How I Work: Director of Photography Newton Thomas Sigel

Newton Thomas Sigel has created striking aesthetics for a dizzying array of films, from cult action flick Drive to Spike Lee’s new Vietnam War joint Da 5 Bloods. He tells CR what drives him to work across so many genres, and the importance of the DP-director relationship

The role of director of photography is at the heart of any film production. Not only do they work in close collaboration with a director to help bring their creative vision to life, they also have the huge logistical and technical responsibilities of hiring crews and navigating every facet of a film shoot. In Newton Thomas Sigel’s case, his almost 40-year career as a DP has seen him create aesthetics for everything from big budget blockbusters such as the X-Men series to Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

The common denominator of Sigel’s expansive body of work is his passion for telling human stories, beginning with his early documentary work covering the Central American wars of the 80s, and his first feature film with Haskell Wexler, Latino, based on his own experiences on the front line of the Nicaraguan Revolution. Things have come full circle for Sigel in his latest project, Spike Lee’s hotly anticipated new film Da 5 Bloods, as he reminds audiences of the immorality of the Vietnam War from the perspectives of four Black veterans, who return decades later to search for the remains of their fallen squad leader and the promise of long-lost treasure.

Da 5 Bloods has been praised by critics as much for its powerful readdressing of Hollywood’s historic practice of whitewashing war as its striking aesthetic, which blurs together widescreen shots of the ageing veterans as they venture into the Vietnam jungle with a series of flashback scenes that mimic the aesthetic of the newsreel footage from the time, and show the younger bloods – played by the same actors without any de-aging makeup or effects – step back inside the memories that have haunted them for all these years.

As Da 5 Bloods is released on Netflix, Sigel discusses the challenges of building the multifaceted world of the film alongside Lee, the need for greater diversity in the industry, and why the process of making blockbuster movies isn’t so different from his early days as a documentary maker.