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Emmy Nominee: Andor Cinematographer Damián García on Shooting Practical Sets for the “Rix Road” Episode

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Diego Luna in Andor (Lucasfilm)

Damián García never thought in a million years he would have an opportunity to work in the Star Wars universe. The Mexican native is now an Emmy-nominated cinematographer for his work on Andor’s first season finale, “Rix Road.”

The first season of Andor follows the beginnings of the Rebel Alliance in the lead-up to both Rogue One and Star Wars: A New Hope. One of the people that the series focuses on is the titular Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) from five years before the start of Rogue One. He’s in a very different place at this point in his life as he’s trying to find himself. A flashback in Andor’s backstory reveals how the Clone Wars shaped his childhood. The larger picture involves Senator Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), both of whom are involved with the Rebel Alliance.

Garcia discussed the practical sets with Below the Line and his approach to the episode’s cinematography. Unlike the other live-action Star Wars series, Andor is known for the decision to use practical sets rather than utilizing The Volume technology. Because of this decision, it keeps the series closer in look to Rogue One, the 2016 film that will immediately follow the end of the second season.

Damian Garcia

Below the Line: How honored are you to receive an Emmy nomination for your work on the season finale of Andor?

Damián García: I will say that I’m very honored. I’m very happy for the honor; I feel very humble and happy because of that. Also, especially because it was a very special thing to do and it was such a great and joyful experience to shoot that. When you get the recognition like that from something that you really enjoy doing it, it’s normal, the joy, I will say.

BTL: How did you first become attached to working on Andor?

García: Well, I don’t know. It was a process. I worked with Diego before I made a couple of films with him as a director as well. Apparently, Tony, the showrunner, and Sanne, one of the producers, saw a couple of films that I did. I think that they probably liked them and they decided to invite me. I was very happy because of that.

BTL: Unlike the other live-action Star Wars series, Andor is known for its practical sets, as opposed to using the Volume. How did you approach the cinematography?

García: As you said, one of the things that I enjoyed the most of the show is that the big amount of real things and real scenarios and real people. I felt extremely fortunate because of that. With those sets and with the wardrobe, it’s very easy to do your job nice. I remember entering those sets and really being so drawn about the beauty of it. It’s so easy to (inaudible) those places. That was really good. The work that Luke and Michael did, it was really outstanding. I feel very proud of being able to work with them. 

BTL: What camera and lens did you use?

García: The camera was a Sony Venice, and we worked with a Panavision C series and G series.

Fiona Shaw in Andor (Lucasfilm)

BTL: Was that a decision that was already made for you because you were coming on during the series as opposed to having shot the pilot?

García: Yes, yes, yes, yes. That was a decision made before I arrived, but I felt very happy, because I think that is a great combination. I really think that it was a very wise choice.

BTL: With a show that already has its own look established, did you do anything to make it your own as far as adding your own style?

García: Well, something that I did was very good, I think, is Tony gave us a lot of freedom to every director and every DP to do whatever we want. It was a very nice and collaborative period throughout the show between the directors and cinematographers. But also, I never felt that I was attached or constrained by something. I always felt that we had an (inaudible) and it was like that. We had the entire freedom of doing whatever we wanted and to start a fresh thing every episode, so it was very good. The good thing is I really respect and enjoyed the work that the other DPs did in the show as well. It was good. It was joyful. It was collaborative.

BTL: Was there a scene or sequence during the finale that you found challenging from a cinematography perspective?

García: Oh, yeah. Everything was challenging because, as I said to you, when you arrived to a set, you have those sets and those wardrobes, and the visual effects people are so good and the critters are so stunning, everything is challenging because you know that you have to do very well. For me, at least, everything was challenging in a very good way. Some particular scenes, yeah. All of the final procession, it was very challenging from a lighting respective because a big chunk of the episode happens almost in real time. We shot probably three weeks, that whole chunk way, and with the weather in the UK that is not precisely steady. It was very interesting to try to maintain the continuity and the balance and do something that Ben Caron, the director, and myself, we decided it was really nice to keep that part of the procession and Ferrix in shadow. We tried to avoid the sunlight that gave it a little bit of joyfulness and peacefulness, so keeping the shadow in that gigantic set and that gigantic backlot was really challenging, but it was fun as well.

BTL: Were you all filming that with just one camera, or were there more cameras throughout the set?

García: The vast majority of the episode, we shot it with one camera. We had two cameras a lot of the time during that procession and the riot. Sometimes, on the riot, I think that we had three cameras but no more than that.

Adria Arjona in Andor (Lucasfilm)

BTL: Did the pandemic have any impact on your usual cinematography process?

García: Well, yeah. The pandemic was such an impact in everyone’s life. For sure, this show happened really deep COVID so it was that extra challenge that was the pandemic with a face mask and face shield, and not so many extras as we wanted at some point. It was more complicated in general basis but I think and I hope that that wasn’t reflected on the result despite that it was an extra layer of complication.

BTL: Did they add the shot of the Death Star after you had already wrapped filming?

García: Well, I remember the first time that we talked about that shot. Tony said it to us when we did the read through of Episode 12. It was such a big and complex episode. The script was amazing because it was a list of shots and situations. It was great. I remember that at the end, he said, Guys, I’m thinking that this episode should end like that when he talked to us about that scene. It was like, Wow, that sounds cool. But yeah, because it’s full CG, they did it afterwards.

BTL: Especially with all these fan theories coming up with well, maybe they’re working on stuff that is putting the Death Star together.

García: Yeah, it’s really cool. Yeah.

Stellan Skarsgard in Andor (Lucasfilm)

BTL: How did you first get interested in becoming a cinematographer?

García: I don’t know. I live here in Mexico, and I started here. Since I was a little kid, I got really interested with film sets. I have some family that worked in films so I remember going to visit and seeing like wow, this is a cool thing to do. If you go to a film set, it is very easy to fall in love with that environment. I really like light and framing, and I started taking pictures. When I got to film school, I was certain that I wanted to be a cinematographer.

BTL: Can you talk about working with director Benjamin Caron and showrunner Tony Gilroy on this episode?

García: Yes. Once again, it was a very fortunate thing. I met Ben the first day at the office. We had several Zooms to do an interview. He met with several cinematographers and we had a lot of meetings and stuff but I met him personally in the office, already working. It was very fortunate because he’s such a talented, interesting, and kind guy. I went, Wow, okay. I think that we understand each other very well. We had something that for me is very important with a director—which is we share the same taste, let’s say. We like the same things. If you have that, everything or almost everything flows very well. He’s very kind. He’s very collaborative. He’s very smart. He’s very sharp. I really liked it. I really enjoyed that process.

With Tony as well—that was some complication of the pandemic because Tony was in New York. We were shooting in London. Tony is the mastermind of the whole thing. He knows his script, back and forth. I mean, precisely everything. He’s also very punctual, very smart. I really liked the amount of freedom that he gave to us. He said, you can do it as you’re doing a film, and go and enjoy it, and then we can talk afterwards. I felt that he wasn’t imposing anything. He was just improving things and giving very good feedback. I think that’s a very healthy and good process with a showrunner.

BTL: When you were growing up, did you ever think that you would be working in the Star Wars universe?

García: Not in a million years. I was a big Star Wars fan when I was a kid. I was a kid in Mexico. I wasn’t thinking that I would be shooting anything from the Star Wars universe. I remember the first time that I saw some stormtroopers walking. I went, wow, that’s weird. That’s exciting and joyful.

BTL: I know Lucasfilm has so strict rules about no photos on set and all that. How much of you wanted to take a photo with a stormtrooper?

García: Yeah, I mean, a lot but it’s such a clear rule that you lose that impulse very quickly. Well, it is nice. I really enjoyed seeing that and seeing, for instance, all the creature work. It’s such a joy to see those guys. They’ve been working in Star Wars since the very beginning. Going to that warehouse or to that workshop, it was such an incredible thing to see all the creatures and all the tiny things. Wow, amazing! Amazing.

BTL: It was so nice to meet you and I look forward to seeing what you do next. Best of luck this Emmy season.

García: Thank you very much, and nice to meet you as well.

All episodes of Andor are currently streaming on Disney+.

Danielle Solzman
Danielle Solzman
Danielle Solzman is a Chicago-based film critic and filmmaker. The founder of Solzy at the Movies, she is a member of the Critics Choice Association, Galeca, AWFJ, OAFFC, OFCS, and OFTA. She is MPA-accredited and Tomatometer-approved.
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