Reed Morano is a force to be reckoned with and here’s why: she is 1 of only 14 women, out of approximately 364 members, in the prestigious American Society of Cinematographers. At the time that she was invited to join in 2013, she was the youngest member in the entire organization. In recent years, her name has made the rounds on almost every “Young Cinematographers to Watch” article published by the likes of Variety, IndieWire, and ICG Magazine. She has also been honored with the 2011 Kodak Vision award for cinematography and NYU’s Fusion Film Festival named her their 2015 Woman of the Year.
Graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2000, Morano studied directing, but fell in love with cinematography. So, she worked as a DP for more than a decade before making her directorial debut with the beautifully harrowing drama, Meadowland (2015). Starring Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson as two grieving parents, the film follows the couple’s attempt to cope with their son’s abduction a year after the event. At the same time, their slow, unraveling and fractured marriage further isolates them in their grief. Morano knew from the beginning the film wasn’t going to be a commercial success, but her innate talent for telling such a bleak story with a hint of magical realism garnered plenty of critical success for herself and the piece.
Mostly executed with a handheld camera to convey intimacy and interiority, her style is a mix between surrealism, naturalism and cinema vérité, an artistic decision that further showcases the slow descent of Wilde’s character into the depths of her grief and obsessive psychosis. Morano was able to make the film a visceral and, at times, hallucinatory experience, leaving the audience in tears when the film first premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival 2015.
Meadowland (above) was shot in 22 days in New York City and the Meadowlands of northern New Jersey with little rehearsal, allowing spontaneity in the acting. Morano decided to DP the film herself, as well as direct for the first time, a decision that proved to be fruitful when she earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her cinematography.
Her other projects include the cinematography for the 2008 crime drama, Frozen River, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. It then, went on to be nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Actress for Melissa Leo and Best Screenplay) and seven Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Picture. Morano also worked on the indie drama, Little Birds, starring Juno Temple and Kay Panabaker. She was actually seven months pregnant at the time, carrying a Panavision Platinum and a G2, cameras that weigh roughly 50-55 pounds. The entire shoot was handheld, further emphasizing that women can do the job, in spite of persistent sexism in the film industry.
One of Morano’s favorite projects is the 2013 biographical drama, Kill Your Darlings (above), which follows the infamous beatniks, Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr, during their turbulent college years in an early 40s New York City. Shot on 35mm, the feature is an ambitious period drama that was achieved on a relatively low budget and a big cast. Morano took on the challenge by adding the film’s cinematic and faded look in post production, creating a 1943 New York City that looks both believable and unique.
Morano’s other notable work includes the dark comedy, The Skeleton Twins, which stars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as siblings dealing with suicide in an off-beat and honest tone. In 2014, she did the cinematography for the comedy drama, And So It Goes, starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton. She has also worked on several HBO shows, beginning with their original series Looking, for which she was the director of photography for the entire first season, as well as Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s 1970s music-infused extravaganza (and sadly short lived), Vinyl. Best known for her use of handheld cameras, Morano brought a unique aesthetic to the show by using a wide variety of gear such as dollies, cranes, and a Steadicam, in an effort to authentically portray Vinyl’s eclectic tone and subject matter.
Her latest collaboration with HBO came when she served as DP, alongside director Mark Romanek, for Beyonce’s “Sandcastles” music video (above), a part of her larger “Lemonade” masterpiece. Perhaps the album’s most personal song, the video is a riveting and vulnerable collaboration that delivers the most intimate and silent chapter in the triumphant testament to black womanhood presented in “Lemonade.” Mourning what has been lost due to infidelity, the piece shows a more tender side of the Carters, as Morano’s camera strives for stillness and captures the softness of light, while Beyoncé plays the piano and sings the lyrics, fighting her anger in an attempt to find forgiveness. Shot on 35mm, the bedroom scenes with the Carters convey that extra texture and softness provided by film, as well as an undeniable sense of realness. Morano explained that while the framing of shots was extremely precise and specific, what happened within the composition was largely left to the performers to decide.
Reed Morano is, without doubt, one of the most promising talents of her generation and her future projects reflect the ambition and determination already so prominent throughout her impressive career. This past year, Morano prepped for her next directorial role, Lioness, based on the true story of a female marine (starring Ellen Page) who went to Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the first female engagement team. In several interviews, Morano has expressed her excitement for the project, stating, “Lioness has everything I like: high moments, dark moments, poignant moments, inspirational moments, bad-ass moments. And it has explosions, too.” Her other big project is Hulu’s drama, The Handmaid’s Tale (below), based on Margaret Atwood’s bestselling novel. The story is set in an American dystopia ruled by right-wing religious tyranny, where a young woman (played by Elizabeth Moss) is put into sexual slavery because of her now-rare fertility. The show is set to premiere April 24th and has already received a lot of buzz thanks to its impressive cast, which includes Juno Temple, Joseph Fiennes, and Giovanni Ribisi.
When keeping in mind the absurd notion that no woman has ever won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, or even worse, no woman has ever been nominated for it, Morano realizes that her position as one of Hollywood’s most prominent female cinematographers is an important one. Equal opportunity when it comes to hiring female DPs and directors has been a slow but steady process, and Morano believes that women need to saturate the industry as strong filmmakers, not just “female filmmakers,” as there are signs that times are changing for the better and a larger conversation is happening. As she reflects on her position in many of her interviews, she states “ [I’m] a DP and it shouldn’t matter whether I’m a male or a female. I can do my job just as well as the next guy.” Her advice for aspiring filmmakers or women who want to make it in the business? “Perseverance is key. Also, more women need to WANT to make movies. I think we as a gender need to stop worrying about the unfortunate statistics and start worrying a lot more about finding the best, most original stories to tell. That’s what we need to succeed.”
Reed Morano currently lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and fellow cinematographer/gaffer, Matt Walker. The couple has two sons. Her favorite movies and recurring inspiration in her work are: Requiem for a Dream, Leon: The Professional, The Shining, The Passenger, True Romance, Paris, Texas, Goodfellas, and A Woman Under the Influence.