New York City-based Joaquin Prange says he entered the film business with the full intention of being a cinematographer. “I was working as an office PA on a low-budget movie called The Confession and didn’t even know what a location manager was,” he recalls. “They asked if I had a camera and could help with a scout, and I got hooked. The freedom and creativity makes it one of the best jobs in the industry.”
Prange says his usual first points of contact on a feature (his credits include World Trade Center , Infamous , Limitless , and the upcoming Birdman) are the producers and production designer.
“The big exception was The Dark Knight Rises,” says Prange. “Chris Nolan brought me on eight months in advance of a 12-day shoot that was to include closing the Manhattan Bridge, and a full assault inside the New York Stock Exchange.”
A month before shooting Dark Knight’s massive action set piece, where terrorists burst from the Stock Exchange with hostages on motorcycles, Prange got a note from a Wall Street contact about a “small protest” nearby.
“I assumed it would be done in a few days,” he laughs. “But two weeks later the Occupy Wall Street movement had exploded.”
Prange considered another city. “But New York was so committed to the project,” he recalls. “They gave us a ton of police support and we were allowed to physically barricade a three-block radius.”
New York City was less cooperative when Prange tried to negotiate for locations on Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, shot only four years after 9/11. “The Port Authority allowed us to close the George Washington Bridge and shoot in parts of Penn Station,” Prange remembers. “But the city did not want any reenactments of the aftermath in downtown. It was just too soon. That had to be done on a soundstage in L.A.”
One of Prange’s favorite projects was The King (2005), a low-budget labor of love directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire). “A character had to dump a dead body into a toxic waste dump and the real location [near Corpus Christi, Texas] was just dangerous,” explains Prange. “I scouted for weeks and finally found a farmer who’d had a meteor crash in his backyard many years ago. There was a huge hole in the ground and it looked fantastic. It was a ‘eureka’ moment, and one of the proudest in my career.”