The Acolyte DP Chris Teague Talks 'Difficult' Sith Introduction, High Republic Visuals, Season 2 Prospects & More (Exclusive)

By Russ Milheim Posted:
The Acolyte logo, Master Sol, new Sith Lord

The director of photography for The Acolyte shared that introducing the show’s new Sith Lord was an "extremely difficult" moment.

Lucasfilm's newest Star Wars Disney+ series takes place roughly 100 years before Episode 1, toward the end of an extended period of peace across the galaxy known as The High Republic. However, that threatens to change when the Jedi start dropping dead, leading the story to explore the hidden activities of the infamous Sith.

[ Star Wars The Acolyte Cast, Characters & Actors (Photos) ]

The Acolyte's Chris Teague on Introducing a New Sith Lord

Sith in The Acolyte
Star Wars

In an exclusive interview with The Direct’s Russ Milheim, The Acolyte Director of Photography (DP), Chris Teague (who worked on Episodes 1, 2, 4, and 5), spoke about introducing the new Sith Lord and bringing The High Republic to life.

One of the most interesting aspects of The Acolyte is how it establishes a Sith Lord, who gave themselves quite the entrance in Episode 4 as they floated down from the forest canopy to destroy the group of Jedi.

"That introduction was one of the things that we probably had the most number of conversations about," the filmmaker explained, adding that "it was extremely difficult" to pull off:

"Yeah, I mean, that introduction was one of the things that we probably had the most number of conversations about how to do this and how to make it look right. You are really threading a needle, where you want to do something that has the appropriate level of gravitas, but without feeling overly kind of magical, or like, without nodding to some other creature, or some other thing that you've seen before in a film. There's so much out there that people will potentially associate it with other characters. And so it was, it was extremely difficult... We played around with a lot of ideas."

One key technique that they utilized to make the Sith Lord seem "unnatural" was "shooting some of the motion backward:"

"One of the things we ended up playing around with, which I thought was very successful, is shooting some of the motion backward, basically, having the performer move backward and then reversing the footage in post so that the movements just have a little bit of an unnatural feeling to them. And it's a very subtle effect when he kind of floats down to the ground during his intro; we shot that both ways."

"It’s subtle," the DP explained, but "it does create a little bit of that kind of uncanny effect:"

"We shot it actually in a forward motion with him floating down and also with his kind of gliding backward and then reversing the footage. And it's subtle, but it does create a little bit of that kind of uncanny effect. And that was a word we used a lot. How do you get that feeling of like, this looks real but doesn't quite feel right to me? And because of that, it's unsettling. I mean, that was the target for us."

While Episode 4 ended on a cliffhanger, Episode 5 promises to be a crazy installment for fans.

"It’s just nonstop action," Teague teased, saying how there was "a real concern that you’re going to exhaust your audience:"

"It's just nonstop action. Action is incredibly challenging to photograph and execute. There are so many shots involved; there's so much specific choreography involved. So, it takes an incredible amount of planning and coordination across departments. And the other thing, too, when you're creating that much action in one short span of time, there's a real concern that you're going to exhaust your audience."

He elaborated that they wanted "each action sequence [to give] its own rhythm," with "each fight [having] its own sense of stakes and power dynamics:"

"And so it became very important that each action sequence had its own rhythm, each character had their own style, and each fight had its own sense of stakes and power dynamics. And I think that really comes across in Episode 5 in a way that makes the tension kind of ramp up beautifully. And it just feels like this onslaught and in a really intense way... Even though we're a Star Wars show, we're not a big blockbuster feature film, so we don't quite have the time and resources that might come along with having a bigger budget feature film."

"There is an expediency and efficiency that you need to kind of approach these things with," the filmmaker said:

"So, there is an expediency and efficiency that you need to kind of approach these things with, and that means this really incredible planning and coordination across all departments and really getting on board with the action designer [Chris Clark Cown] and stunt coordinator and figuring out the best methods of execution and understanding how much of this is going to be second unit, how much of it is going to be main unit. At the same time, how will we photograph this in a way that shows it in the most dynamic, exciting way possible, and highlights the incredible fight choreography of all these performers?"

Another standout element of The Acolyte is its addition of a handful of new aliens and creatures to the iconic franchise.

On working with the many creatures and aliens of the Star Wars franchise, Teague admires "the whole conceptualization process" involved:

"There's this whole conceptualization process, right, creating a creature… how much of it will be practical? How much of it is going to be a digital effect? And we always tended to go in the direction of trying to do something practical. So we have, Bazil is, I mean, I think almost entirely on screen as a performer in a creature costume. That makes things easier in some ways because you have a real person to photograph."

The filmmaker praised how these performers faced "incredible challenges" to bring the aliens and creatures to life:

"What I witnessed is the incredible challenges these performers go through in performing and moving in these incredible costumes, trying to see where you're going and move in a realistic way. I mean, I was really impressed by the amount of work. And the kind of team effort that went into rehearsing and guiding our performers to get the movements and the behaviors down in a way that felt real and really fun to watch."

One of the DP’s favorite creatures was the new droid, Pip, a Walkman-like companion to Amandla Stenberg’s Oshaz

The filmmaker admitted that when he first saw the drawings for the character, "the hair stood up on the back of [his] neck:"

"I've always loved Pip from the beginning. I mean, I remember the hair stood up on the back of my neck in that first meeting where I saw the first drawings of Pip. And I thought, 'Wow, this is going to be really, really special.' I also think of the bartender in the opening scene. I mean, every time I see that shot of the bartender, and you tilt down, and you see his little kid grabbing his leg, I mean, it always chokes me up a little bit. It's just so adorable and so kind of heartbreaking. And I'm just so overwhelmed by how Neil Scanlon and his team were able to create that stuff and make it feel so emotive. It's just, it's really phenomenal. It's really special."

When filming with Pip, the DP confirmed that a "vast majority of it was in camera," with production making several different physical versions of the character:

"The vast majority of it was in camera, and there were multiple Pips with different abilities. So, for certain shots, you'd use one Pip or the other. And then when it came to some of the special tools, that's where the effects came in and added those things, whether it was picking a lock, or doing a little electricity, zap, or something like that. We have some phenomenal VFX in the show."

As great as practical elements are for production, Teague reiterated that a marriage of both is always better at the end of the day:

"I know there's certainly a trend these days to talk about doing everything practically and in camera, and I love that, I think that's very important. But certainly, for this show, it was all about doing that, in the spirit of giving visual effects is many elements, and real textures and real things to kind of work with, for them to create their magic, which I think always ends up in better results, basically, and feels more integrated into the environment that we've already photographed."

With The Acolyte, Chris Teague was challenged to help create a unique project for the Star Wars universe, which took place in an entirely new era never seen in live-action.

"It’s a real challenge to step into something with such pedigree and history," he said, noting how it was important for the show to get "its own style:"

"It's a real challenge to step into something with such a pedigree and history where you want to honor all the amazing work that's been made up until this point, but you also recognize that this is its own show and deserves its own style. But I think we were trying to do something that both harkened back to the original three films that felt more handmade and had more texture, density, and grit."

One of the elements of the series that helped create its unique style was "this martial arts component," which "worked together beautifully" with the world of Star Wars:

"But then also added this very new component of this martial arts component, which introduced a new kind of style of visual storytelling, which was really exciting. We always felt like, even though it's sort of a different genre, the two worked together beautifully. In terms of Star Wars, we always felt like George Lucas had a less is more ethos, striving towards simplicity, and in the visual storytelling, and really just moving the camera when it really meant something. The result of doing that would mean that our visuals would have more of an impact than just being an overwhelming flood of imagery."

"We were there to use the camera to really highlight the fight choreography," Teague said:

"And it was a similar approach to the martial arts component where we're very influenced by wuxia films, like, 'Come Drink With Me' and 'Lady Snowblood,’ and later films like, 'Kill Bill' and 'Crouching Tiger,’ where, I mean, the camera work is exceptional, but it never overshadows the incredible fight choreography of these films. And so we were there to use the camera to really highlight the fight choreography. And so to try to make sure when the camera travels through frame, it's traveling in relationship to the performers. And when it pushes in or moves, it's in key moments or, really taking advantage of those moments of stillness."

The DP explained how "a great action scene has these moments of intensity punctuated by these moments of stillness:"

"A great action scene has these moments of intensity punctuated by these moments of stillness, which we felt was very important. So, as we started to put all those things together in our visual guide that we were presenting, creating for the show, it felt like an easy combination. Those two elements kind of really resonated together in a way that I thought was nice."

"I feel like the opening fight sequence within Indara and Mae encapsulates so much of it," which the filmmaker added was inspired "by Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid:"

"And I feel like the opening fight sequence within Indara and Mae encapsulates so much of it. It has the martial arts component, but it also has an iconic Star Wars location. It has a look to me. I was very much inspired by Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid to create something that felt almost like a Western—a stranger walks into town, and a battle erupts. It's really fun to do all those components and still have those awesome Star Wars elements like the creatures, the droids, the pill-shaped lights, and everything. For some reason, it all felt like it all fit together really well."

The Acolyte also excels at using more practical locations than most Star Wars projects today, much like Andor.

As for how they chose when to build practical locations versus creating a VFX one, "a lot of those decisions [came] down to how big the set needs to be and how much screen time it’s going to get:"

"Yeah, a lot of those decisions come down to how big the set needs to be and how much screen time it's going to get. If we're going to be spending a whole episode-- four and five, for the most part, were in this incredible magical forest. And Dagobah was a big influence on the look of that. That meant it should be built..."

"There are very few sets where we’re doing a majority bluescreen," the filmmaker confirmed, using the big forest set in Episode 4 as an example:

"We found a ginormous warehouse in the Arborfield stages in the UK. We filled it up very quickly with an array of real-life plants and gigantic trees. Knowing that would encompass almost two entire episodes meant we would put a lot of resources into that. There are very few sets where we're doing a majority bluescreen."

Teague revealed that they initially conceived "some of the elements of Coruscant" as "being half or three-quarters blue screen" but ended up creating more physical sets than originally intended: 

"As I think about it, some sets, like some of the elements of Coruscant, were initially conceived as being half or three-quarters blue screen. Then, as we went down the road and iterated on the designs, we found ways to make the sets work so that we could build more of it than we initially thought possible and use a blue screen more as a deep background set extensions and stuff like that. And that just all goes back to the aesthetic we're after, trying to do, which is much of it as real spaces and sort of handmade and classic looking."

But will the filmmaker be involved in Season 2 if it’s greenlit?

"I hope to be," Teague said, reiterating how Season 1 "was an incredible ride:"

"I really, I hope to be. It feels like there's a lot of positive energy behind Season 1. So I guess we're gonna see what happens. But I had the time of my life working on Season 1. I loved working with Leslye [Headland], and it was just a top-notch crew. And just moments where I was walking through the set, and I look over, and there's a Wookiee standing over there getting their costume ready. And I just had to pinch myself and say, 'I can't, just can't believe I'm here right now.' So yeah, it was it was an incredible ride."

The Acolyte is streaming on Disney+.

Read more about The Acolyte on The Direct:

The Acolyte's Ki Adi Mundi Age Controversy Explained

Who Is The Acolyte? New Episode Confirms Identity of Sith Apprentice

Star Wars: The Acolyte Release Date Schedule of Episodes (Confirmed)

- In This Article: The Acolyte
Release Date
June 04, 2024
Amandla Stenberg
Dafne Keen
Jodie Turner-Smith
- About The Author: Russ Milheim
Russ Milheim is the Industry Relations Coordinator at The Direct. On top of utilizing his expertise on the many corners of today’s entertainment to cover the latest news and theories, he establishes and maintains communication and relations between the outlet and the many studio and talent representatives.