THE WORLD OF TRAITOR
According to Jeffrey Nachmanoff, a director has three important partners during the filmmaking process. "The first is the writer, and on this film, that was me. The second is the director of photography and the third is the editor. Choosing the right DP was a big decision for me as a first-time director."
Nachmanoff interviewed several cinematographers, including James Muro, whose DP credits include Academy Award Best Picture winner Crash as well as Rush Hour 3. "I showed Jimmy a sequence from The Insider. They're moving through, I think, Beirut, and the camera's handheld in the car and it just looks really cool. I told him this was the kind of thing I was looking for in the sequence when we're in the beginning in Yemen and Jimmy said 'Yeah, well, I actually shot that sequence.'"
The director had no idea that Muro, who served as a camera operator on The Insider, had shot that piece of film. "The fact that he'd already done one of the things I was using as a model for what I wanted to do kind of sealed it for me. He's got tremendous creative talent and drive. He brings unrelenting energy for finding the best shot, finding a way to move the camera, finding a way to light the scene in a way that'll make it fresh and different. Jimmy took all of the ideas that I originally had and made them even more energetic and more dynamic than what I was asking for."
Silver describes Muro as "a force of nature." "He is a legendary Steadicam operator, and when we were looking for a DP for this film, we knew we were going to be in four different cities and three different continents, and we wanted to give each one a different look. Jimmy didn't have the longest resume, but he had such passion and such energy. He mixed it up every day. We hardly ever did exactly what we predicted--we did something better."
"Because we are in a world that is so organically beautiful and interesting, the lighting process is fast. We're using the sun, we're using reflectors, we're using the least amount of light to get the greatest effect, and that's an art Jimmy perfected in the course of this movie. When you see the film, it's going to have a kind of a dynamic, naturalistic quality to it that's not typical of a Hollywood movie. It looks like you're there. These are all qualities that I would attribute to Jimmy Muro and his cinematography."
Though Traitor takes place in 17 cities around the world on three continents, it was shot in 48 days on a relatively modest budget. "Finding a way through that logistically as a producer was very challenging," says Silver. "Until I could prove to them that there was a practical, reasonable way of doing this, we couldn't go forward. Jeffrey being a first timer, I wondered if he really understood the physical requirements of the film. Well, Jeffrey has been a director in his head his whole life, I think. He brought an intelligence about the material that directors who are not writers don't always have."
Nachmanoff and Silver devised a plan that would provide the film with the real-life feeling it needed while keeping costs under control. "Jeffrey explained to me that he wanted to make a very cinéma vérité kind of piece," says Silver. "He wanted to film in the actual locations and include as much of the real life and the real people as possible."
The writer-director had always envisioned Traitor as a film that was international in scope, but making the budget stretch that far proved tricky at times. "I have to give a lot of credit to Jeff Silver, who traveled around with me to find these locations, and our production designer Larry Bennett. We went to Toronto, to Marseilles, to Morocco, to London--all in the service of trying to give the movie the scope and flavor of a story that takes place all over the world. It was extremely important to me to be able to make those locations feel real. We toyed with the idea of making the money go further by shooting on sound stages, but you can't really get the feel of these locations without being there."
In the end, Silver and Nachmanoff decided to strip their needs down to the bare minimum. "We distilled those requirements and said rather than spending a great amount of money in art direction, let's go and seek out the actual locations and let that be our art direction," says the producer. "Larry Bennett, our production designer, did a brilliant job finding the most naturalistic locations to depict the scenes. We filmed in an old prison--it looks like an 11th century prison--in a village outside of Marrakech, Morocco. If we needed to be in the Arab quarter in Marseilles, we were in the thick of it. We decided to apply the cinéma vérité rules of make it natural, and do the least amount possible to embellish the location for the needs of the story. We applied that same logic to every location."