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Q: Where do you feel you got your chops, adventure documentaries, features or TV?
A: There is cross-collateralization between all these disciplines. When I do a dramatic work, I bring in the speed and inventiveness from documentaries and the ability to see what assets might be there in terms of lighting, equipment and available time. I can assess those because in a documentary you can’t control a lot of those things. Applying that mental process to dramatic work allows you to work much faster and more effectively and maximize what you’ve got.
On the other side of the equation, the methods of evoking dramatic relationships and feelings in narrative work can be applied to documentary filmmaking. For example, using the camera as a tool to express the story and to express the relationships, with the same kinds of angles and compositions and movements and interpretation that brings power to narrative pieces. When that sensibility is applied to non-fiction or documentary coverage, I believe that really helps raise the communication level even though there’s no written dialogue.
Q:What were your most important moments career-wise in moving from second- and third-unit photography to DPing a film?
A: I operated for cinematographer Peter Smokler for six seasons of HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show, and that gave me a great understanding of how to facilitate the creative process and how to leave a space for actors. I came to understand that it’s absolutely vital to keep the mechanism of production out of the way of the actors. Non-fiction or fiction, the most important thing we can do is minimize the impact of our presence when the actor comes into the scene so that they’re completely unencumbered by us.
Q: If you were assembling kit today for a video shoot involving rough water and terrain, what camera would you pack if you could only take one?
A: Assuming it was a TV documentary, I’d take the Panasonic DVX-100A. It’s small, reliable and makes great pictures and is suited to that kind of thing. On a feature, that’s a tougher choice. As soon as you get into 35mm, you need a support system. However, I think Super 16mm blow-up is extremely good these days. The new Kodak stocks keep getting better. I would take my trusty Aaton XTR and shoot in Super 16mm.
Q: What do you think of the recent introduction of inexpensive HDV cameras?
A: They’ll be excellent tools because of the physical size. For several years, I’ve been using the small cameras for inserts and unusual angles and cutaways. Personally I do not believe that the small size of these cameras’ chips allow the kind of photographic work that I prefer. However, for deep focus, wide lens applications and unusual mount angles, they’re great.
Q: Are you interested in the mega-def cameras: Arri D-20, Panavision Genesis, Dalsa’s Origin, GVG’s Viper?
A: I love these cameras. I think the most significant of them is the D-20. The Viper and the Dalsa are fabulous technological achievements and I’m very happy that so many people like to use them. But I hadn’t seen any reason to embrace video production at that level until suddenly the D-20 came along. As far as I’m concerned, we can happily go into electronic origination at that level. The D-20 has 10.5 stops of latitude and is essentially a 3K chip. And since it’s a single CCD, with an image size exactly the same as the 35mm frame, it means that all the artistry and expertise that we’ve developed over the years with so many lenses and accessories can now be applied directly to electronic origination.
I also have to say that I may be a bit of a radical but I’m not in favor of all this push towards video because I think 35mm is a wonderful medium. It’s been refined and it can easily be transferred onto 2K or 4K so you can work electronically after origination. Digital is a wonderful distribution and exhibition medium, but frankly it’s beyond me why everyone is so gonzo to dump 35mm in favor of digital. It baffles me. Film is wonderful and always has been.
"I enjoyed the Jimmy Neutron movie more than Star Wars. Jimmy was funny – but I could give a f*** about the characters in Star Wars."