Sam Levy On Shooting Confess, Fletch
Cinematographer Sam Levy has a well-earned reputation for excellence, and his career flew to new heights in 2021 with the passion project Mayday, where he also served as producer, working alongside his wife, visionary writer-director Karen Cinorre. While Mayday was a tough act to follow, the new murder mystery comedy Confess, Fletch proved to be a perfect fit as Levy’s next feature, and there’s certainly no element of mystery as to why he chose to do the film.
“It’s really Greg Mottola, at the end of the day,” Levy says. The writer-director of Confess, Fletch, Mottola is best known for Superbad and Adventureland, and it only took one meeting with him to get Levy on board. “There’s a lot of murder mystery in Confess, Fletch,” Levy says.”They didn’t want it bright in terms of the photography.” Confess, Fletch stars Jon Hamm stars as Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher, a former investigative reporter who finds himself becoming the subject of an investigation when a woman is murdered inside his apartment. “It’s not about the Chevy Chase Fletch movies,” Levy says, confirming that Confess, Fletch is instead reaching back to Gregory McDonald’s original books, which Levy describes as “Hardy Boys novels for grownups.”
Both Mottola and Hamm, who also produced the film, were looking for a visual style that happened to suit Levy perfectly, allowing him to be true to his own aesthetic while paying homage to some of the greats: Gordon Willis, the legendary cinematographer who shot The Godfather Trilogy and Manhattan, and Alfred Hitchcock, whose classic To Catch A Thief served as a major source of inspiration. “There’s a lightness, a bit of comedy in To Catch a Thief,” Levy says. “You see a lot of beautiful green light, which is an impressionistic choice for nighttime, and there’s some scenes in here where Jon Hamm is kind of sneaking around this fancy yacht club at night, these big, massive night exteriors we had to negotiate, and I was just really struck by the color green in this movie. It sneaks in here and there.”
One of the reasons why the 1955 Hitchcock classic struck such a chord for Levy in relation to Fletch was a similarity that he saw between Cary Grant and Jon Hamm. Grant, who was an acrobat before becoming a movie star, had a self assured grace to the way he moved on screen which Levy saw mirrored in Hamm. “I thought the elegance of Jon gliding around was something to aspire to, or just keep in mind. I was always looking for little pockets where we could just watch him move, because there is quite a bit of dialogue in Fletch,” Levy says. “So I was always ‘Greg, where can we just watch Jon walk or run?’” One such sequence was a scene that called for careful and intricate planning, only to have a major curveball thrown at the filmmakers when it came time to shoot. “Jon pulls up in this sports car, he hops a fence, and he runs across this big field at night,” Levy says. “And then the night of, there was a massive rainstorm. And that sequence in the movie is very rainy. It looks like maybe we spent a fortune on rain towers, which we didn’t, it just happened to be raining all night, and it made it really difficult to film, but we were like, ‘Let’s just persist.’ It actually looks great—actual rain doesn’t usually show up on screen, but this did. We got lucky.”
The icing on the cake was getting to shoot most of the film in Boston, the town where Levy grew up yet had never actually shot a feature there before. The opening section of the movie, however, takes place in Rome, Italy. “We really had to fight to hold on Rome,” Levy says. “In the COVID era, things being what they are, a lot of the budget had to go to testing and keeping people safe.” Levy and Mottola had to be shrewd and economical in what they shot in order to compensate for the expense of bringing a crew to Rome. “A Lot of what we did was photographing Jon Hamm riding a Vespa around Rome,” Levys says with a wry smile. “And there’s a few scenes in cafes, a hotel … it really made me want to shoot a whole movie there.”
Levy will have to be content with New York City for now, as it’s the location for his next feature, She Came To Me, which stars Anne Hathaway, Marisa Tomei and Peter Dinklage. Regardless of where it is shot or the format used, a Sam Levy film can always be counted on to paint a breathtaking picture that allows viewers to see the world as it looks through the lens of a true master of the medium.