Meet The Cinematographer Bringing The Musical Numbers In ‘Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin’ To Life

PITCH PERFECT: BUMPER IN BERLIN — “Backpfeifengesicht” Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Flula Borg as Pieter, Adam Devine as Bumper Allen — (Photo by: Julia Terjung/Peacock)

By now you have most likely already binge-watched every episode of Peacock’s series ‘Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin‘ series, which premiered November 23rd, 2022. If you’re anything like us, you keep going back to the platform to rewatch your fave musical numbers because they were so damn entertaining, giving you a new appreciation for what it takes to film such big productions like this. Creating the artistic vision for multiple musical numbers is a lot of work, and Berlin-based cinematographer Agnesh Pakozdi, who worked on episodes three and four, is the woman behind some of those big numbers, which we can’t get enough of!

In case you aren’t yet familiar (seriously, where have you been?!) the series follows the original movie’s Bumper (Adam Devine) as he moves to Berlin to continue pursuing his music career. Diana Birenyte, Jameela Jamil, Flula Borg and Sarah Hyland also star in the series.

One of the main elements of Agnesh’s work was shooting the over the top musical numbers in the show. One in particular took place in a Berlin art gallery, where there were hundreds of extras performing intricate choreography. They shot this scene in one long 360 shot, and used invisible ramps that were built into the set to get a flying camera effect.

Other stand out moments include a scene where a romantic theater performance with sweeping camera movements all of a sudden switches to a cold nightmare. This required a rapid change in lighting to depict the transition from a dream performance to an actual nightmare. There was also a bar scene where a character is talking about his past where Agnesh designed creative transitions to show time passing.

As a Berlin-based cinematographer, Agnesh is excited to continue using her talents and local expertise on future American projects that film there. We had the chance to speak with her about working on big production shows like ‘Bumper in Berlin’, and what the landscape in the film industry is like for women in typically male-dominated roles like cinematographer.

Cinematographer Agnesh Pakozdi

Can you first tell us where your cinema career began, and how you became a cinematographer? 

I was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary. In the 90s, the general focus was on creating and starting a business, as my father did. It was logical for me to study economics and become a useful piece in creating that system. At 23 years old, I realized that the time and environment I was born in pushed me in that direction, but my true interest was in photography and cinema. Hungary had a great tradition and a strong approach to cinematography. I was experimenting with analog black-and-white photography during high school. My favorite movies were shown in film clubs, like ‘Zabriskie Point’, ‘Sweet Movie’, ‘Persona’, or ‘The Clockwork Orange’.

I completed my studies but focused on film history and theory. I didn’t think back then I could be a cinematographer; there were no examples in the country. In college, I made my first video work, which led to a scholarship in Berlin as a video artist. Berlin was a wild and inspiring playground to explore my skills. Step by step, I understood what interested me the most in filmmaking. I applied for the cinematography class at the DFFB Film Academy. They took me despite a 5 minute long static shot as my application. It must have been a good one. This international network took me to many projects, people, and places from the East to the West.

Having worked on ‘Bumper in Berlin’ episodes 3 and 4 which feature some big musical numbers, what was the process of creating the visuals for these scenes? 

The core cinematic idea always emerges from the scene. In the opening of the 3rd episode, a classy, romantic duet on a theater stage suddenly turns into a nightmare. The visual joke lies in contrast between these two worlds. We pushed both looks to the edge, creating beautiful warm and moody lights, opening with a sophisticated, dreamy crane shot and following the verve of the song and dance – and when all are taken in, we crash it into horror. It was an exact combination of lights, set design, costume, choreography, and camera language.

A musical number in the 4th episode was a great challenge in a completely different way. Again, the idea settles in the script. Here Bumper is in a busy art gallery where he suddenly starts improvising while slowly whirls the whole place with him, and everyone joins or celebrates with him. Our idea was to set it up as one long shot for the entire song, where the scene gets greater and greater, shooting 360 and floating with the action. This required choreography for actors, dancers, cameras, and lights on a beat-by-beat precision. It was great fun to be a part of it.

What were some of the most complicated or complex scenes you were involved in? 

Besides the musical numbers, one of the most complicated was an opening shot. Bumper and Thea are approaching a studio for Bumper’s interview. We started on a crane with a steadicam, then the camera followed them into the interior of the building. The same shot takes a turn and brings them up the stairs, where the dialogue ends. This was a highly complex setup, not just from the movement aspect, but we almost shot it on a 360 camera, which made the lighting in the interior very complicated. Berlin was showing its sunny side this day which did not help create a continuous shift between exterior and interior, but it turned out great.

Another huge number was the riff-off between Bumper and Gisela. It was one of the scenes that required the most resources, and we had extreme weather conditions. We had to stop shooting on that day, which is always a hard decision for production, and also for me, as I know we might use this material, and it should match the look of the reshoot. 

When you first begin to work on a TV show or movie, what creative elements do you map out first, and which crew members do you work closely with? 

The locations will give the shape or inspire the shape and look. The style and vision of the director are the compasses. We work very closely during the preparation time. The process can be different in a TV Show and between other movies in foreign countries as well.

It’s great to take the time, and have all departments present their concept to each other, so we all know the vision. I also talk a lot to set designers during prep, and the VFX team, depending on its weight in the show. During shooting, my gaffer is always next to me, the key grip might be away for a while, and the operators are in my arms.

What kind of relationship do you need to build with an actor (actors) on set, if at all? 

It’s essential to create that connection and trust each other. The actors give it their all, and they rely on you while shooting to take good care of the performance and the act. So it’s crucial to have a good connection based on trust. The next step is having fun while creating something we all love. 

Cinematography is still a very male-dominated field, but we are seeing more women like you working on some major productions. How difficult was it to break into the field and gain the respect of your peers, given the industry’s gender inequality? 

I learned a lot about filmmaking In Berlin. There were women DPs teaching us, and I felt the support and empowerment from many sides. Still, it took work, but I believed in myself and worked with people who believed in me. I work with many Berlin productions where the Heads of Department are women. We have great ambitions and plans together. What took me to bigger productions, mainly through working with other DP colleagues, directors, and producers, who did trust me and gave me a chance to prove myself. There are male DPs who acknowledge the inequality in the profession, and they realize that they are the ones who can make a significant change. We need more people like that, and women DP’s need more chances to be given. The result will show itself on the screen.

Being based in Berlin, what is the film industry like in general when it comes to gender representation and equality? 

The situation still needs improvement, but I am glad to work here and meet all the incredible people who have helped me get to where I am. In the last few years, there has been a lot moving forward. For six years, there has been a female DP association, cinematographinnen.net, where around 120 established and rising cinematographers gathered to work on our representation and equality.

In your particular field, who are some inspirational and up-and-coming cinematographers, especially women, whose work we should be paying attention to? 

Carmen Treichl and Aleksandra Medianikova

For any aspiring young female cinematographers or filmmakers who want to follow in your path, what advice would you give them in order to succeed? 

First of all, believe in yourself. Find and work with people who you trust and with whom you share your passion and taste in filmmaking. Always find a unique connection to the content you are working on.

What are you working on next, and where can we follow you/your upcoming projects? 

I am working on a feminist musical about motherhood in Germany, that’s going to be great fun!


You can follow more of Agnesh Pakozdi’s work HERE, and watch all episodes of ‘Bumper in Berlin’ streaming on Peacock TV.

PITCH PERFECT: BUMPER IN BERLIN — “Streicheleinheit” Episode 104 — Pictured (l-r): Lera Abova as Lina, Flula Borg as Pieter, Sarah Hyland as Heidi, Adam Devine as Bumper Allen — (Photo by: Julia Terjung/Peacock)

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