Cinematography of "Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin", courtesy of Anka Malatynska

Cinematography of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” – interview with Anka Malatynska

January 22nd, 2023
Cinematography of "Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin", courtesy of Anka Malatynska

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my pleasure to welcome Anka Malatynska. In this interview, she talks about her passion for photography, the transition of the industry from film to digital, differences between feature films and episodic shows, and the impact of Covid on the industry. Between all these and more, Anka dives deep into her work on the recently released “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin”, as well as a sneak preview into the upcoming “The Listener”.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and the path that took you to where you are today.

Anka: My name is Anna Malatynska, and I’m a Polish-born American-raised cinematographer. When we moved to US, Poland was still a communist country. I have these early memories of the National Geographic magazine with color pictures sent to us from relatives from the Western world, and those pictures opened up this world. My father was a Himalayan mountain climber who got to travel all over the world, even though we were locked in a communist country, and he brought a lot of ideas and pictures.

For me it was the pictures that resonated as a vehicle to be able to move beyond my immediate world. The first thing I remember was wanting to know as much about this planet, and the people, and the different ways that you can live, and photography looked like the avenue. I was involved in shooting and developing my own pictures by the time that I was thirteen. And by way of that I discovered acting. I did local theater productions that lead to a commercial agent. It was there I got a glimpse into the film industry and I thought that it was a horrible place. So I moved away from it, and got into math and science.

Somehow that journey of acting, storytelling, pictures, math and science deeply translates into the art and craft of cinematography. As a cinematographer, you are using all of those parts in your work every day. In college, again, I was enamored with storytelling and got back into photography, and all of that led me back to cinematography.

I’ve been doing it ever since. I started working in camera departments immediately after graduating from NYU. I knew that image making was where my soul was guiding me too. It’s been a lifelong task.

Cinematography of “Monsterland” by Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: Would you say that you straddled both sides of the film to digital transition? Do you feel that we have lost something with a gradual decline of film as the medium?

Anka: I was raised as a filmmaker right in the transition between film and digital. The year that I was doing my student films at NYU was the last year that they used an editing Steenbeck where we cut the negative. Those were some of the last years that we were using 16mm film.

I didn’t go from college to graduate school straight away. I worked for several years in the industry in between, and when I did go to the American Film Institute, most of our work there was already digital.

If you want to be a cinematographer or a photographer, it’s important to understand photography at its elemental level. Film is the really elemental level. There’s an element about film that’s tactile, and I’m a tactile visual learner. It’s easier to get concepts in my body that are rather abstract, be it the zone system or how to see light the way a camera sees the light. It’s helpful to go through the physical process of developing a negative and rendering a print that lands these concepts deep in the brain. Start with Black and White film photography, and once you know the basics and have that background, you can keep up with however the technology changes, because in the end, the basics are the same.

Now we can talk about what has been gained and what has been lost. What has been gained is that there are people who have access to cameras who in the past would not have been able to access storytelling. We gain a lot of the world from that. In the end, all of human culture at the baseline is about storytelling. The more varied the people that can tell and express their stories are, the more interesting of a society we have, and the more ideas we can have.

On the other hand, maybe not all of these stories are compelling. You might have a great actor in the film, but there’s an absence of a cinematographer, big gaps in the visual language of it. Sometimes you watch something, and it looks like a storyboard for a film, an outline or a concept for something that could be executed better. This is the other side of everybody being able to get a camera and calling themselves a cinematographer.

We lost some things, but we also gained important things through what has been more of a democratization. Filmmaking is now more accessible at a financial level.

Cinematography of “NCIS” by Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: Looking at the balance between the art and the technology of it, would you say that a great cinematographer needs to have both of these? Can you be just an artist, or just a technician? Do you have to be both?

Anka: One hundred percent you have to be both. One doesn’t really exist without the other. It is an art and it is a craft. And like any craft, you have to be physically grounded in that craft. That’s where the intuitive artistic decisions will come from later on down the line. You have to work without the stress of thinking about how to achieve a certain thing.

You have to have that bag of tricks. In filmmaking, no matter how prepared you are, you will get a lot of curveballs and a lot of things will not necessarily go as planned. You’ll have to adjust the plan that you planned for, and still tell the story, and still get the scene, and still make the day.

Kirill: Do you think that both art and craft can be taught, or is the artistic side something that one is born with?

Anka: I believe the human condition has a great propensity for art and imagination. We dream up the life that we live. We make up the societies that we then participate in, and that takes imagination and artistry.

When you watch little kids, you see how deep in their imaginations they are, and we continue that throughout our lives. As we grow, we gain the ability to truly express it and put it into the world at a physical level. I think we all begin as artists. Whether we learn to execute that art and whether we feel empowered enough to gain the skills to be able to execute the art – that’s more of the question. We all have the capacity, but can we get the training, the inspiration, the encouragement, and the idea to pursue such a thing?

Cinematography of “The Kindred” by Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: Is there such a thing as too many artists in the world if anyone can be an artist?

Anka: I don’t think so, if you look at it from the point of view of an artist not necessarily being somebody who sells a painting or makes a movie and gets paid a million dollars. I’m not translating that into capitalism. Art is essential to the human spirit, and there’s no such a thing as too many artists. Art can also express itself in much more mundane, everyday things.

When I was growing up in Poland, I had a neighbor who was a professional photographer. When I got interested in photography, she told me that she always thought of me as a person with big ambitions, and yet she saw photography as such a grounded profession. And she was a local portrait photographer in our neighborhood, so that’s an example of that expression of being an artist that can take on many forms. There can maybe be bad art, or something that doesn’t resonate with us.

And, truly becoming an artist in most mediums is also about the training. It is about the technical aspects. It’s like writing in a proper grammar. Yes, you can get to a point where you’re splattering paint on canvas, but there should have been an evolution to that – that comes from the training, and the form, and the craft.

Kirill: Is there such a thing as an objectively bad art?

Anka: Apparently not, because this film that I saw recently and I thought was terrible, was received quite well by others. I don’t know if there’s objectively terrible art. People have different opinions on art. You can see how much criticism has been leveled at Olivia Wilde at the Venice Film Festival and her “Don’t Worry Darling” movie, and I thought that it was a spectacularly executed film with a lot of artistic merit.

Capturing the images of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin”, courtesy of Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: Going back to the role of a cinematographer, you talked about the art of it and the technical part of it, but you’re also managing people, and budget, and the schedule, and babysitting every person in your department sometimes. Does it feel sometimes overwhelming how many hats you wear?

Anka: What is always astounding is how intense the management and the collaboration with many people at many different levels is. It takes so much human work. It’s about how you ask people to do something, and how they respond to you, and how to ask in such a way that you get what you want. As a cinematographer you need graceful leadership skills.

There used to be times with the more archetypical, tyrannical leader, a director who would yell at you if you were not doing exactly what he wanted. That doesn’t necessarily work these days. I had no idea how intense of a job it was when I started down the path.

Kirill: When somebody asks you what to do for a living, is it easy to explain what a cinematographer does? Twenty years ago my answer would be somebody who puts a camera on their shoulder and starts rolling the film.

Anka: I say that I am in charge of the visuals of the moving picture. I was talking to my son’s teacher the other day and she said “Wow, I can’t believe that it’s 160 people or something like that working together to make an episode of television happen” [laughs]. I don’t think people imagine quite how much work and how many people are involved.

When I’m shooting series like “Pretty Little Liars”, something that takes six to nine months for us to produce, it’s an intense amount of work for both my brain and my body in terms of the hours. There are a lot of aspects to this job. It’s important for me to be able to work out a sequence with a director prior to shooting, and to be able to jump ahead while the company packs up the cameras and moves, than it is to be micromanaging the exact framing of a shot.

Part of working on bigger things is also the admission that I am not the only artist out there. I am not the only one who’s talented, and there are many people – and I hope many of those people are on my crew – with their talents as camera operators, as gaffers who work with lighting, as the key grip which is an important position to the execution of the photography of a motion picture.

Capturing the images of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin”, courtesy of Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: I was looking at the IMDb page with your productions, and you have this mix of shorts, documentaries, features and TV shows. Does it feel like there’s been a big change in the last few years of blurring the lines between the TV world, the streaming world and the feature world? Every production gets a label of a sort, but these label start losing their distinction.

Anka: Very much so. Much more interesting things came into streaming, and it opened up the idea of hiring feature directors and hiring more singular voices for entire series – rather than running television shows the way that they’ve been run in a certain system for years.

We’re also seeing the democratization of people having access to cameras, filmmakers from different backgrounds, filmmakers from different genders, filmmakers from different countries being able to tell stories and have voices. There’s really interesting stuff out there. There’s so much of it that it’s hard for features to get any kind of traction.

A TV show has multiple episodes that you keep coming back to, and it’s written in such a way that you want to come back to it. When you have a really interesting story or a mini series, no matter if people watch it over a couple of weeks or binge in a day, it lives a little bit longer. A feature needs a huge marketing push behind it, and unless it’s a big Marvel movie, they usually don’t. They’re a blip on the radar. They come and they go, and then you forget about them. It’s a world of so many new TV shows and independent films.

Kirill: Do you have a preferred format, or is it driven by how much you like the story?

Anka: My interest is driven by how much I like the story and how much I like the creators of that story. You work together, be it for two or nine months, on a daily basis. Can we create together? What can we create together? And in some ways, it still feels like I’m early in my career. For a long time I was working my way up to a career where I would be able to pick and choose between what I work on.

Capturing the images of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin”, courtesy of Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: Do you feel that there are big differences in how you approach working on a TV show versus a feature?

Anka: There are big differences. For a cinematographer and a production designer on the core creative team, the number one difference in television is that I don’t choose the directors that I work with. I am working for a writer who is a show-runner and for a series of producers, and it’s usually not up to my purview of which director gets hired – just like it’s usually not for the purview of the director what cinematographer is working on a series. It’s like blind dates for creatives.

You don’t know ahead of time, and it’s fascinating sometimes. Sometimes the director has completely opposite instincts than you do, and from that I’ve learned that there are so many different ways to tell stories.

Compare that to a feature, where a good 90% of the time – if not 99% of the time – the director and the cinematographer choose each other as a collaborative team. It’s an intentional choice and not an accidental teaming. From a human perspective, as you can imagine, that can influence the way you work in a million different ways.

Some of the TV directors I work with do shot lists and some don’t. Some of them hate prep, some of them know exactly what they want, some of them leave things up to me. No matter what, I still have to be either prepared or be absorbing their information. On a feature you can take a little bit more time and care, although on some indie features you don’t have money for pre-production. You have to balance that with your own personal life and work, and every production has its own challenge.

On a feature you can focus on one particular storyline, whereas on “Pretty Little Liars”, shooting the seven episodes that I shot, I was cross-boarding up to three episodes at a time. We were shooting two episodes, and we were mixing all of their scenes together, and then we have to pick up some shots from another episode – it’s the difference of holding 500 pages of story in your head vs 120 pages.

Capturing the images of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin”, courtesy of Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: Looking back at it, are you happy that you joined the production of “Pretty Little Liars” given how intense it was?

Anka: My job as intense. I don’t think you can achieve a career as a filmmaker without being willing to work intense hours and work in intense environment.

I am really proud of the work that we did in “Pretty Little Liars”. Even though it’s in a television medium that is bigger and a little bit more corporate driven, HBO Max does nice material. We protected the creative and we cared for the creative. It’s a spectacular series in its genre, and I’m proud of it. I’m proud of the dark moody look, and that we were able to protect that. The show really does look like what we intended it to look like – which sometimes isn’t the case.

Kirill: How would you define the genre of this particular story set in that world?

Anka: It’s young adult horror. I think our audience is their late teens and early twenties, and big horror aficionados in their thirties.

Kirill: Is there such a thing as your favorite episode?

Anka: I love Episodes Six and Seven. It was one of the hardest times during our production. We had some severe weather shutdowns, we had some severe Covid shutdowns, as we were shooting them in January and February of 2021 in upstate New York. At the same time, I had two amazing directors that I worked with on those episodes. I was getting into them right after working with Lisa Soper who was our pilot director, and I learned some of her original intentions, and I was able to carry them forward in those episodes. I feel that in those episodes the series both hit its visual stride and storytelling stride.

And I equally liked Episode Eight. Then I did not do Episode Nine, and I shared Episode Ten with another cinematographer, mainly because we went over schedule by close to two months, and I was already committed to another project that I kept putting off and I had to leave for the final five days of the shoot. I shot a bit over half of the final episode with the confrontation that takes place in the gym. I planned all of that out with a director and we shot the pre-vis together, but because of extra availability and the Covid shutdown, we had to push the schedule and I didn’t end up shooting it.

Teodoro Maniaci who was my tandem DP would come in and cover me whenever I was scouting for an episode. He shot the rest of the episode, and that was an interesting experience. He shot Episode Nine as well, and that was an overall team decision. We had a director coming in, and she said she had never prepped without a DP. At that point I was six episodes back-to-back in, knowing that we were going to be preparing for a big finale, and it was a group’s decision with the producers to have Teo work on Episode Nine. He shot it, and he did a spectacular job.

This series is also a great example of overlapping collaboration between three different cinematographers. Joe Collins started the series, I took over and made some small changes, as everybody does things in a little bit of their own way – just as Teo brought in some of his own ideas. Overall, I think from episode to episode you don’t feel the change of the cinematographer that much. We were all respectful to each other’s work, and overall as a team we’re proud of the look that had been established. We continued and we upheld that, and we collaborated well together.

Cinematography of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” by Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: Would you say that the two episodes with the Halloween party and the carnival, brought that big splash of color to brighten up the mood of the otherwise darker universe?

Anka: Very much so, and also Episode Six had some qualities where they went to this big fancy hotel and there were some brighter and happier scenes, as well as some moodier scenes. Every episode had its own special moments, but I love Episode Seven in particular. It was one of the technically most challenging episodes with the hall of mirrors, and then the carnival with the huge build.

We ended up doing the carnival inside an armory in upstate New York. You watch that episode, and you can’t tell whether we’re inside or outside or where it’s really happening. That allowed us to keep the atmosphere and the smoke in, which created this particular look of that carnival,

Kirill: How much time did you have for episodes on average?

Anka: We were 10 or 11 day episodes, and Episode Ten was a lot longer. We started them in blocks of two. Joe Collins did One and Two together, and then I started on Three onwards. We did Four and Five with Lisa Soper, and that was around Christmas of last year when we had Covid shutdowns. The schedule had 10 or 11 days per episode, but some of the episodes ended up stretching up to 20 days. It wasn’t even so much for us going over schedule. It was because of weather and Covid shutdowns. We had several times where we had to shut down the production because Upstate New York was frozen, and then we had a couple of instances where we had so many people out with Covid that we just couldn’t complete the work.

Cinematography of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” by Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: I did an interview with Neil Patel who worked as a production designer on the show, and he was telling me about the Halloween episode where for that party he went overboard with decorating every visible surface in the house. Were you swimming in the sea of orange and brown in there?

Anka: Totally. A lot of the light inside the house for Halloween was motivated by these orange lights, but I had to put a lot of more neutral color lighting into there. We had those football players dressed up as Smurfs, and you can’t shoot blue in orange light – or you’re going to get brown.

It was interesting to work with the overwhelmingness of the orange, and how on my end in the lighting I had to put in other colors in order for there to be some sort of color differentiation. Neil did such a spectacular job with the production design of that show, and it was a never-ending Halloween that we lived in – also because our shutdowns contributed to it.

Kirill: Is there any difference in how digital cameras capture light vs how the film cameras used to capture light? Do you find yourself doing something still different for digital?

Anka: Yes, especially when I want to achieve a more filmic look. You can achieve a more filmic look on digital, or you can have a clearer, crisper look on digital. I look at digital cameras not quite like different film socks, but almost like different film stock manufacturers where they’ll have certain propensities for certain qualities.

We shot “Pretty Little Liars” on Panavision DXL2 camera, and I also shot “The Listener” on it in 8K. I accidentally ended up working with that camera on “The Listener”, as up to that point I was working with the Sony Venice. All the Sony Venice cameras were being used while I was prepping for “The Listener”, and this is what Panavision suggested. I did some tests and I loved the camera. Now I think that DXL2 camera has the most organic looking chip, whereas the Sony camera is sharp. If you want a more filmic look, you have to understand that and make lens choices that will be a little bit softer. Or maybe you want an overly sharp look and then you can go with Sony Venice and use really sharp lenses, if you’re shooting a sharp commercial or something.

In a way, there’s a little bit more variety in terms of camera manufacturers. What has revolutionized cinematography more than anything is the high ASA cameras. You can do 1600 ASA, 2500 ASA or 3200 ASA with the new Sony Venice, and that translates to shooting scenes with just practical lights in the room. You can do a wide shot that is literally just lit with the lamps in the room. Of course ,I am doing some lighting on the face to carry the light when I go into a close-up or a medium shot, but that’s different than working in with film at 400 ASA where you need to supplement every practical that you see in the frame, and you need to carry the light towards the actors from it with lights that are hidden outside of the set.

That’s really been the revolution – that we can’t quite dim lights low enough these days. You see a light at 5%, and ask to bring it down to 2.5% because it’s a little too bright.

Cinematography of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” by Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: What are your thoughts about the evolution of lighting equipment that can be programmed at different intensities, different spectrums, different temperatures? Does that make your job easier to light the scene?

Anka: And that’s again been happening in the last 5-10 years, the revolution that has happened in cinematography in terms of these high-ASA cameras and what we are able to do with lighting. It still blows my mind every day.

Ten years ago, the dimmer board operator was not a regular part of an electric department. Now the dimmer board operator is one of the most important members of the lighting department. Anytime I can run everything that I can off the dimmer board, I do. On “Monsterland” I was working with Richard Ulivella who’s an amazing gaffer in New York City, and who has very intentionally trained a team over the past 10 years. He’s also involved in manufacturing lights. “Monsterland” was mostly locations, and we were tying into breaker boxes inside a house to make every outlet in the house dimmable.

Covid also pushed that along with this idea of how can we work in a way where not as many of us are in the set all the time. Before, an electrician would have to run into the set to put a scrim in a light, and now we’re dimming the light at the dimmer board. We’re still going in and rigging the lights, but we’re dimming the light through the board. We work so quickly in the TV world, and that now allows me to set the final lighting levels with the gaffer and the dimmer board during the rehearsals as we’re watching the shot.

Another change is that we’re not working so much with stops anymore. This is why, if you want to be a cinematographer, learning the basics from photography is really important – or you can become incredibly undisciplined in today’s world where you can move the light to any percent, but not know what does that percentage mean. What are you actually dimming up or down from? What does that one percent actually mean when you’re communicating that amount to the gaffer?

It’s a complete revolution. LEDs support the full RGB color wheel, which means that I can assign any color to that light. I’m not confined to 3200 Kelvin, 4300 Kelvin or 5600 Kelvin [see here]. I can do purple and I can do pink, and I can do program. We can mimic the light of an explosion for a particular scene. It’s so fast. You don’t need to pre-vis or pre-plan for a long time. All of the tools to achieve these things are with us in our toolbox every day at work.

It’s so fun and exciting for me. I love how lightweight lighting can be, how responsive, how much control you can have over these little things. On “Pretty Little Liars” we used a lot of lights through a window, and then do additional tweaks. So if we needed an eye light or to have somebody walk through a pool of light, we could screw in these two-foot LED Helios tubes and the four-foot Titan tubes. They’re small and lightweight enough that we can screw them into a set wall, or put them on a magnet and stick them to the locker of the school hallway. There’s no stand necessary. It’s quick, it’s lightweight, and it’s incredibly malleable. The future is not bad, we just need to use the tools correctly.

Cinematography of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” by Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: Is it manageable to keep track of all of these technological advances?

Anka: A lot of the things find their way in. As I’m working, I’m also learning these things from my crew and from my gaffer. On the show that I’m working on now we’re using CreamSource Vortex4 and Vortex8. Sometimes I don’t care so much about the nomenclature of the particular light, and I just know I need that one fully programmable LED light with a diffusion bag on it.

Those CreamSource lights replace the older Kino and SkyPanel lights, but in the end, these are all things that are doing the same job. Is it manageable? Yeah, it’s all manageable if you understand the basics of color theory. You need to know that if you have an orange light on a blue costume, you’ll get brown. You don’t need to know the name of the latest light invention to be able to manage that. You need to know the base.

Kirill: As I was watching “Pretty Little Liars”, especially the scenes around the school, I was almost afraid to look at the corners of the frame and see that masked guy lurking around in the shadows. How different was it to frame these shots in terms creating and maintaining that suspense?

Anka: We did a lot of lower angles and higher angles, angles that we’re not necessarily familiar with at our everyday height and stature, and the way we relate to the world. You’re using that and the physicality of the placement of the camera. It’s somehow different than what we’re used to. We used those angles in conjunction with the dark lighting and slow push-ins that aren’t really motivated to get the camera from point A to point B. They’re there to build tension and they’re there to build suspense.

You start with the physical placement of whether the camera is really low or really high and kind of skewed. It’s unnerving. It’s not normal.

Cinematography of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” by Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: Was it as unnerving for you on the set as it is for me as a viewer to watch it?

Anka: Admittedly, I’ve taken a break from horror after that series. I’ve worked on three horror series, and I do feel like all material carries its own vibration to it. What makes “Pretty Little Liars” redeeming for me as a horror series – and every horror series that I’ve been a part of – is that it’s not just gratuitous horror. It also speaks to certain elemental truths and unearthed stories that are really important to young people.

The whole arc of “Pretty Little Liars” is fundamentally about rape in the lives of this group of young women. They realize that they can’t rely on the adults in their lives, which was also the underpinning idea of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” – a group of teenagers who can’t rely on the adults in their lives. This is what I said to the showrunners on both shows, that this familiar feeling is what makes these shows so popular with younger generations. They feel that the older generation has left them behind. We’re in a perpetual war and climate disasters, and nobody gives a shit, and here’s your Instagram photo that looks cute. How are the kids supposed to make sense out of that? That’s part of the popularity of this horror genre series.

As for the disquieting part, yes, sometimes it is. When we had our Covid and weather shutdowns, I remember one day I told one of our executive producers that we were just cursed. I said that we are making a cursed show about dark ugly things, and there’s a curse and things are going to go wrong [laughs]. But you persevere, and I think we made something that has artistic merit. It speaks a particular truth – not to everybody, but to a lot of viewers out there. For young women, it’s a strong reframing of the horror gaze.

Cinematography of “The Listener” by Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: What brought you do to “The Listener”?

Anka: I did it before “Pretty Little Liars”, and it wasn’t even a choice. I was back home from a vacation in Central America with my family when I got a call from my agent saying that Steve Buscemi is looking for a cinematographer for his next film – and it’s not like I was going to put up a fight. I love the films that he directed, and he’s a spectacular, iconic performer. So of course I jumped at the opportunity.

Steve and I met over Zoom while I was in an airport hotel in Costa Rica, wondering if the Internet was going to shut down at any moment. Luckily the connection was good, we had a great conversation, and by the time I landed in Los Angeles, they had offered me the job. It was a blessed collaboration.

Kirill: Ignoring the Covid complications, does it feel like making a movie these days is becoming sort of working on this mythical beast that is rarely seen?

Anka: Yes. When you’re working on a TV series, you know it’s going to get viewership. But when you work on a small film, it is a bit like chasing a mythical beast – but I intend to chase the mythical beast again. I’m working on a series right now, and hopefully by next spring I’ll be able to engage with some more mythical beasts, and maybe some of them will be what we think they are.

Cinematography of “The Listener” by Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: You were talking earlier about democratization of the field of storytelling. Is it becoming more difficult to find the audience because the audiences have so many choices today?

Anka: I think it’s more difficult for the movies to find their audience. There’s so much material out there. A friend of mine the other day suggested this show that they’ve been enjoying, and it’s already in its sixth season. And I’ve never even heard of it. There’s a lot of stuff out there, but likewise, there’s a lot of people out there. I think that “Pretty Little Liars” found its audience, but “I Know What You Did Last Summer” never really found its audience.

I don’t know that “The Listener” will necessarily find an audience in the United States. I think that it would find an audience in Eastern Europe. I told Steve that for me, “The Listener” is very much a film in the tradition of Kieślowski. It’s a film about nothing and everything, and how mundane everyday life can be – except that it’s set in Los Angeles, which is what also makes it interesting for me.

Kirill: If I asked you to make an argument on why people should watch it in a movie theater, what would you say about that experience?

Anka: I would say that it’s a movie that is in its greatest form on a big screen. It’s not heavily driven by a plot. It’s not so much about plot, but rather about feeling. When you go into a theater, and the lights turn off, and you’re in front of a 20-foot screen, you can actually have the attention span to allow the pictures and the silence to take you to places within your heart where you can touch on different feelings.

That’s what I really experienced when I got to see “The Listener” at the Venice Film Festival. The film has these fantastic moments of breathing room where there is no dialogue, where there’s just the mundanity of a woman going through her work day, taking a break, rubbing you forehead. It’s in these moments where we are not receiving new information, where we can process the information or the narrative arc of this particular film, which touches on a lot of difficult subjects.

When you see it on the big screen, it’s emotionally cathartic, and it allows you to access and purge some of the pain and claustrophobic feelings that we have all been faced with over the two years of the pandemic. “The Listener” is very much about the uncertainties, the claustrophobia, the difficulties of life, and that’s what it was for me in its quiet moments. When I saw it on a big screen, I forgot about making it and I cried, and I felt like I released so many feelings that I’ve been holding back that aren’t about one particular thing, but about all of the difficult things that we have been bombarded with for the past two years.

At home during those quiet moments you’re going to go to the bathroom and you’re going to miss it, and you’re not going to feel anything, and then you’re going to say that you didn’t get it.

Cinematography of “The Listener” by Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: Are you going to be reading critical reviews, reviews or reactions on Twitter and elsewhere? Does it get frustrating to read ten positive reviews and one negative, and that negative is the one that sticks with you?

Anka: I feel like the reviews on this film have been so respectful. They’re not bad, they’re not good, but rather respectful of it being a film that stands on its own.

But I don’t think the reviews dictate what a movie is. Sometimes movies are just reviewed poorly, and particularly recently with “Don’t Worry Darling” by Olivia Wilde. I’m a fan of her work, I’m a fan of her as a human being. She triggers a lot of people because she’s a smart, independent woman living however she wants. That movie got clobbered at Venice, and I feel it’s because it shows female pleasure from a woman’s perspective. It is so well made, so beautifully shot, with such a poignant story, so why is it getting clobbered while something else that didn’t do anything for me gets applauded?

Sometimes I feel like the criticism is also a part of a certain cultural zeitgeist, and may or may not have anything to do with the actual quality of the picture. Sometimes it does, but sometimes the world is not ready for the thing.

Kirill: You talked about Covid a few times, and obviously it’s been a huge presence in everybody’s lives since 2020. On a personal level, or maybe on this nebulous industry level, do you see the people in your industry ready to put Covid behind them and go back to the way it used to be, or do you feel there’s going to be a different way of making these productions?

Anka: There’s been one really positive outcome in the film industry from Covid. When you’re sick now, you get to go home. I made “Monsterland” right before Covid, even though I think I might have had Covid during the production.

Before Covid, every time you were on a long show, a major flu would rip through the company, and people wouldn’t leave work when they were sick. You didn’t want to leave work because you were going to lose your job if you leave work. That was the mentality, and now the mentality is “Hey, go home, get better, you’re not going to lose your job, don’t get everybody sick” and I think that’s healthy. That’s a lot healthier and hopefully we won’t go back to staying on set and getting everybody else sick because you’re afraid to lose your job.

But the lesson learned is that when we’re sick, we should stay home. If you’re coughing and you have a flu, stay home and don’t get everybody else sick. I hope that stays.

Cinematography of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” by Anka Malatynska.

Kirill: If you had a time machine, and you could go back to when you were just start out in the industry and tell your younger self to not worry about X, what would that X be – and would your younger self take that advice?

Anka: I don’t know if my younger self would take the advice, but I would say to not worry about the money so much because it will come. But it’s really hard to not worry about the money when you don’t have it [laughs] and you’re a starving artist.

I took the advice of other people’s older selves who told me not to get stuck in union jobs that made money but weren’t the cinematographer, but to keep going after what I wanted. At one point I thought that I would put this career behind me because it wasn’t going anywhere, and I was going to move on to teaching and to have a calm life. And that’s when it really turned around and and the career came after me.

Kirill: Is that what you would be doing if you were not a cinematographer?

Anka: I have many other interests outside of filmmaking. Maybe I’d be a permaculture farmer. I recently got into growing vegetables and fruit, and having a sustainable relationship with the planet.

As far as teaching, in many ways I feel like I’m a born teacher. I love to share. I had mentors who loved to share, and that is how our craft continues to develop and live – not through the withholding of information, but through people being willing to share their process and their ingredients.

And here here I’d like to thank Anka Malatynska for taking the time to talk with me about the art and craft of production design, and Jordan von Netzer for making this interview happen. “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” is streaming on HBO Max. And if you want to know more about how films and TV shows are made, click here for additional in-depth interviews in this series.