HBO Max’s newest sci-fi romantic comedy film Moonshot stars Cole Sprouse and Lana Condor as Walt and Sophie, who try to reunite with their significant others on a journey to Mars. Nerds and Beyond had the pleasure to sit down and talk with the film’s Director of Photography, Brendan Uegema.
Uegama is an award-winning cinematographer with credits on Child’s Play, Truth Be Told, Riverdale, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. For his work on Riverdale, he earned Leo Awards for Best Cinematography in a Dramatic Series in 2018 and 2019. Along with Moonshot, Uegama recently wrapped work on the upcoming biographical mini-series Iron Mike with Director X, which explores the life of heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
Let’s get to the interview with Bendan Uegama!
*Interview has been edited for clarity*
Nerds and Beyond: You’re the Director of Photography for the new HBO Max film Moonshot. What can you tell us about the movie and the main aspects of your job?
Brendan Uegama: Moonshot is a comedy sci-fi set in the near future where Mars has been terraformed and colonized. The film follows our two main characters as they travel on a spaceship from Earth to Mars, trying to get to their significant others, but along the way, they develop feelings for each other, and it just develops from there.
I was the cinematographer on the film and my main focus is telling the story with the image. I use lensing, camera movement, lighting, color, etc., and a lot of ideas put together to do this. I worked with an amazing team to bring these ideas to the screen and, along with the director Chris Winterbauer, created a mood that will help take the audience on our journey.
Nerds and Beyond: How did you get into cinematography?
Brendan: Well, I’ve always been into image-making. In high school, I was into photography and spent as much time as I could in the darkroom or drawing and painting in the art rooms. My friends and I used to film ourselves skateboarding. And eventually, I got a job shooting motocross based on that. But I always knew I wanted to make films. I didn’t really know what way to get in, though, as I had no family working in film or no real close friends that were working in film before me. So I went to film school and studied cinematography and afterwards just kept at it, kept going, kept pushing, and building up my career — step by step.
Nerds and Beyond: How did you end up working on Moonshot?
Brendan: I shot the show Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. One of our EP’s was Sarah Schechter with Berlanti, and Sarah was also an exec on Moonshot. I was talking with Sarah one day during the early days of the pandemic … just as the industry started slowly gearing back up. It turned out that they had something coming up they thought I should read, so they sent me the script. Months later, I met with Chris, the director, talked about the film, and he asked me to come shoot it with him. I live in LA, and I was working on a project here when I was asked to join the team. I finished shooting Truth Be Told and, days later, was in Atlanta prepping Moonshot.
Nerds and Beyond: Now, you’ve done a bunch of different projects across different genres. Like you mentioned, you’ve done Riverdale; you did Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. You’ve done Child’s Play, I saw as well. Did any of that prepare you for Moonshot, or was it like a whole different arena since this one’s more science fiction?
Brendan: Well, I think there’s two ways to look at that. In one way, everything prepares me for the next one to an extent. As far as just always working, always learning and always building, always taking the experiences and learning from them and how to use those past experiences as different knowledge and tools in my toolbox, so to speak. But, every show is different from the last. So when I start any new project … I need to figure out how to do it all from scratch. But that’s the process, and that’s a big part of what makes filmmaking so fun and rewarding — the discovery of each project. And yes, the science fiction side was new as well. I haven’t done a show that had to consider space, so that was great to tackle.
You know, when you jump into a project, you learn the script, you learn the story, understand what we’re trying to achieve and what we’re trying to do, you get inspired by different things. You figure out how you want to make it look and feel, and then you work with your team to achieve that. So whether it’s a horror, like Child’s Play, or a comedy like this, you know, you still have to filter through the same process to get to the desired endpoint.
Nerds and Beyond: Speaking of the process, how does that all work behind the scenes when it comes to setting up a specific shot and working alongside the actors, director, and writers?
Brendan: On Moonshot, we did a lot of storyboarding, so we knew going into principal photography what we wanted, what shots we needed to get, and how to approach it. And everyone saw them. We wanted to make sure everyone knew what we were trying to achieve. We would show the producers, and then I think some of the actors would see them for certain sequences. It just makes it a much more unified process working with everyone that way.
And I’ve worked with Cole on Riverdale before, so working with him on this was great as we already knew each other for years. So there’s a friendship, a trust there, and a shorthand. And Lana is just amazing. She’s just the nicest person and really great at what she does. And, of course, Chris was a great director and collaborator to work with. So it was a great collective who were all fun to work with and open to creative ideas.
Nerds and Beyond: Without giving too much away, is there a scene in Moonshot that you’re particularly proud of?
Brendan: There’s a few scenes that are really interesting for different reasons. But on a technical aspect, we did a spacewalk scene that was challenging and important to the film. In the story, they go outside the spaceship and float in space, where they see Mars in the distance and during this time also start to become more connected to each other. We did some wire work and built this special little sequence; that was a great challenge to do. Practically onset, there was a lot to plan for and execute.
To get the right feeling, we had to use multiple approaches with the camera. Sometimes it was on the crane, other shots were on a Steadicam, and some were just completely locked off. Sometimes the actors were in the ground, and sometimes they were suspended from wires. And, of course, working with our visual effects team and our stunt team to make sure that everything was working right was crucial to the scene’s success. And the outcome is pretty great, so that was a really rewarding one.
Nerds and Beyond: Do you have a dream job as a cinematographer that you’d love to do someday?
Brendan: I like to do all genres. I’d love to do a huge, serious sci-fi, and I’d love to do a big heavy drama and everything in between. So, I don’t know if I have one specific project as that’s really hard to say.
Nerds and Beyond: Besides Moonshot, you also recently wrapped work on Iron Mike, which explores the life of Mike Tyson. What was the whole experience like considering you had just gotten off of working on Moonshot?
Brendan: Yeah, a completely different type of show for sure. That was great. There’s three blocks, and there was a different Director and cinematographer for each block. I did the finale with Director X, and he’s got a great visual style; he’s done amazing music videos. We came together to make this show about a larger-than-life human, Mike Tyson … someone that has a lot of fans and a lot of conflict around him. Everybody has an idea of who they think he is and has an opinion of him, good or bad. So Iron Mike was a different way of approaching the work than Moonshot because the content was sensitive that way.
Nerds and Beyond: I think I only have one more question left. Here at Nerds and Beyond, we are all about letting out your inner nerdiness no matter the subject. We like to end our interviews by asking, what’s one thing that you consider yourself to be nerdy about?
Brendan: A lot of things! I consider myself a big nerd. I love movies, I love reading cool books, and I love just staying in rather than partying a lot. I just like to nerd out at home when I’m not working.
Moonshot is streaming now on HBO Max!