Screen Rant spoke exclusively to Moon Knight's cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, who revealed how he brought Marc Spector and Khonshu to life.
Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo reveals how he brought Marvel's Moon Knight to life. The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand at a remarkable rate, but Moon Knight is unlike any other MCU TV series yet to air on Disney+, posing real challenges for the creative teams tasked with bringing the show to life. Its protagonist, Marc Spector, has been diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, which means star Oscar Isaac has to play several different alters. In order to portray this, cinematographers have come up with creative ways that allow them to interact.
That isn't the only problem facing the production team behind Moon Knight. Although Moon Knight is often described as Marvel's answer to Batman, in appearance he's very different; Moon Knight doesn't try to hide in the shadows, but instead wears a dazzling white costume that he believes serves as a symbol of vengeance. Whites are a difficult color to work with using TV cameras, meaning Marvel had to choose their cinematographers very carefully indeed.
Related: Moon Knight's Marc Spector and Alters Explained
Screen Rant had the opportunity to speak to Andrew Droz Palermo, one of the two cinematographers attached to the project, about how he brought Marvel's latest superhero to life on the small screen. He discussed his background, the lessons he'd learned for working with CGI characters, and how he worked around the difficult issues in the production.
Screen Rant: Could you give us a run-through of the work you did on Moon Knight?
Andrew Droz Palermo: I'm cinematographer of episodes 2 and 4, as well as a number of scenes scattered throughout the entire series. That includes the very first scene, where Arthur Harrow's putting the glass in his shoes. Myself and the other cinematographer, Greg Middleton, are the two cinematographers on the project.
Screen Rant: What lessons would you say you learned from The Green Knight that helped you prepare for this show?
Andrew Droz Palermo: The Green Knight is a really idiosyncratic, original movie. I work with David Lowery often, he's one of my favorite directors, he's very similar to Moon Knight's directors in that they all have their vision, they have the things that they want to achieve, and they're visual stylists; one of the easiest takeaways is there's a CGI character in The Green Knight, a talking fox.
Of course, there's a lot of CGI characters in Moon Knight. The same methodology applied with having someone on set who could provide a Khonshu head on a stick to give us a sense of how tall he might be, or an actor who could stand on a platform to be approximately the same height. The methodology is the same.
Screen Rant: It must be quite difficult to have the actors interacting with so many characters who aren't actually there.
Andrew Droz Palermo: Yeah, it can be a real challenge. It's essential for me to have something there in real life, because you get a sense of framing - you might be thinking you're shooting a medium close-up of Khonshu, let's say, but then the bird-head arrives, and I realize I've gotta back up because his beak is incredibly long. Until it's actually there, you're never in the right place.
That was true for Green Knight as well. I thought I knew how big a fox might be, but until there was the little fake fox, I was always wrong. Maybe it's a lack of imagination for me, but I'm getting better at it.
Screen Rant: I love the Khonshu interactions, and the earlier ones have this horror-style where you get the sense that Steven is so vulnerable and small compared to Khonshu. How did you create that sense of vulnerability?
Andrew Droz Palermo: Yeah, I have to say I was really inspired by one of the images Greg Middleton had shot. One of the very first, where Steven is standing in an elevator which is illuminated, and it's a dark hallway, and he's just so very small in the frame. I told Greg when I saw that image, "Man, that is a north star for me for the show." Not only just because of how scared Steven is, but also how bold that is visually. To have so much darkness, negative space as it were, a really great image of Greg's. He's such a great cinematographer.
For Khonshu in general, I think a lot of it's done by Oscar [Isaac]. You follow Oscar's feelings of terror, [which are] also finessed greatly by the editorial team with how much you see of Khonshu in a scene, or how little. A flash of him here, a flash of him there,. Of course that's also done by VFX. I was so glad to see those plates for the scenes. When you're shooting things it doesn't often feel scary; you get into the technical challenges. But I love to watch it with somebody that hasn't seen anything about this project, and to hear that it was scary was really fun.
Screen Rant: There's this brilliant trick of using reflections to communicate, with the different alters interacting with one another - well, until episode 4 - through mirrors. It must have been difficult to make that work.
Andrew Droz Palermo: It is incredibly different. Each one, we would approach as its own challenge. Not every time would there be a sensible reflective surface. But in the storage locker, let's say I wanted to try out a reflective metal. It works best when the other side of the conversation is a bit diffused or a bit blurry; he couldn't see himself perfectly clearly in a mirror. It had a bit more mystery to it. So, our production designer provided a couple different metals with a coat on them to determine what kind of reflectivity we liked, and how much diffusion we could get away with.
You first think of the surface, then second what's the camera doing? If the camera's moving, it becomes its own challenge to put Oscar in both places. We would employ a techno-dolly, which could repeat a move for us. So, if I swooped around him, the camera could do that exact move for the other side; the B-side of the reflectivity. We did some of those, which can be very technical, and then sometimes we do very old-school Hollywood tricks. Oscar might be Steven in one frame, and by the time I pan all the way over to the reflection he's changed his character, and he's Mark.
That's a real challenge for Oscar, to change his posture and say lines on top of himself, but that's also a testament to what an actor he is. As the show went on, he got more and more comfortable with these quick, kind of cowboy switch-outs where you pan away and he's changed character. What an incredible feat. I can't even tie my shoe most days, so--!
Screen Rant: Moon Knight's costume is so different to other superhero suits. Its color scheme is so bright, and I can imagine that must make it difficult to work with in terms of lighting. Could you tell us how you managed to make the Moon Knight costumes work in the different environments?
Andrew Droz Palermo: Yeah, it was a fun opportunity for me. I'd shot this movie called The Ghost Story, where the character was all white, in a full white sheet. That was one of the reasons I got this job! Oscar said, 'Well, if he can shoot a character in a white sheet, make it look cool, then he can do Moon Knight.' I was so pleased to hear that.
In the London streets fight at the end of episode 2, it's a lot of sodium vapor light. You want the first appearance of Mr. Knight to feel like the white suit that you know, and so it's finding the ability to make the background be warm sodium vapor but the foreground be a bit more neutral. And then you can do things in post-production to help, to cut him out and make him a little bit more neutral.
One of the things I just love about the comic book is that he says he wears white so people can see him coming, and they know he has such an awesome vengeance sentiment. I love that he's not trying to hide in the shadows. He's coming at you. In that way, it's like, "Let's make him white and bright, let's not try to hide him." With such a wonderful costume, you don't want to hide it.
Screen Rant: What was your favorite scene to work on that we've seen so far?
Andrew Droz Palermo: I really love the sequence in the storage locker where Steven is running from Khonshu, where the lights are flickering. I thought that sequence is really fun, and editorial did such a great job of putting it together, including a really funny freeze-frame at the end.
I also loved shooting the Tomb Buster sequence. It was fun to kind of flex a different muscle, making some '80s VHS movie; to kind of work in a totally different manner and use the camera and light differently. That's the joy of the show, it offers an opportunity to do a lot of different things. It's not just an action thing, it's all these other things, including a mental hospital that was a totally different look from everything we'd seen before.
Moon Knight follows Steven Grant, a mild-mannered gift-shop employee, who becomes plagued with blackouts and memories of another life. Steven discovers he has dissociative identity disorder and shares a body with mercenary Marc Spector.
More: How Powerful Are Moon Knight's Egyptian Gods Compared To Thor & Odin?
Moon Knight releases new episodes every Wednesday on Disney+.
Tom Bacon is one of Screen Rant's staff writers, as well as a Peer Mentor for new writers and a member of the Care Team, offering support and a listening ear to members of the Comics group. A lifelong fan of major franchises including Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Marvel, Tom is delighted his childhood is back - and this time it's cool. You can find him on Twitter @TomABacon. A graduate of Edge Hill University, Tom remains strongly connected with his alma mater as a volunteer chaplain. He's heavily involved with his local church, and anyone who checks him out on Twitter will swiftly learn he's into British politics too.