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Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto has had a hand in this year's biggest blockbusters

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Two of this year's most talked about movies could not be more different. "Killers Of The Flower Moon" is the story behind killings of the Osage tribe in Oklahoma.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON")

ROBERT DE NIRO: (As William Hale) Osage are the finest, wealthiest and most beautiful people on God's earth. They outsmarted everybody.

CHANG: And "Barbie" is about, well, the iconic plastic doll and her friends.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

RYAN GOSLING: (As Ken) Hi, Barbie.

MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Barbie) Hi, Ken.

CHANG: As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, the films were both shot by the same cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Rodrigo Prieto agrees his last two movies do seem antithetical, but there are some through lines. For instance, on both, he played around with an early cinematic technique called three-strip Technicolor.

RODRIGO PRIETO: And it's a very particular way of color that we've come to recognize from the movies of the '30s and '40s and '50s. Even lots of musicals of the time had this look to them, including "The Wizard Of Oz," things like that.

DEL BARCO: He used the technique in "Killers Of The Flower Moon" to shoot some scenes set in the 1940s.

PRIETO: And then in "Barbie," we needed to create a look for Barbie Land that would work well with all these different shades of pink. It was based on three-strip Technicolor that I had used on "Killers Of The Flower Moon," but here we called it TechnoBarbie (ph).

DEL BARCO: Both movies were period pieces, so they needed a mid-century look. As a cinematographer, Prieto plays with color, light, composition.

GRETA GERWIG: He's just such an incredible storyteller. And his style seems to be dictated by the story and by the characters and by the emotion.

DEL BARCO: Barbie director/writer Greta Gerwig says she's long been a fan.

GERWIG: Rodrigo is excellent. He's kind. He's rigorous. He's big-hearted. Like, he is the gold standard.

DEL BARCO: The 58-year-old cinematographer was born in Mexico City, where he grew up making monster movies at home. He studied at the Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica, one of Mexico's most renowned film schools. And over the years, he's worked with many directors, from Pedro Almodovar to Spike Lee to Ang Lee. He shot "Amores Perros" in 2000, "Frida" and "Eight Mile" in 2002, "Brokeback Mountain" in 2005.

PRIETO: I feel very fortunate to be able to jump from one genre to another and with such distinct directors and voices.

DEL BARCO: "Killers Of The Flower Moon" is the eighth film Prieto has shot with director Martin Scorsese.

MARTIN SCORSESE: I was looking for a new director of photography for the film I made - I think it was about 10 years ago now - "Wolf Of Wall Street." And he was recommended by a number of people - I think, Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo Del Toro and Inarritu.

DEL BARCO: Scorsese says he describes Prieto as a quiet man with an excellent sense of humor who's open to experimentation.

SCORSESE: You know, we've been through some wild shoots. He never seemed to feel that something couldn't be done despite earthquakes and typhoons.

DEL BARCO: Scorsese says Prieto was undaunted by storms in Taiwan while shooting the 2016 film "Silence." For "Killers Of The Flower Moon," Prieto came up with a way to show how the Osage tribe may have felt when they discovered oil on the land.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, chanting in non-English language).

DEL BARCO: In slow motion, Prieto's camera shows a group of men dancing as black gold rains down on them.

PRIETO: Seeing how slowly these drops fall on their bodies, it's beautiful, and it's very sad at the same time. And we've used this technique in other Scorsese movies. Even "Wolf Of Wall Street," there's scenes that are with this same camera, very, very slow motion, you know, and it captures kind of the exuberance.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

DEL BARCO: Prieto says he filmed scenes with the Osage characters using natural light. By contrast, he shot scenes of the white European descendants with autochrome, a technique patented in the early 1900s by the Lumiere brothers.

(SOUNDBITE OF RICHARD STRAUSS' "ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA")

DEL BARCO: For "Barbie," Prieto's cameras paid homage to the opening scene of "2001: A Space Odyssey." In a later scene, Barbie meets her creator in a surreal space.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

RHEA PERLMAN: (As Ruth Handler) Don't worry. You're safe here.

ROBBIE: (As Barbie) What is this place?

DEL BARCO: Prieto lit the set to be like the white afterlife scenes in the 1978 movie "Heaven Can Wait." And when the side character, Alan, reacts in horror to his BFF Ken getting hit by a wave, Gerwig says Prieto filmed it like a scene from "Jaws."

GERWIG: It's a shot that Roy Scheider - when the kid gets eaten by the shark (laughter), and he looks up, and the camera, rushes in, and then it zooms back. So it's almost like everything distorts.

DEL BARCO: Gerwig and Prieto say they wanted Barbie Land to feel artificial, perfect, inside a box with painted skies and backgrounds - like a soundstage. In fact, one key scene was inspired by 1950's musicals like "Singin' In The Rain."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

GOSLING: (As Ken, singing) I'm just Ken. Anywhere else I'd be a 10. Is it my destiny...

DEL BARCO: On the pink and blue painted set, Prieto swooped his rigs around as the Ken dolls danced and sang into the cameras.

PRIETO: I was playing with the rhythm and with the color. And they're all dressed in black, so it's very graphic. It was just beautiful to also work with the choreographers and figure out the camera - how it would move and then the big, wide shot from above.

DEL BARCO: Prieto also shot several Taylor Swift music videos. But he recently directed his first feature for Netflix, an adaptation of the classic Mexican novel "Pedro Paramo."

PRIETO: Consciously or not, I'm sure I used many of the things I learned with the directors I've been working with all these years, you know? I'm pretty excited about it.

DEL BARCO: Prieto recently won a lifetime achievement award at the GuadaLAjara Film Festival in Los Angeles. Many of his fans hope he follows that up with an Oscar.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

GOSLING: (As Ken, singing) I'm just Ken. And I'm enough... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.