to approach “Bloodline” as if it was a documentary. What inspired you to make that choice? To make it more real and gritty than some of the other TV shows that are on right now?

JR: That has to do with my own personal process. It is sort of a more naturalistic and vérité language that is very much en vogue these days right? I went to do a movie in Cambodia, and the first day the producer says, “Hey, what if we make our own lights?” Because they’re very expensive to bring from Vietnam. And I’m like “What do you mean make our own lights? Who’s going to move them?” “Well, the children.” Because it was a movie based on an orphanage. And so I was just like, “You know what, let’s go without lights.” And by doing that movie, when lighting is taking away from the color palette, you start finding better frames. And you start looking for the good light because light is there already. Whether you turn on a lighter or a generator, light is there.

When I finished that movie, I realized I’d been ruining movies with lamps for all these years. Since then, I’ve been lighting it a little bit less and approaching it less movie like. And my thing is if it looks like a movie, how are people going to believe it? How are they going to feel anything? It’s got to remind them of a documentary. So I started toying around with the documentary language, and by doing so, we stated doing “the quest for imperfections.” So we would not show the rehearsals to the operators, don’t rehearse and just shoot. And often, camera-wise, the first take was the best one. Because when you have a good crew, you got to really put them on the edge, I like to throw them in the ring with the bull without a cape so to speak. Rather than trying to fake handheld, which is not quite the same.

AF: It really comes through, in the way you shoot at night or during the day. I think it looks far more realistic and gives it that vérité feel you were talking about. Especially because most people of the Florida Keys as like a paradise, you guys treat it as more of a dirtier or flawed place. As someone who used to live there, it was extremely real. How did you find that side of the Keys?

JR: You used to live there?

AF: Yeah, I lived there for about 7 years.

JR: Whereabouts?

AF: In Islamorada, a little bit south of Holiday Isle. Mile Marker, 80, no it must have been 78? Somewhere around there.

JR: Oh that’s nice. I live there now, after my stay with the show. I don’t work there anymore but I live there. The Keys, to me, have always been a place of texture. Sometimes a toothless texture. You know the Caribbean club. There’s a section of the population that seems to be running away from trouble. So it has the beautiful scenery but it also has that side. So the guys, the writers, chose it for that. In the Florida Keys,

In the Florida Keys, there’s people from all walks of life. So that’s why they wanted it. And they were interested in juxtaposing paradise with the family, and what the family’s going through. To me, the key was always a highly rich place with these guys. Like we found one of the location owners, he looks like one of those Keys guys, you know? But we talked to him, and he’s from Manhattan. So even those guys that you see with the old jeans, and the jean shorts and their skin is leathered by the sun, they’re not really from the Keys. They came there from somewhere else.

AF: Yeah, that’s perhaps the perfect description I’ve heard of a Keys resident. I know some of the showrunners were interested in “Bloodline” going 5 or 6 seasons, but obviously, you’re ending it after the third. How did the process unfold? Did you feel rushed or did come naturally?

JR: I mean there’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes I’m not aware of about these tropical noir stories. I always sort of took it one by one. I never really checked in, though there’s always more story. When the rumor that this was the last one before we started the third, Todd (Kessler) said, hey if there’s any location you think is interesting, spit it out now because this might be the last one. I’m sure there’s always a possibility of it going on again, but to me, it’s the perfect opportunity to end it.

To me, you’ve got 3 really good seasons, some people might argue which one is best, but if it was to go any longer, it would have some kind of corruption, or it wouldn’t be as good. Personally, I’m ready to let go and find the next project that’s gonna impact my creative process and my life the way “Bloodline” did. So “Bloodline’s” job on me is over, but I need another project to have a similar impact on me as a person.

AF: You shot 32 of the 33 episodes, did you have any single shot that really stood out, any shot you think “wow that was the best shot I had while on set?”

JR: Oh. I don’t see cinema as one single shot, I don’t know if I see a scene. In season 3 there’s the very powerful, very tight shots of Eric O’Bannon (Jaime McShane) going through the mangroves. The rain scene with the seersucker suits is very good. But you know, the one shot? I don’t know. You know, I will miss shooting with Kyle Chandler in the car with the flashlight. I could do a whole movie with Kyle Chandler and the flashlight he’s so smart. I will miss doing anything with Sissy Spacek. There was this series of scenes with Sissy Spacek, and Sam Sheppard, with Ben Mendelsohn, and in the end Sissy with Kyle. And sitting down to talk with a candle, those turned out really well.

Season 1 has some moments that are really impactful. In season 3 there’s a scene that I did with a small little camera that I think is one of the best scenes I’ve ever done. I mean they’re powerful scenes, but its also the guy who’s in it. The weight of the image is not only that one shot, it has to do with all the elements and all the ingredients I think. 302 has a really nice beginning with the rain.

AF: Yeah I though 302 is really well shot. I thought you guys did an amazing job on that episode. You did a really great job with the whole last season. I was really happy with how you wrapped it up. Congratulations you guys did an excellent job through the whole series.

JR: Thank you very much.

AF: I just want to know, what’s next for you Jaime?

JR: Right now, I’m doing a project in Mexico. I’m sharing my time with the “Shooter” directorial opportunity that was sort of thrown at me, and I happily said yes, and the project that I’m very interested in doing. It’s a political drama, that I’m doing in Mexico City about the local politics.

AF: Well, that’s great to hear. I just want to say that I think the cinematography was one of the trademark things about “Bloodline,” and I want to wish you the best of luck Jaime!

JR: Thank you. Thank you.

“Bloodline” debuts its last Season on May 26th, 2017. Seasons 1 and 2 are available for streaming today.