Science Fiction fans were overjoyed when Netflix released Extinction this summer. Starring the charismatic Michael Peña (of Oscar-nominated film American Hustle, Oscar-winning Crash, and BAFTA winner Ant Man) in the lead role alongside Primetime Emmy Award Winning actress Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls, Masters of Sex), this Sci-Fi/Action film depicts one man’s struggle to save his family when aliens invade Earth. The story seems to unfold in parallel realities at times until the film’s huge reveal which centers on Peña. There’s also a pleasing duality that exists in the film as it vacillates between pensive quiet moments and big action sequences. The 2nd unit Director of Photography who obtained these thrilling action sequences was Manuel Branaa. Working with director Mark Roper (Don’t Breathe, Killing Season, Conan the Barbarian), Branaa manifested many of the biggest moments of Extinction and perfectly balanced the tone of the film.
The equilibrium of action and more quiet psychological moments of Extinction is key. The film was shot in Belgrade, Serbia where Mark Roper and Branaa met to discuss the perfect process to obtain the scenes they were creating for the film. It would promise to be an adrenaline filled experience full of stunts, pyrotechnics, and a massive amount of extras. A prime example of these scenes in the film is when Michael Peña’s character [Peter] and his family are escaping the alien ship and a missile is fired, exploding as it barely misses them. Soon after this Israel Broussard’s character [Miles] steps on top of the remains and looks at his tracking device amidst the surrounding fire in this apocalyptic moment. The spectacle of this moment is captured by Branaa with the same attention to detail as his work in scenes such as when Peña’s character discovers that he is in fact a machine himself and Miles helps him perform surgery on his own chest. Manuel contends that action sequences are not so different from other scenes in his approach. He relates, “I try to see action scenes like other scenes; not just for their value in the visual aspect but also concerned with the characters and what they are going through. The way I achieve this is by holding on the characters’ faces for some time, trying to feel their concern and making the situation more real for the viewer. I am mostly attracted to naturalistic looks but many times the projects I work on require something different; something more surreal or stylistic. This doesn’t necessitate going against my comfort zone. Every project is a small challenge to be solved and worked through. I like the experience of changing my perspective for every film, almost like an actor might change their persona for each role. There is a pleasure in finding different aspects of yourself and exploring them. In the end, you just wrap it up and move on to the next one.”
This embrace of diversity is visible through Branaa’s work on films like Orchard Girl for which he received a Best Cinematography nomination from the NOLA Horror Film Festival, 725 which won the Jury Choice Award at the Mumbai Women’s Festival and was accepted into such prestigious festivals as the Cannes Court Mertage [Cannes Short Film Corner], and numerous others. Manuel’s ability to bring the audience inside the characters’ emotional aura throughout all of these films is precisely what has made him so sought after by filmmakers the world over. From explosive action to pensive reflection, Manuel Branaa’s malleability from production to production while also always presenting honest emotive imagery is the most exemplary of attributes in today’s film industry.