The courageous heroes who bravely fight to defend their country and protect the freedoms of their fellow citizens can unfortunately at times be the ones who are unable to adapt to their society’s ever-changing opportunities when they return home. Diego García, who served as the Director of Photography on the new psychological drama, ‘Causeway,’ reflects on the melancholy that accompanies the emotional and physical trauma that many soldiers face when they return home from war.
The movie was written by Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel and Elizabeth Sanders. The project marks the feature film directorial debut of Lila Neugebauer, who also served as an executive producer.
The drama opened in select theaters in the U.S. on October 28 by A24, and is now streaming globally on Apple TV+. ‘Causeway’s official release comes after it had its world premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival.
‘Causeway’ follows Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence), a U.S. soldier who experiences a traumatic brain injury during her tour in Afghanistan, which forces her to return home. She struggles to reconnect to her daily life in America with her mother, Gloria (Linda Emond), as she waits for her eventual redeployment.
García generously took the time recently to talk about serving as the cinematographer on during an exclusive interview over Zoom. Among other things, the Director of Photography discussed how he was interested in working on the movie with Neugebauer and Lawrence after he read the script, as he feels it’s an important character study into how many soldiers, like Lynsey, struggle to integrate back into society after they return home from war.
ShockYa (SY): You served as the cinematographer on the new drama, ‘Causeway.’ How did you become involved in serving as the Director of Photography on the movie?
Diego García (DG): Well, my first interaction with Lila Neugebauer was through one of the producers of the film. He reached out to me because he thought it was a good script and opportunity for us to work together.
So I read the first draft and loved it right away. I thought that it was a very beautiful character piece, and a very intimate way to tell this story. It didn’t have a very plot-driven structure; instead, it had very surreal and poetic moments.
So right away I was thrilled to talk to Lila. So we did, and I think we connected very well during the very first meeting we had. After that, she offered me the film.
SY: Speaking of the fact that the film was directed by Lila Neugebauer, how did you approach collaborating with Lila to determine how you would shoot the project?
DG: Well, there was nothing established when I joined the project, in terms of the whole visual language. Like I said, there was a rough script that wasn’t even finished. So basically we had to find the look and atmosphere of the story.
This is the first feature film that Lila directed, so for me, there was a lot of responsibility to help her find her own voice as a visual artist. So our dialogue was always very open and free.
We always understood that the core of the film was to connect and engage with the emotional state of the characters, and do a subjective perspective.
SY: ‘Causeway’ stars Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role of Lynsey. What was your working collaboration like with her to determine how you would film her characters’ arcs?
DG: As you can see, the film is very simple and quiet in a way. We knew that we wanted to take care of every single decision that we were making in very subtle ways.
We go on an emotional journey with the Lynsey character, who’s recovering physically and emotionally, so one of the main tools that we used was composition and empty space. Silence was also one of the ideas we used to stay close to her. We were always working on an evolution in her journey.
I think there’s a little bit of that, but I don’t know how much of that translated to the screen in the end. But again, we wanted the story to stay close on her personal process. So I always tried to lean back with the framing of the camera, and gave some respect to the angles between the camera and the characters.
SY: The drama was shot on location in New Orleans. How did shooting the drama in each locations influence the way you filmed the drama?
DG: New Orleans is a beautiful city that’s full of vibrant colors and character, and has a very unique atmosphere. So for me, it was very interesting to get to know the place. I think it photographs very beautifully.
But on the other hand, it was challenging to make it look like we were filming in Nebraska during the winter while we were actually filming in New Orleans during the summer. They’re complete opposites, in terms of the weather, the landscape and the colors. So it was a challenge, for sure, but as filmmakers, our job is to figure things out and find a way to make things work.
SY: What was your approach to lighting each location to help tell the story?
DG: Our amazing production designer, Jack Fisk, did a lot of research. He drove around the city by himself, besides having a location manager. So he was committed to finding special places, like the houses that the story takes place in. So some of the houses are another character. The houses in New Orleans are such an important part of the story.
Since Lynsey goes back home and part of her trauma is fueled by her going back to her past, it was really important for us to translate that into the image. So Jack found the right houses for us to work in. It was like a blank canvas for us because we used certain parts of them, but he also recreated certain parts of them for each scene in the story.
I’ve always preferred to shoot on location because you get into the real feeling of being in a real place. But if I’m shooting on stage, there’s always a fake way to approach work.
So being in real locations in the city, and having real backgrounds through the windows, offered a real flavor to the story. It was very nice to work that way.
I also tried to use available light as much as possible. It wasn’t always possible, so I mixed a lot, which made the lighting interesting.
SY: How did you approach working with the movie’s hair, make-up and costume departments in order capture how Lynsey physically contends with returning home from war?
DG: We spoke about everything, and decided we wanted to keep everything very subtle and simple when it came to her wardrobe. Like I said, everything is character-driven, like her room and jeans, and is based on her story and personality. We weren’t trying to build beautiful images; instead, I think our main purpose was to stay true to her background and who she was.