Netflix has no shortage of hit series and movies on its streaming platform, and in 2018, The Kissing Booth became one of its most viewed movies thanks, in part, to cinematographer Anastas Michos.
The Kissing Booth and The Kissing Booth 2 are fun, energetic teen romantic comedies that tell the story of Elle Evans (Joey King) as she navigates life during high school with lifelong best friend Lee Flynn (Joel Courtney). Their friendship becomes strained when Elle and Lee’s older brother Noah (Jacob Elordi), a senior, start falling for each other. That is in the first movie anyway. A sequel, The Kissing Booth 2, released on Netflix on July 24, 2020, and there may be more on the way.
PopAxiom spoke with Anastas about his career as a camera operator turned cinematographer.
Anastas is a first-generation American, born to a Greek father and Russian mother. Movies weren’t a focus initially for him. “It was not until my late teens or early 20s,” he said, “that I thought about the people who made movies, and there must be a way for me to do so.”
Fortunately for Anastas, his immediate community yielded the first step toward a life in showbiz. “I had a next-door neighbor who was a documentarian. I was a young man of 22 years old, and he needed help pulling cables.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Soon after, Anastas got involved with a television station as an editor and camera person shooting news stories. “I enjoyed that kind of storytelling,” he said.
Anastas elaborates on the knowledge gained from his experience as a newsman. “That kind of practice of shooting your own story, editing it, and getting it on air was great training for ultimately narrative type of work.”
Anastas made a friend early on, Garrett Brown, the inventor of the steadicam. “He became a mentor.” Anastas learned to operate the steadicam and co designed some aspects of the skycam and segued his way into feature films first as camera operator and then as a Director of Photography.
Anastas’ filmmaking education was heavily “hands-on.” “A lot of it was reading, and a lot of it was looking at films. I didn’t go the traditional film school route, but that is not to say I wasn’t surrounded by huge mentors that I could emulate and who took me under their wing.”
Having an interest and passion in a subject is important, but understanding a craft on as many levels as possible is essential. “I read every book that anybody ever wrote about film,” said Anastas, “and because of that, I had a background in the knowledge and theory, not just the practical.”
Anastas didn’t limit his education to just the camera or cinematography. He read books on directing, writing, editing; the entire process. “I think to be a cinematographer, you need to be a filmmaker, and to be a filmmaker, you have to understand the juxtaposition of images.”
Making movies for Anastas is much like music for him in that they are both “defining emotion over time.”
About The Kissing Booth
Perusing Anastas’ filmography reveals an eclectic body of work. He’s worked on projects like Eddie Murphy: Raw, Man on the Moon with Jim Carrey, Mona Lisa Smile with Julia Roberts, ABC’s hit TV show Quantico, and the terrifying Purge film franchise (The First Purge, The Purge: Election Year). How did he become part of the team for The Kissing Booth? “I was in South Africa, shooting a movie called The Empty Man. It’s a very dark film. One of the things that affect me as a filmmaker is the subject material. You go to work every day dealing with dark subjects … it affects you.”
For Anastas, “If you’re not affected emotionally, then it means that you’re not connected emotionally.”
In Africa, Anastas met up with an old friend. “Michele Weisler, a producer I have known for many years, happened to be in South Africa,” said Anastas. “We had dinner and she mentioned this teen movie that she was doing. I thought ‘Oh, my God, a romantic comedy, how great is that? Sign me up!’”
Michelle didn’t believe Anastas at first, but he insisted and met the director, Vince Marcello, “… in Cape Town, where we had the closest version to Thanksgiving Dinner that we could. We got along very well. Our sensibilities were the same. Our humor was the same.”
Anastas read the script for The Kissing Booth and chatted with Vince, who then offered him the gig.
After a short Christmas hiatus, Anastas went back to South Africa to shoot “this little film” [The Kissing Booth]. “We had two cents to rub together, and we put out a sweet movie. Little did we know it would become this international phenomenon,” he said.
The Kissing Booth is one of Netflix’s most-watched movies on the platform, alongside hits like Birdbox with Sandra Bullock and Extraction with Chris Hemsworth. “One might dismiss films of that kind as cake-walks,” said Anastas, “but Vince and I had the same sensibilities, and if you’re invested in it, you raise the work to the level of everything else you do.”
Anastas admits teen rom-coms are not his genre, but as filmmakers, the job entails telling a story. Anastas attributes the success of The Kissing Booth to that fundamental fact. “That’s why I think it’s so popular because it holds up as storytelling.”
Anastas’ career put him behind the camera for many franchise films such as The First Purge and Texas Chainsaw (2013). What is the mindset going into sequels? “To some degree, there’s always a desire to change things up. But they are franchises for a reason. People respond to the first one in a certain way. Rather than change for change’s sake, I think what Vince and I did was ask ‘What worked?’ and how can we improve that?”
Anastas is a veteran in the film industry with a few decades under his belt operating cameras. He discusses two critical changes over time. The first is obvious “… technology …” but Anastas brings up another key factor. “The environment has changed. When I was growing up, cities were not orange. We had white streetlights. When you came out of warm incandescent indoor lighting into that white light, everything shifts blue,” he said.
However, the seldom discussed technology of city lighting evolved. “The advent of sodium vapor light changed the color of our cities to orange. If you look at a map of the world, you’ll see that most of it is orange lights.”
The evolution continues, and new technologies change. “Now, LA has gone to LED lighting, which is now cold. So, you try to shoot a classic, noir scene outside, WITH blue or green fluorescent light coming out of the industrial windows gives the lack of orange contrast gives it a different look.”
Anastas brings up another factor that affects the way cinematographers create. “It’s also cultural. If you look at a film from Mexico or Brazil, they hit the United States with a color palette that we’re not used to, this orange-y, gold with a lot of green in the blacks. If you look at a film that came out of China in the the early 2000s, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Raise the Red Lantern for example, the sudden reds contrasting against pale whites, and the golden and the golden ambers in the practical lights created a palette that we had not seen.
Coming up as a camera operator, Anastas worked under many supremely talented cinematographers who he credits as being part of his creative DNA. “Sven Nykvist (Sleepless In Seattle, Cries, and Whispers), Haskell Wexler (61*, Bound For Glory), Philippe Rousselot (The Nice Guys, Sherlock Holmes), and John Seale (The English Patient, Mad Max: Fury Road) are some of the DPs I have worked with.”
Anastas draws on those past working relationships as a DP today. “Every situation is a complex puzzle that needs to be solved to make things look a certain way and be consistent.”
Even with decades of experience, Anastas continues to seek new challenges to push his creativity to new places. “I’d love to do a boat movie. I’ve never done something like that before; something shot on the water. That would be a fun challenge. A western would be a challenge in a completely different way.”
The Kissing Booth 2 is out now on Netflix, and a third installment is set to come out in 2021. So, what’s next for Anastas? “There’s a film by the name of The Empty Man directed by David Prior with James Badge Dale. It’s a very dark story which is part of the Boom! Studios comic book franchise.”
Is The Kissing Booth 2 on your watch list?
Thanks to Anastas Michos and Backlight Public Relations
for making this interview possible.
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