Filoni currently serves as Star Wars' executive creative director, with his influence being felt in a number of the franchise's biggest recent Disney+ shows such as The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and Ahsoka.
Ahsoka in particular was a truly special moment for him as a creative, calling it "a religious experience" to bring so many of his animated characters into the live-action Mandoverse behind Rosario Dawson's leading heroine.
Ahsoka Cinematographer on Star Wars' Dave Filoni
In an exclusive interview with The Direct's Richard Nebens, Ahsoka cinematographer Eric Steelberg reminisced on his experience working with Star Wars executive creative director Dave Filoni on the series.
Asked if Filoni had any specific input for what he wanted to see in Ahsoka, Steelberg noted that Flioni viewed the series as "its own thing" rather than a continuation of Star Wars Rebels or other shows. The only shot that truly got copied was "at the end of Episode 2 with Sabine and the mural," with the team focusing more on "themes and tone" instead:
"You know, honestly, as far as the things that he told me and the conversations I had with him, no, I mean, we were treating this as its own thing. A new thing. And though this show has its roots in animated series, it very much is its own thing and… in terms of live action goes, we’re starting over with, ‘Let’s look…’ In visual storytelling, practical, live-action shooting doesn’t have many things related to… the style of the way you do animation. So, beyond the exact shots we copied at the end of Episode 2 with Sabine and the mural, there was nothing specifically referenced in that way. It was more discussions about themes and tone that we had."
He also confirmed everything shot for the series "[was] in the final cut," specifically highlighting Grand Admiral Thrawn's debut along with Hayden Christensen's return as Anakin Skywalker as some of the show's coolest moments:
"No, I mean, everything we shot is in the final cut. And I mean, honestly, every episode that I worked on has such great stuff in it. The ones that were given to me, I was more than happy with the content and the opportunities that I got to do. I mean, Thrawn’s arrival and Hayden’s introduction are some pretty cool things to be able to figure out. So, that was pretty exciting and had my hands full with those things. But, it was pretty great. And I’m glad there were, in the other episodes that I didn’t do, there were also fantastic things happening, obviously. Like Episode 5 and the finale also come to mind. Just really special."
Steelberg noted that he "didn’t have any input" on the footage featuring Ariana Greenblatt's younger version of Ahsoka since he was busy with his work on Episodes 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7:
"I didn’t have any input on that, to be quite honest. They were shooting that while I was shooting… Episode 4. And then the shooting of Episode 5, there was a little bit of overlap. So, I had my hands quite full with the other things. But I got to– I mean, I was on set for some of that stuff. But yeah, I wasn’t really involved in as much as… it would have been fun to be."
The biggest challenge was establishing "the look of the World Between Worlds" for the Episode 4 reveal of Anakin, asking the question, "How do we shoot it?" as effectively as possible with it being such a big moment in Ahsoka:
"But yeah, what they did, we worked a little bit backwards. What they were establishing in Episode 4 with sort of the look of the World Between Worlds is what we ended up adopting for the reveal at the end of Episode 4. So what Peter Ramsey and I ended up doing was having just to figure out like, how are we going to do the reveal? How are we gonna shoot it? Dave [Filoni] and Quyen [Tran], our other DP, are figuring out what it looks like. But, Peter and I had to figure out, ‘How do we shoot it? What’s the best, most fun way to introduce him?’ So, that was really exciting to do, because we know that would be a big moment particularly at the end of the episode.”
As for the most challenging part of shooting Ahsoka, Steelberg couldn't pick out one specific shot, although he did reveal that it was "the most [he'd] ever been asked to do in the shortest amount of time" for any of his projects:
"The whole production was pretty challenging, I’d say very challenging, in all aspects: creative, technical. It was the most I’d ever been asked to do in the shortest amount of time I’ve ever been asked to do it at a level of competency that… I’ve said before, it was like being thrown on to the Olympic team and possibly not being really ready for that. But yeah, in terms of the hardest… I don’t know what the most difficult was."
He specifically touched on the challenges of "shooting in the Volume or virtual LED set," comparing it to his experience using it in The Mandalorian and looking to improve on what was done there for this series:
"I would say, shooting in the Volume or virtual LED set was really challenging, because that was so new to me and it’s an evolving thing. So everybody’s doing it a little bit different when they use it. And so there’s the way that they’ve been using it on 'The Mandalorian' and those shows that we adopted, and inherited, and tried to improve upon as they do with every subsequent show that uses it down at that studio."
This became a particular challenge due to the task of having to "[match] something that’s very virtual with things that are very practical" paying tribute to the entire Ahsoka crew from both on the set and behind the scenes:
"So I’d say that’s… it’s not a specific scene, but I’d say that that technique and all those things we did in there required a lot more time, and a lot more planning, a lot more creative, and technical bandwidth to make happen, and to really blend, because you’re also matching something that’s very virtual with things that are very practical and built that exist in real life. So blending those two and making sure that they look the same or look like they’re part of the same show and world, it was really challenging and it’s just a testament to the crew I have and, and the on-set, and the virtual side that was helping us with it."
Although Steelberg came in as a huge Star Wars fan, there wasn't anything specific he had in mind to shoot, only learning about the story after being hired and realizing how many incredible moments he would get to shoot:
"There weren’t, because I mean, when I got, I just really wanted to read the scripts. I couldn’t wait. I wasn’t given anything before. I was just kind of pitched in a very vague way what the show was. And it wasn’t until I was hired, I was starting to learn about what the story was, and read some scripts, and not all of them were available to me when I started. But what I did read, I was just flabbergasted… This might sound silly, every scene I read like was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t wait to do that.’ And then it would be the next scene I was like, ‘How does this keep…’ Like, every scene there was something really cool about, and very different than anything I’d ever done before. I’d be like, ‘Ok, I’ve never done that. Oh, I can’t wait to do that. That’s gonna be fun. That’s gonna be hard. That’s gonna be exciting. A speeder bike going down the highway. How are we gonna do that? I have no idea.’ But like, hopefully, we can make that look really cool."
Before shooting began, the cinematographer "just had tons of questions for Dave Filoni" about what he had planned, wondering how the VFX crew would bring aspects like lightsabers, Lothcats, and droids to life:
"I just had tons of questions for Dave Filoni about his ideas and visions and it was made for very, very constructive, and fun, fun conversations. But yeah, I mean, I I know it’s fun to have a story and maybe like, ‘Oh, it was this shot, it was that thing.’ But, I mean, it was everything. And it was more of like, ‘That’s so cool. How the heck are we gonna do that? How is she gonna jump out of this control room with lightsabers through broken glass? How are we gonna do her getting attacked by a droid on a catwalk outside at night in a tall building.’ Like, ‘Really, a cat? How are we gonna do that? Is that gonna be CG? Oh, a droid! Like he’s in so much stuff Oh, he’s gonna be a puppet? Oh, that’s interesting. Oh, there’s always somebody puppetting him in all the shots. Ok.’ It was all exciting."
And while the challenge was a big one, the cinematographer was excited to embark on "things that were written that [seemed] very, very complicated" and knew that everything "was all gonna get done one way or the other:"
"Despite how hard it seemed, I was so excited to jump in and try it… And of course it could be done like anything can be done. You just gotta do it, you just gotta figure it out. And if you don’t, if you don’t have the luxury to necessarily solve it with finances, you solve it creatively, and we had to do that all the time, with these things that were written that seem very, very complicated. And that’s in all the episodes. And you knew it was all gonna get done one way or the other because it had to. And that’s what Dave [Filoni] wanted. So, it was just fantastic. I jumped all into it."
He even compared some of the moments in Ahsoka to what he saw in the Indiana Jones franchise, with Filoni and crew enjoying every moment of developing each new scene in the show:
"Every episode, every episode. Oh, she’s gonna fall through a hole and, and we’re gonna be in this underground lair, where she’s looking for this map, and the map comes out of this thing, and she breaks it out of this kind of sand, and it’s just… And I would start talking about how it felt like 'Indiana Jones' and Dave would say, ‘Yes, you know, it does.’ And that’s our conversation for that scene and, and we would go from a conversation based on that. It was just fantastic."
Will Ahsoka Get a Season 2 on Disney+?
Looking at the final moments of Ahsoka Season 1, the big question remaining is whether the series will move forward into a second season of adventures.
For now, Filoni remains hard at work on future shows and even a movie in the Mandoverse while Rosario Dawson's heroine and her future remain somewhat up in the air.
Season 1 of Ahsoka is now streaming in full on Disney+.