Karina Silva had no trouble remembering her cues while filming musical numbers for “Beauty and the Beast.” She’s known the songs by heart since she was 5 years old.
“When ‘Beauty and the Beast’ came out … I loved it,” Silva said. “And so to see it come to life and then to be a part of it … it’s just so magical.”
The 2012 UCLA alumna has worked as a camera operator on “Deepwater Horizon” and “Mr. Holmes,” as well as Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” which will be released Friday. During filming, she communicated constantly with the director, cinematographer and actors, and relied on her own artistic instincts as well, to ensure each shot was in tune with the cadence of every song and computer-generated character.
“It felt like a theater show, but 360,” Silva said. “You’re capturing every moment of it.”
The first feature film Silva shot as a camera operator was 2015’s “Mr. Holmes.” Cinematography professor William McDonald had no idea his former student had operated the B camera when he went to see the film with his wife, but during the movie, he could tell the B-camera operator was skilled. As the credits rolled, he let out a cheer that turned the heads of the few who remained in the theater.
“One of my proudest moments was to see Karina’s credit on the film,” McDonald said.
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Bill Condon and Tobias Schliessler, the director and cinematographer of “Mr. Holmes” respectively, would later team up again for “Beauty and the Beast,” bringing Silva along with them.
“Beauty and the Beast” was one of several projects on which Schliessler and Silva worked together – he sensed her drive for cinematography years prior, when she first began operating for him on commercials.
“As soon as I got her behind the camera, I could tell that she had a talent for framing, for telling stories with a camera,” Schliessler said. “I feel like I can tell pretty quickly if someone has it or not, and I could tell with Karina that she had it right away.”
As cinematographer, Schliessler wanted the cameras to capture the classic fairy tale of “Beauty and the Beast” through a modern lens, and Silva has a knack for finding fresh angles, he said. But the fantastical and musical elements of “Beauty and the Beast” required a different kind of camerawork than the raw, handheld shooting style of Silva’s previous projects like “Deepwater Horizon.”
Each shot had to precisely match the beat of the music.
In the village scene where Belle (Emma Watson) sings as she maneuvers around the judgmental townspeople, a group of young boys march up the steps to the schoolhouse. On every emphasized syllable of, “Look, there she goes / That girl is strange, no question,” Silva’s camera – the C camera – zeroed in on the boys’ shoes.
If Silva missed her cue or a single foot stepped offbeat, they had to reshoot the scene, she said.
“There’s no room to play,” Silva said.
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Silva conversed with Schliessler and Condon about the zoomed-in moments they wanted to capture before each sequence. In addition to talking each shot over with the director and cinematographer, Silva said communicating with the actors during the villagers’ song was also crucial, as both they and the camera team had to hit each musical cue.
In between takes, Silva asked Watson to glance in a certain direction or lean out when speaking to a townsperson in order to frame the shot precisely.
“You coordinate according to them,” Silva said. “It’s a little bit of a dance.”
Other shots posed a different challenge for Silva – computer-generated imagery. For much of the filming process, Watson was the only actor physically on set – the other characters were later filled in by Disney’s computers.
The trick was to anticipate how CGI Lumière (Ewan McGregor) or Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) would eventually move based on Watson’s reactions, while filming a stationary clock or candelabra. In the scene where Belle enters the castle for the first time, Silva’s frame of reference was Watson’s eyeline as the actress turned around to look at the household objects as if they were speaking.
With her right hand planted on the camera’s battery and her left on the rod that supports the lens, Silva swiveled her camera to capture the objects from Watson’s point of view. McGregor’s voice played over a loudspeaker – “Cogsworth, look! It’s a girl!”
The interactions between Belle and the household objects are the kinds of scenes McDonald looks forward to watching when he sees the film on opening day, he said. Though McDonald said action scenes like the wolf chase will be captivating, the intimate sequences between Belle and her CGI friends will showcase Silva’s instinctual, artistic reactions to what was in front of her.
“Most people aren’t going to really understand that, but I’ll be able to sit there and recognize Karina’s contributions to those very important scenes,” McDonald said.
While working, Silva engaged in technical conversations with Schiessler, Condon and the actors constantly. But one of her favorite exchanges on set happened during a break in a 12-hour workday.
She rested on her camera dolly at the set of the final ballroom scene, where all of the characters become human again, and she heard a woman’s voice behind her say, “It’s so nice to see a lady behind the camera.”
That same voice was also behind the teapot figurine she had been filming – Emma Thompson’s.
“I was blown away,” Silva said. “I was so proud to be a woman on that set at that time.”
With elaborate digital productions like “Beauty and the Beast” on her resume, McDonald said he is confident Silva will continue to climb the film ladder, and quickly – if her current rate of upward mobility is any indication.
“For Karina to have achieved the level of success and (work) at the level of film that she is at this point, after having graduated only a few years ago, is beyond unique,” McDonald said. “It’s rare.”
Silva was pleased with how the movie turned out, not only because she could recognize her own hard work in the beauty of the frames, but Condon’s, Schliessler’s and her other co-workers’ as well.
“Making a movie is so hard,” Silva said. “There aren’t many great movies, and I really do think ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is going to be a fantastic, brilliant film.”