Many films fans have known for quite a while that another “Rocky,” film was coming to the screen this Thanksgiving. But instead of Stallone at the head of this “Rocky,” film a younger filmmaker, Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”) has taken the franchise to a new generation. And with other Oscar-contention films having lack-luster performances on the screen, this new “Rocky,” film titled “Creed,” just may have all the components to slay other films that have their eyes on Oscar gold. But no film can elevate to the level of Oscar-worthiness without a fine cinematographer at its forefront. “Creed,” features a strong female cinematographer named Maryse Alberti, who also shot this year’s “The Visit,” and “Freeheld.” In this exclusive interview with Alberti, she discusses her meek beginnings, how hard-work, determination and just plain old good luck put her in the position she is in today, and how “Creed,” is the sum of all of that work.
Alberti was born in a little village called Langon in the south of France, near the Bordeaux wine country in 1954. To her own admission she had no experience as a child with film or television, “When I was 12 years old my grandmother was the first one to have a TV on the block. So, every Wednesday night, the neighborhood would come to my grandmother’s house and watch TV.
“So, I did not grow up like American kids with television and certainly not with movies. I was 15 years old when I saw my first movie and I saw “Duel,” by Steven Spielberg and it blew my mind. And then for years, I never went to the movies. But when I left France and immigrated to the United State in 1973, I stayed with some cousins. That first night in America, we watched the movie “Harold and Maude,” and again it blew my mind.
Alberti worked her first few years in the U.S. as an au pair. During one position, she had her own television in her room and when her duties were done, she would escape into her room and binge watch television.
After her second job as an au pair, she hitchhiked across country for a three year period. She took along with her, to record her journey, a small instant camera.
When Alberti returned to New York, a friend gave her a gift that would forever change her life, “A friend of mine gave me a Nikon camera and then I really started to take pictures. I took pictures of my friends – who were artists and musicians. I took head shots and portraits. And then I got a job at a magazine called The New York Rocker – which was the Rolling Stone Magazine of its time.”
Alberti’s entrée into the world of movie making could possibly be the least glamorous way of doing so, “By luck I met someone who was working as an electrician on X-rated movies. It was the beginning of the 1980’s and I got a job making a lot of money being a still photographer for the porn industry. So, my first experience on a movie set was on an X-rated movie set. I fell in love with the movie set, the camera, the big lights and then I made contact with the students that studied at NYU and Columbia.”
Alberti confessed that she lied her way to a job as an assistant cameraman for the independent film, “Vortex.” But she worked for the Director of Photography Steven Fierberg – and the two are still friends today.
Her first real big break was when she was hired by Stephanie Black, a documentary filmmaker. She shot her film “H-2 Worker,” which was a smash hit at Sundance, winning prizes for Best Documentary and Best Cinematography.
Another great opportunity came to Alberti, when she shot Todd Haynes’ (currently the director for the 2015 film “Carol”) film “Poison,” which garnered Haynes a nomination by the Independent Spirit Awards for Best First Feature, “That really put me on the map and help to establish me as a cinematographer.”
This year Alberti had three films released, including, “The Visit,” by M. Night Shyamalan, “Freeheld,” starring Julianne Moore and directed by Peter Sollett and finally the new Ryan Coogler film “Creed.”
Alberti described her last of the three jobs, “I feel very lucky to be called to do ‘Creed.’ I loved working with Ryan Coogler, who is smart, talented, generous and he created a really nice vibe on the set. Sylvester Stallone was great. Within the structure of a ‘Rocky,’ movie we really did a great job. It really put new life into the franchise. And we have Ryan to thank for that.
“‘Creed,’ is in the spirit of the older ‘Rocky,’ films. And with Ryan Coogler at the helm, he is young, hip and smart. He made great casting decisions and the music he chose was perfect. The film has really good acting, the performance are great. I am very happy the film.”
Alberti remarked on the connection that Sylvester Stallone, who plays a supporting role in “Creed,” and how fans reacted when the crew took to the streets of Philadelphia, “Sylvester Stallone is a star. When you go to Philadelphia, they scream when they see him – and they don’t scream Stallone, they scream Rocky. He created a persona that is really part of the city. After 40 years, people still run up the stairs, pumping their fists!”
Alberti shot two main fight scenes. The first scene was a combination of two rounds, in which Alberti shot in one long shot, without any breaks.
She admits that the feel is not anything like Scorsese’s “Raging Bull, “I think my shots are beautiful. Ryan wanted to stay more in the reality of like HBO boxing. It is not at all like the scenes from ‘Raging Bull.'”
The final boxing scene at the end of the film, is perhaps Alberti’s finest work to date, “Fans will really be excited. The boxing scenes are quite intense.”
Alberti was expressive, but not boastful. Her only good words were said about those she worked with, “Everyone working on the film were supportive and I think it shows on the film. The film has great spirit.”
And perhaps that final remark from Alberti is the recipe needed to make an Oscar-winning film. Time will tell if “Creed,” has what it takes to go all the way. And if it does, it would not have been possible without a woman from France that took a truly unorthodox moves to make her dream of becoming a filmmaker come true.