‘Kinds of Kindness’ DP Robbie Ryan Shares Set Life With Yorgos


This post is by Logan Baker from No Film School

By Caleb Hammond

For Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan, working with Yorgos Lanthimos means embracing the unknown: “you know there’s going to be some crazy shit going on, and Kinds of Kindness has definitely had a lot of that going on,” Ryan tells No Film School of the duo’s third collaboration (after The Favourite (2018) and last year’s Poor Things).

Fourteen years after his breakthrough Dogtooth (2009), Poor Things cemented Lanthimos firmly in the mainstream with the film taking home four Oscars in March. Despite this, Ryan notes a particular joy of working with Lanthimos is that he carries over working methods from his scrappier, independent filmmaking days.

Two ways they keep this indie spirit alive is through eschewing video village and prioritizing practical lights. “He likes to have an intimate set in general and not to have too much film paraphernalia knocking around the set,” Ryan says. “So you wouldn’t have monitors. As much as possible, you keep it feeling like you could film at any angle and not have to move lighting gear that’s all been set up. That’s an important part of his process.”

How the 'Kinds of Kindness' DP Shot all Those Emma Stone Car Scenes
Robbie Ryan and Yorgos Lanthimos on set of ‘Kinds of Kindness’ Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Poor Things was a bit different because “obviously the whole thing was made in a studio, so we had to have lights,” Ryan admits. But Lanthimos’ general lighting principles remained. “How would that feel if we were doing it on location?” was his question. So they created a sky and used that as a rule book for how to light the world below. This rule book prevented Ryan’s “brain from exploding trying to figure out how to do the lighting plans,” he says.

Kinds of Kindness marks a return to filming on location and as a three-hour anthology film with a host of locations, avoiding the time intensive process of setting up and tearing down lights was critical. Ryan reveals “we had some lights in case we needed, but generally we would just change the bulbs in the practical lights in the house. And that was it.” So even though aesthetically, Lanthimos “just likes natural light and the way a practical light in a house looks,” there is an added practical function to the choice.

A shorter shoot than you might expect based on the length, each of the film’s segments shot for only about two and a half weeks each. This had the benefit of sustaining a palpable independent energy on set that the cast and crew could draw from: “It was quite a quick process for everybody, and that makes it exciting—obviously nerve wracking as well—but we all were caught up in it,” Ryan says.

Ryan credits Lanthimos’ eye for how they are able to achieve such strong compositions without relying on the drama that traditional film lights can add to a shot: “He’s such a great photographer and his composition is so great that he’ll always get a strong visual. Even if it’s lit in an unusual way, or it’s not necessarily what you would expect, it will look strong because of his photographic eye.”

Dialing Back the Camera Movement

How the 'Kinds of Kindness' DP Shot all Those Emma Stone Car Scenes
Jesse Plemons in ‘Kinds of Kindness’Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Ponder Lanthimos’ filmography and specific camera movements likely come to mind: the long dolly hallway shots in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the near-constant whip-pans in The Favourite. Both of these movements are present in Kinds of Kindness but not to the same degree. Everything is more reigned in.

“It’s quite old school and simple in the way it’s filmed and the camera moves are very straightforward, but he has a very fantastic cinematic mind where he knows how a camera move can tell a story,” Ryan explains. Kinds of Kindness was shot with a single camera that was typically on a dolly with tracks.

In Kinds of Kindness’ third section: Emma Stone’s cult member character comically speeds around town in a purple Dodge Challenger. Ryan says the “biscuit rig” they used to control the vehicle wasn’t “all it’s shaken up to be.” The device attached to the top of the car and allowed someone else to drive while they shot Emma “driving” below in the driver’s seat. Ryan was mildly disappointed it didn’t allow them to drive as fast as they would’ve liked.

However, these segments do capture a real sense of speed regardless. It’s just that Ryan can’t help but “only can remember the bad things, unfortunately.” For instance, in this same final segment, there’s a black-and-white swimming pool dream sequence, and Ryan and crew were surprised by the level of dirt and grit clouding the pool. But “luckily it’s a dream so we got away with it,” Ryan recalls.

How the 'Kinds of Kindness' DP Shot all Those Emma Stone Car Scenes
Emma Stone and purple Challenger in ‘Kinds of Kindness’ Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

This dream sequence and brief flashbacks throughout Kinds of Kindness are lensed on 35mm black-and-white. Despite the lack of stocks available with this format, Ryan much prefers it to digital black-and-white. “I see a lot of black and white films—and I’ve shot a black and white film digitally—but if I had the choice, I’d always shoot film on a black and white format. It brings so much more to the tonality and the contrast.”

Notably all of Lanthimos and Ryan’s collaborations have been lensed on film, and Ryan assures me this will continue: “He’s not going back to digital anytime ever. He doesn’t even shoot stills on digital anymore. He’s very analog.”

This is because “Yorgos likes contrast in his films,” something colorist Greg Fisher from Company 3 was able to assist with in post-production. Along with the black-and-white reversal stock, Ryan shot Kinds of Kindness on a mix of 500 Tungsten and 50 and 250 Daylight Kodak stocks. Lanthimos and Ryan have already set their next collaboration which is sure to be shot on film. Titled Bugonia, it stars Kinds of Kindness stars Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons and is dated for Fall 2025 from Focus Features.

Kinds of Kindness is currently in theaters.