Molly’s Game is based on the real life events of Molly Bloom, a world class skier who turned to high-stakes poker games. As first time director Aaron Sorkin thought out a specific vision, he knew he could only bring it fruition by leaning on people whom are masters at their craft. This is where Cinematographer Charlotte Bruss Christensen (Fences, Girl on the Train) comes into play.
The shot design for the film was an interesting one as it was more of an idea than a plan, which was then built upon. The crew pushed through the countless takes trying to figure out the timing of the ample voice-overs, so they knew enough coverage was shot. Christensen clarified, “We knew what the rhythm of the scene would be, to carry through that musical rhythm, and for it to have the energy that the script had. It was very on the spot, which gives it that mode that we reacted to out there.”
The Cinematographer expounded on the color palette, “Aaron wanted the New York portion of the film to be cooler and softer with an ordinary look, meaning that the accommodations were the truthful part of the story. The New York scenes were more of a monochrome, blue-gray, cool feel. The L.A. look was more colorful, which had a harder contrast using the deep blacks, reds, and greens to show a certain tempo and energy in the poker games. The Cobra Lounge, the first poker room, had very strong colors. The main thing was the contrast between L.A. vs New York. The poker rooms started scruffy and then became slicker and glossier to show that more money was coming in.”
It was an undertaking trying to keep the energy going in the poker games as the majority of the film is not really about the actual cards, but about Molly watching the moves of the poker players and running the games. The crew always shot the scenes with Jessica Chastain in mind and built the small pickup shots around her. The additional shots included close ups of the players’ hands, cigars, and drinking glasses.
Like many films, conflict in the schedule, shooting, and natural elements are imminent. The schedule was very tight with 180 pages which were shot in 8 weeks, 45 days, with over 35 locations throughout New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto. The opening scene on a mountain north of Toronto presented a few issues as it rained on top of the snow, so everything was completely iced over and it became daunting to go up and down the hill for the skiers and crew carrying heavy equipment, such as the cameras, cranes, and shot bays. This was a very tricky location, but Sorkin wanted to utilize that fast, steep hill to replicate the realness of the story.
Christensen is particulary proud of all the scenes with Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain in the office because it’s just a simple office on a stage. The DP elaborated, “It’s difficult, you have to get some kind of atmosphere in there, and you know they are sitting in chairs. It was a lot of pages to cover, like 50 pages in that room and we only had 10 days to shoot it. We covered around 8 pages a day. I’m proud there was some kind of tone, style, softness, kind of an ordinary look, but it still felt cinematic.”
Molly’s Game illustrates dynamic cinematography ranging from simple to contrasting colors, shooting in a multitude of locations, covering breath taking mountain skiing, differentiating the numerous levels of status within high stakes poker, and portraying Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom convincingly through the lens of the camera, all focusing on one single purpose, the best execution of the story.