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Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo Gives Us An Inside Look Into Moon Knight - Exclusive Interview

This article contains spoilers for "Moon Knight" through Episode 4.

One of the hallmarks of Marvel Studios' "Moon Knight" has been the miniseries' stunning visual aesthetic, with the action continuing to open up to bigger and bolder settings as the six-episode story unfolds.

The behind-the-scenes artisans responsible for capturing those settings consists of two filmmaking teams. Executive producer Mohamed Diab, who directs Episodes 1, 3, 5, and 6, enlisted cinematographer Gregory Middleton to realize his breathtaking vision, while directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's inspired ideas for Episodes 2 and 4 have materialized through cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo.

New on Disney+, "Moon Knight" follows the chaotic life of former U.S. Marine and mercenary Marc Spector (Oscar Issac). Due to his dissociative identity disorder, he also lives as the mild-mannered, London-based former museum gift shop clerk Steven Grant. Marc's tactical skills combined with Steven's vast knowledge of Egyptian history come in handy, however, since they serve as the avatar of Khonshu (voice of F. Murray Abraham) — the Egyptian god of the moon — and therefore can summon the powerful suit of Moon Knight. Being on the same page about their superhero alter-ego is tantamount, since Khonshu's former avatar, Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), is looking to awaken the Egyptian goddess Ammit — an action that spells dire implications for the world if Harrow is successful.

Palermo brings plenty of cinematography experience to "Moon Knight," serving as the director of photography on more than two dozen projects since his career kicked off in 2009 (via IMDb), including the segment "Tape 56" in the horror thriller "V/H/S." More recently, Palermo was the DP on six episodes of the mystery-drama series "Strange Angel," as well as the films "A Ghost Story," "The True Adventures of Wolfboy," and "The Green Knight." Palermo detailed his work on "Moon Knight" with Looper in an exclusive interview.

A melding of two filmmaking sensibilities

Between the cinematography of a couple prior films of yours — "The Green Knight" with its epic adventure and fantasy, and "A Ghost Story," which is something more subtle, even though it's supernatural — did either of those sensibilities come into play when it came into landing the job for "Moon Knight"?

Aaron and Justin had seen "The Green Knight" and I think that was how I got the interview to begin with. They equipped me with being able to be as artistic and as idiosyncratic, even, with my photography as I was in those projects, and reminded me that just because it's a big studio project doesn't mean that we can't go to some really crazy places, visually, and do some interesting things. So in that respect, it was like, "Well, then I'm free to run and I'm going to try to bring everything we can to this and see what sticks."

Along with Justin and Aaron, it's an interesting situation because the three of you are working on alternating episodes. You've got Mohamed Diab directing and Gregory Middleton as the DP on 1, 3, 5, and 6; and then you, Justin, and Aaron are on 2 and 4. Since you all have to be on the same page with the entire production, do you look at this whole thing as one big collaboration?

Yeah. Early in pre-production, we had a lot of conversations as a team. We tried not to be siloed teams. We like to try to get, as much as time would allow, we'd like to be in the same room and have some snacks and some drinks and chat about movies. We would ask, "What are the things that we're excited about? What are the ways of framing that we feel fit this show? Or are there clips that I can bring to the table or Greg brings to the table?" Of course, the directors had lots of ideas as well, and we tried to make a map for us to go ahead and have some continuity between the episodes. It was such a great, open, free-flowing group, and I really, really enjoyed my time with all of them.

Embarking on a whole new adventure in Episode 4

In Episode 2, we get some of the Moon Knight character, but in Episode 4, curiously enough, we don't. It seems like all of the sudden, you're going from the superhero adventure in 2 to inside Ammit's tomb in an "Indiana Jones"-like adventure in 4. Did you feel that way?

Absolutely. We looked at a lot of movies that take place in this exploratory archeology genre, like "Indiana Jones" and "The Mummy" series. There's so many of them. I looked at a lot of those for photographic inspiration and things that I wanted to do, or things that I maybe wanted to do differently. I drew a lot of inspiration because a lot of our scenes lean a little bit harder than some of those projects do.

Also, I really like this horror movie, "The Descent," and what lies in the shadows of "The Descent" is the scary part. So I try to infuse a little bit of the show with something like that, but try to keep it within the same world that we built without going too crazy down some alley where the genres shift so drastically [that] you can feel the shifts.

The movie that appeared in Episode 4 – that was made up for the series, correct? 

"Tomb Busters." Correct.

Honestly, it's amazing how different it looks. It actually looks like something you would see on a VHS video cassette made for a straight-to-video movie. That's pretty amazing. So in an odd sort of way, you got to employ a new sensibility by doing "Tomb Busters"?

Oh, it was such a pleasure. That whole day we were shooting the "Tomb Busters" scene, I was laughing, having such a great time, letting loose, doing some lighting that I would think is distasteful now, but just had so much fun. And the performers were having so much fun. We looked at some straight-to-VHS projects. I grew up ... Some friends of mine, we watched some of "Xena: Warrior Princess" and "Hercules" and stuff after school. I could draw on some of the ways those projects worked a little bit in the back of my mind, but it was so fun. I wish we could have shot more of that.

The power of comic books

"Moon Knight" originates in a visual medium with the original comic books. Were you a fan of comic books growing up, and did you get into "Moon Knight," in particular?

This series was my introduction to "Moon Knight." I hadn't heard of him, but as a kid, I read comic books. I loved "X-Men" and "Wolverine," [they] were kind of my go-to [comics], and I collected comic book cards. I really loved the art; I used to draw from them constantly. It's how I learned to draw, copying off of the "Wolverine" comic books. And the "Moon Knight" comic books are such an inspiration for us for this show. They do some really cool stuff, visually, and it's opened up this world for us to do really whatever interested us. We knew we could genre hop, like we've mentioned already, and we could play with reality and add meta-narratives and things like that.

Action figures figuring into the action

I talked with Aaron and Justin at the beginning of the series and mentioned one of those meta-narratives, which is how you incorporated a "Moon Knight" action figure.

Oh, it's so good.

It's so terrific. What's cool is Justin and Aaron say they like to use action figures to plan shots whenever possible. The Russo brothers also did it for "Captain America: Civil War." It's something that's kind of work and play for you at the same time.

One hundred percent, and just over my shoulder here [motions to a shelf behind him] is a little Moon Knight action figure. [I used it] when I was devising the shot for when Marc gets shot and goes in underwater, and then ultimately, we go into the "Tomb Buster" sequence. I had this Moon Knight figure in my office in Budapest, and I was working with my iPhone trying to figure out the camera moves and to figure out how the shot might work. That really takes you back to play and getting to imagine and do things like that. And what a privilege it is to do this for a living and work in a space that — of course, it's a technical job — but it also often feels very much like play.

Now, is that the actual figure that Oscar Isaac was clutching to in "Moon Knight" Episode 4?

He has a totally different one. They must have made one specific for that moment. I'm not sure. This was one that I think existed before the show started. I'm not entirely sure where it came from. When I had to act, if I was playing with him versus another person, we had a "Black Widow" action figure as well, which I would use for two-shots when I was using my cell phone.

I thought you might be holding onto a screen-used one, which makes it much more valuable!

It was not on screen, that one.

Well, it's on this screen now in this Zoom call! 

Yeah, I have a little Ammit back here as well. That one was on screen.

Palermo picks his favorite shots

Between the two episodes that you shot, is there one particular scene that you're most proud of? Again, the Ammit's tomb stuff is incredible, but it's like naming your favorite kid. It's got to be tough.

Yeah. I really like the sequence at the end of Episode 2, where Marc and Steven are talking to each other in that pyramidal structure in that open-air theater, and there's a light coming through the trees. That was a really great sequence. I like that a lot. I like the sequence where Steven is running from Khonshu in Episode 2, where he's in the storage lockers and the lights are going flashing. When I was shooting that, I was like, "These are going to end up in the trailer. There's no doubt about it." You can tell when you're shooting things like that, that they'll end up in marketing.

Collaborating with Oscar Isaac

We have to mention Oscar Isaac. Mohamed Diab, who I also talked to at the beginning of the season, said Oscar is such a great collaborator and gives opinions on costumes, on everything. Did you guys bounce any ideas off of each other?

Oh, absolutely. He is such a filmmaker. He's not just an actor. He is thinking about the whole. Often, I felt, it was my job to stay out of his way, like with the camera, to give him the space to move, give him the space to create when he's in a scene, not box him in, not give him these stiff parameters to work within, and let him explore. And he's such a fantastic actor. To me, the core of the show is Oscar. That's the thing that I return to when I'm watching it now. I'm so impressed with him.

Also starring May Calamawy, "Moon Knight" is streaming exclusively on Disney+ with new episodes premiering every Wednesday through May 4.

This interview was edited for clarity.