What is your personal style?
I gear myself to the subject matter of the film and try to never repeat
myself. I think many of us are chameleons and I think that’s okay. I’m
very drawn to the human face. I always want to see eyes. Even if it’s a
moody film, I like to light peoples’ eyes because they’re so
expressive. I usually light my background first, or I light the set
first and then I light the people.
Has having been a gaffer impacted you as a cinematographer?
When I walk into a room, even if I’m not working, I see in light. It doesn’t matter if it’s practical or nature-made.
Talk about your process.
Because I have an art history background, I’m often referring to other
visual artists, painters and photographers. I also like to refer to
other films- both for what a director might be looking for and not
looking for. It’s so crucial to establish that vocabulary, that
language with the director, before production begins. On Your Friends
& Neighbors
, Neil LaBute, production designer Charles Breen and I
focused on the [Edward] Hopper color palette. On Stranger Inside,
director Cheryl Dunye and I watched a lot of prison movies and made a
conscious effort not to emulate any of the expected visual stereotypes.
Testing is really important.
Talk about about your experiences shooting digitally.
When I walk into a room, even if I’m not working, I see in light. It doesn’t matter if it’s practical or nature-made.
I shot two movies in high-def. One is Red Roses and Petrol, directed by
Tamar Simon Hoffs. For that film, I did all the color-correction in
camera. HD afforded me the luxury of making my own digital
intermediate, basically. I could make it look like Ireland, though we
shot in Santa Clarita. The other HD movie was The Failures, which Tim
Hunter directed, which is not out yet.
When November came along, [director] Greg Harrison really wanted to
make a very filmic, cinematic movie even though it was digital. It was
a fantastic collaboration. Before the Panasonic DVX-100 came out last
year, I wasn’t a huge fan of shooting movies on a MiniDV camera. I own
a three-chip camera, which I used on certain scenes in Blair Witch 2.
Since that time, I use it only for scouting and family events since I
felt that the image quality was inferior once projected on a 30-foot
screen. With this Panasonic camera, which was the only 24p MiniDV
camera at the time, I knew I would be able to control the color palette
and handle the imagery in a more sophisticated way, so I could really
push the limits of the medium.
What type of material lends itself to being shot digitally?
It really depends on what kind of film it is- and choices of budget.
Recently I was prepping a comedy for director Maria Maggenti which
unfortunately fell through. We opted not to use MiniDV as it was too
gritty a look for the subject matter. For a New York comedy, where
you’re holding on shots for a long time and you want the actors to play
within the frame, I felt there wasn’t enough resolution, especially in
the wide shots. Our choice was to use the Panasonic AJ-SDX900, still
digital and inexpensive, but with a much cleaner look than MiniDV and a
pleasingly softer, more pastel color imagery than HD.
It’s ironic how much effort we spend trying to degrade clean film
stocks and HD, but that’s what’s exciting: having so many choices in
determining the look or palette of a film. MiniDV already has a
degraded look built-in. The problem is an inherent lack of sharpness,
or resolution. Often it’s better to start with a more expensive camera
and degrade. But sometimes budgets are too limited and filmmakers want
to avoid the "presence" of a large camera on the set. What’s wonderful
today is the abundance of options to explore. The world is changing
rapidly both in digital and film and there isn’t one "right" way to
make movies.