In this episode of the podcast, Clarke talks with the Canadian cinematographer Chris Lew about working in commercials and pushing past the mediocre.
Welcome Mr. Lew, you ready? You want to kick into this? I think I’m good to go. Alright. So the question I asked everyone is, Who are you? What do you do and how’d you get to stop?
My name is Christopher Lew. I’m a cinematographer. And I was living in Toronto for about seven, eight years. And then just this past March, my partner and I moved to Brooklyn. So we’re here in New York now. But why Brooklyn? Why don’t you Why not la? Ah, I just love the city. We love the city environment. I also I mean, LA is great, but I am somebody who craves the seasons. I like kind of when it gets cold. And as we actually just had our first snowfall today in New York, which is really exciting. But yeah, I need that sort of change in environment, just personally. And the city is just there’s just so much here. I love it here. So yeah, I don’t know if I could do LA. Right. Too much some too much sun hits a drive everywhere. But yeah, it’s nice. So you’ve been once a week a we came here in March 1. So it’s been about what is that nine months? You know, I’m on say, okay, eight or nine months? Yeah. All right.
And and the, what were you doing before that? So you said you’re in Toronto? I guess take take us back to the the the genesis of your story, like, how did you get to stop?
I mean, if you want to go like back, I’d say kind of started in high school I had. I grew up in a small city about an hour outside of Toronto, called gwelf, Ontario. And I was just huge. And in Comtech technical communications, it was basically just a giant room that had a bunch of old PCs in it with an Adobe Suite. And we had this really amazing contact teacher, who basically just gave us total freedom. He said, You know, this is the start of the semester. I don’t care what you do. You can spend your time however, you want to just have something to show for it that you’re proud of at the very end of it, which was hugely influential for me. So he they had cameras, they had the software afterwards to edit it. I got really big into. I don’t know if you know video copilot?
I do. What’s the dude’s name? I’m blanking on his name. That’s right. Yeah, I’ve Dude, I would have what am I purchase off? My back in the jail? I mean, 10 years ago, I purchased some stuff off them.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, same. Yeah, it was, I was like, obsessed with watching his tutorials. And I would just like play around with, I was really just playing. And that’s kind of how I learned visual effects and different things like exposure and creating 3d cameras within within the software. So it kind of at the same time, I was learning about visual effects and cinematography. At the time, I didn’t know it was cinematography, specifically, I think, like a lot of people who get into it, they I thought I was just going to be a director, like a big Hollywood director. And then eventually, at the end, you’re laughing at yourself when you said that, look, they look like you got, like, I actually thought that. I know. I mean, it just kind of seems like a cliche. But um, yeah,
I think I think you’re right. I think many, many people do that. Many people do think that. I think there’s, I’ve heard many cinematographers say that they want to be a director and that, but the camera just called out to the light called out to them.
Yeah, exactly. So yeah, that was at the end of my high school career. And then it was at that point that we were having to figure out where we wanted to go. For, for college, or university, and I was just like, I love movies. I love making movies in contact class. And I’m really lucky that I have, at least my mom was super super. I mean, I’m not trying to pick favorites. But my mom is super supportive. And she’s in the arts, my dad from Hong Kong, he’s like, very just like he wanted me and my sisters to just be in like our math or science or that kind of thing. But my mom was super supportive of it. And so she was just like, do whatever you want to do. So I went for it, I went to this college in Oakville, which is further from gwelf, a bit closer to Toronto. And I was there for about four years. And it was like a general media program. So it’s like, they sort of taught you everything you had like a sound class, you had camera, film theory, that sort of thing. But it was through there that I really realized that it was I was just drawn to how everything looked. I found that when I was in film school, the one thing I was always focusing on was making sure anything I ever did, didn’t look like a film student project. So it was sort of there that I realized that it was cinematography, that was sort of my calling. And so it’s I just naturally started becoming the guy who would shoot people’s film projects, or school projects.
So this is this is still high school, right? This is in college now. Okay, college. Okay. Yeah. So I was in the media arts program and
slowly started shooting a lot of people’s work, and met some amazing writers and directors there who I’m still in touch with today. And made some really some films that I’m really proud of like, even today, I’ll look back on it. And it’s something I shot maybe like eight years ago, I’ll be like, Fuck, that’s like, it’s better than some stuff I’m doing today. But yeah, that was it. I was in school, and then after, share it in what it was at our school was you got an internship for the second half of your semester. And so I got an internship at this company. That was a branch of our college. That was called cert, which stood for screen industries Research and Training Center. And it was a great, a really great place to work. I think it was the only internship that actually paid you. For one, all the other ones were just you had to work for free, which was a big, a big thing back in my year. But it was really interesting, because they basically, they just experimented with whatever was the latest filmmaking technology. So I think before I had joined there, they were all about testing. stereoscopic 3d, because this was at the time of like, avatar,
3d and James Cameron has really pushed in 3d. I remember thinking, I saw one I think, I can’t remember what it was what it was like. I think it was the Scorsese course, because Scorsese did the one with the training. It wasn’t whatever that Yeah, and I was like, I can’t do this. This is this is fucking it’s a joke. It’s a it’s there’s nothing 3d about it. In fact, I would say that cinema when cinema has done really well, cinema is 3d. But the third dimension is not visual. It’s mental. It draws you into the story. And that’s you become a part of that world through the characters. So it’s 3d, but not visually. Anyway, that’s just a sawn off. I can hate 3d. If it didn’t get back on your ladder. I’m glad it stayed.
Yeah, now, it didn’t last very long. But yeah, just before I joined, it was 3d. And then when I joined it was it was like high resolution and high frame rate. So this was an 4k was becoming a standard. Most of the camera manufacturers were starting to explore 4k 5k 6k was like, read. And then this was also around the time of Peter Jackson doing the audit. So that’s
the night on 49 Thank you just pick it on 24 leaving fucking 24 because it’s worked for 100 years, and has to has something to do. It’s a wonder it’s a wonder some neuroscience neuroscientist hasn’t done something because it must be related to vision. And, and something to do with the brain. It has to be because 24 just works. It’s always worked and it will always work. Unless we morph into mutants that are Yeah, anyway.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, when I when I was there, I think the biggest argument towards it was because of 3d and because of the extra frames that it helps the stereoscopic effect, especially when you’re in There’s a lot of camera movement, it can be very, it can just be very disorienting with all the amount of motion artifacts that you see. But I mean, 3d was pretty much drying up at that point anyway, so But anyways, I yeah, I was there for about a year and a half, two years, which was great. It was me, another student of mine and we worked under this. Man, we were so scared of him at the time, he was this older, like this old school Hollywood guy who had like an ASC accreditation and a CSC accreditation. So we were like, Oh my God, this guy’s like, God. He’s the real deal. Yeah. And he was just like, he’s the biggest hardest, you know, he’s like, classic Hollywood. Like, he didn’t take shit from us at all. I think the first thing when we got there, because we worked in this big studio that just had like cameras lying around and all of this equipment. And at the back there was just giant, like an industrial sink kind of workbench thing. And it was just like, black with dirt and paint and all of this gunk. And I it was the first day we were there. And he’s like, Alright, you guys need to clean this and make it spotless. So we just basically spent like a week scrubbing the sink.
And we did it. That’s all. That’s all. My father was in the construction industry. And on school holidays, I sometimes go and work there. And one time, I was working with an old guy, and he asked me to go into the office to ask the foreman for a left handed screwdriver. I did it I was about 14 Classic. Yeah. And I went in there and I walked up to the formula and said, Hey, Steve, Bob wants me his name was fat Bob. Bob wants a left handed screwdriver. And he he turned for me. He turned around because I was kind of talking to his back. He turned around, he looked at me as if to say, Are you really that fucking dumb?
And the look on his face is like left handed. Yeah. Yeah, I know that kind of I know that kind of man. Yeah, let’s, let’s put him through a trial and see how he handles it.
Exactly. That’s exactly who this guy was. But we did it. We scrubbed that thing and made it spotless. And we definitely go on his good side after that, I think he was a little nicer and nicer to us after that. But yeah, I was there. And we we worked. We worked there for about a year and a half. And it was also during that time that I started to work as like a freelancer myself. And it was because of the people that I met in college. Like a lot of the the people, students have my students of mine people who I went to school with, they went on to become like production managers or blind producers, they would put in the good word for me and help me get on to projects. Like if it was some sort of corporate thing, they would mention my name, and then I’d get on a job here and there. And then I’d also do music videos and short films, that kind of thing. But this job, this internship that I had was a five day a week job. And the longer I was doing these freelance projects, the more I was finding I was getting, and it became more and more difficult to actually have time to do them. So I was really just trying to fit it in on weekends. And there were a few instances where I called in sick, I can’t remember what it did. I think I called in sick or I tried to get out of a day of work at this internship. And then my manager found out and he just like reamed me out so hard like I didn’t think it’d be a big deal because he was a cinematographer. And it was like, Well, I’m trying to be a cinematographer. Like, these are jobs that I’m getting. And he was just like, he wasn’t having it. So I got in trouble a little bit, a few times, but eventually, I just my contract was coming to an end and I told myself, I’m just gonna try this and do it. So I left the internship because I was getting paid over that time, I had sort of built up a good little nest egg. And that kind of gave me confidence to to just go out and give it a try. And so I did and I just worked odd jobs. You know, it’s kind of like the classic thing, I’m just doing corporate videos. I was kind of just taking anything that was given to me and trying to figure it out as I went along myself. You know, it’s it’s funny that you say that like sort of getting taken advantage of because I mean, I don’t think it was ever that severe for me. I like I was never really cheated out of free work. But it’s not like I knew how to value myself, you know, I didn’t know, how much am I supposed to be charging people like if I, and then you, you get stressed out of like, oh, if I charge to hire, they’re going to be offended? And am I never going to work again? Or is this not enough and am I being taken advantage of. So it was, it was like a good two years of that kind of just stressing over every single job like I don’t know if, if I’m making the right decision here or not. But in between that doing and making sure I had time to do other projects that me and my partner hyoscine was a we’ve been together for eight years now. And she’s also a writer, director, she started as an editor and she’s, she’s now a director. And we always work on projects together. We always do sort of our own. I guess you say they’re their passion projects. But throughout that time, we’re always we were always making time to do that sort of thing. And I think it was really, those projects were insanely important to my success with people outside of our relationship. Because I think just on like a very basic level when we did something, I mean, we had no money we were just paying for for ourselves. But it was total, complete and total creativity and freedom and just no self consciousness, no pressure from external sources. And I just found that that kind of created the best work naturally, because we just were it wasn’t work. It was just fun. We were just making things. So yeah, this was around the time when I’d left my internship, I actually spent a good chunk of the money I’d saved up on a, an area for 35 camera package that I’d found on eBay. Because this was also I mean, this was also at the time when Vimeo was really huge. I mean, I think Vimeo still is huge. I think it’s sort of gone through a weird port a weird, something weird is going on with Vimeo right now. I think what’s interesting, I’m
like, Yeah, a few years there. I know, technically that. I mean, I’ve stopped using, certainly for anything that’s critical that it doesn’t buffer. And I don’t know, whether it’s what it’s like in in in the States, but I’ve got I got really, really good high speed, Internet, and nearly everything that I play on Vimeo buffers, I get people that send me reels, I get people that that, you know, send me work. Students that will send me stuff for me to look at. And if it’s on Vimeo, you know, I’m not going to short films. So 20 minute short film to have a look at. And as soon as I say it’s vimeos lock off, I really play the thing. And I’m so busy. I don’t have the time to sit and wait for it to buffer. No, I don’t know what that’s all about. But it’s me. I know I need to pick the game up. But then you’ve got one of my favorite all time directors. Neary barrage alone is a Turkish director. He’s got his latest film that had some awards, calm the one before that won the Palme d’Or, his latest film. So he’s put up all of the behind the scenes documentaries of the making of his films, except they are six hours of document documentary. So you can sit there and you get the minutiae of how he directs. So, you know, for me, that’s just fantastic. So I think it’s a platform that still has, it’s still relevant, and it could have a massive, particularly in the indie world and self distribution. Hmm. I don’t know if you heard of what happened with the the self distribution company, the aggregator in the Allied distribute, distribute. I think that’s how you pronounce it. Yeah. Just about they. I don’t want to say anything. They’re in trouble. They went bankrupt. Yeah. Okay, so now to get your stuff on Amazon, iTunes worldwide. There’s a big player that’s out of the game. But more importantly than that, because they did go belly up the confidence in the industry around distributing your own films. And I’ve shot a feature that’s I was looking at just just drew about in order to distribute my own film. I’ve put that on hold now because of what happened with those guys. I don’t want to put it on Vimeo. Because Vimeo doesn’t it doesn’t have the same kind of prestige. So you it’s, yeah, it’s it is it’s in a funny place.
Yeah. I’ve lost my train of thought where was I? We’re talking about them. You
have no idea, man, let’s let’s move on to the second question. I mean, you were kind of you were starting to segue into that, so so it’s probably a good time to move on. So the second question is, what’s the one unique or even strange thing you do or have done? There’s been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Um, that’s a really good question. It’s really tough to pinpoint it down onto one thing. But one thing that I do think that I try to do with every project, especially in commercials, and I think this is kind of what relates to what I was saying about my relationship with hire, and how we work together. When I started freelancing, and after I got an agent for the first time, it was a really difficult time for me to navigate that whole world, I didn’t have any sort of prior knowledge, or I hadn’t even really spoken to many people who had gone through that to get their advice on it, and how to just know where to go and handle that world. So a lot of it, I was just kind of figuring it out as I went along. Which was tough at the time, because it was just a lot of uncertainty. And I think even today, I’m still figuring it out. But something that I always tried to do, and it took a while to kind of build my confidence in trying to do it was always ask the director. If I can just get one, I basically was call it like a fun take. I’ll say, Can I just do like one one fun take where there’s no pressure, you know, we’ll just see what happens maybe, and I’ll maybe suggest, you sort of have to feel it out. But maybe I’ll go so far as to suggest like an action that the talent can do or changing the set in some way. But asking for a fun take where I can just sort of totally throw everything out the window and feel it out myself and just let something happen on its own.
And you’d have to find a rod directive for that, because I
wouldn’t like it.
You wouldn’t be? Yeah, not because I’m a hot ass, or I want to control everything, but it’s definitely something related to control. So if you’ve got a good relationship with a director, and the director is open to that kind of thing, because to me, it feels like you’re stepping into you’re stepping into directing. Like, that’s my that’s my world, motherfucker. Same thing, like, I might have suggestions for cinematography. And I’ve heard you know, stories of Kubrick firing a director, because it’s lucky. I want to 25 and I want the dollar here late and I’ll be back in an hour, it comes back and the dude’s push the camera back, I think was cool, I think was Gordon Willis. So it’s not just a dude, it’s like, you know, a fantastic cinematographer. It’s a 50. And the dollies, like, four feet away from where Kubrick asked for it. And he was like, that’s not what I wanted. I wanted 25 on the dollar here. So yeah, you got an hour to do what I told you, or you’re fired. I can’t even remember what movie it was. But apparently that’s what happened. Yeah. And actually, I think I heard that on a podcast called craft truck, scan it. And, and I think it’s the Gordon Willis interview. So I think it’s gotten more, but I could be completely wrong. Because it’s my it might be eight years ago, though I listen to that. Because he’s now he’s now dead. Right. So you, I think you do need to be careful on my set that wouldn’t fly. Yeah. The action bit is the thing that I don’t like. You You want to direct my talent?
Well, yeah, no. And I think that’s interesting. And I think you’re totally valid. I think you’re absolutely right. If you have to, it’s not something that I will just go ahead and do. It’s something you definitely have to feel out. Which I think also contributes to just also knowing who you’re collaborating with and establishing that relationship as early on as possible. So that you have an understanding of who you’re working with and that that trust is there. Because Yeah, I can absolutely see how it may not be.
It could maximize basically. So I mean, you have reason why I’m pushing back is that you call this out as the one thing that you’ve done, that’s been the biggest contributor to your success, but it’s a risky strategy. Because I can see why you’re doing it, you want to you want to make certain that you’ve got the best images. But in doing that, there’s the implication of kind of implies that what we just got not good enough. So I want to try something new. So what you’re actually saying is, you’re to the director, indirectly. And perhaps that’s not your that’s not even your intention. But someone and maybe this is more of a reflection of my ego, but maybe the person who you’re saying that to will feel like that you kind of slapping them. That’s not good enough. Let’s try. Let’s try a What do you call it a happy take? I mean, I’d say like a fun take fun. Take fun time. Yeah, yeah. Okay. But what Yeah, so but but let’s, let’s dig in that because there’s the into that, what is it that you’re trying to achieve through doing that?
Well, I going back to what I was saying about, I think it always comes back to my my relationship with hyah, my partner because I and I keep coming back to her because I think she is the closest creative, collaborative relationship that I have. Because we’re not only partners, and as far as relationship, but we also work together, which creates a really interesting, dynamic, but I think you’re a risk taker clearly. But I think you really have to be, especially in this kind of field. I agree with that. But yeah, I mean, I keep coming back to that, because I always found when I went out there, and I started doing these projects, and I got an agent, and I was getting thrown in with all of these random directors who I’d never worked with. I’m just out of, you know, college and film school. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to communicate with these people. So I think I was really quickly building up all these walls. And when high and I would do these projects together outside of that, which I mean, these, these other projects that I did would pay me really well. It was incredible. And when I got that agent, it was the first time that I no longer had to stress about, you know, working out that financial transaction and that whole side of it. So it paid us to be able to do these other projects. But I think what I found doing that, and then coming back to us, and that sort of back and forth was how just open and liberating it was, and creative it was. And I found that not only was I happier, creatively and emotionally being on set doing those things, but the work was just so much. I mean, it’s such a blanket thing, but it was just better. It was just it felt more honest, I think the the the performances that we got the the things that we were trying were more risky, which I think always paid off. And so I think that was something I quickly became aware of and was something that I really tried to push into the other work that I was doing, I was trying to tear down that wall of, you know, passion projects, and work and commercial work, and trying to make it all one space where it’s just let’s just create and make something exciting and and and see what happens. But I think you’re absolutely right. And it has definitely backfired on me before I’ve tried that with other directors. And it’s not like anybody’s sort of exploded on me. But I’ll sometimes just hear like, no, we’re not trying that or we’re not doing that.
Please don’t do that. I don’t ask you to work that I asked you back basically. Yeah, yeah. Okay. So I think what I agree with what you’re saying, I’m passion projects are important, because it’s where you get to play. And yeah, they’re there. There’s no, there’s no risk in fucking up. So you actually do want to try and you mentioned you said before that you you know, you don’t the risk that we took always came through, like it was always good. If you’re doing that, then you’re not actually you’re not pushing enough. You got to push to the point where, okay, actually, that doesn’t work. It’s too dark for that. Like I showed a brand a doc years ago. And I wanted it to look, it was like dark and moody. It was for it was the prostate cancer thing I was telling you about earlier. This was five day mark two days. So you know, back in the day when we thought we could push that camera, you know, past 3200. And I did and I wanted to and and i rationalize it by saying this is about death. It’s about cancer. I want it to look gritty. I want it to look dirty. And I mentioned to you that I love that in the city spots that that you did. For those exact reasons it’s raw. It’s It’s It’s grainy, but it’s it’s fucking duty. And I love that I love punk music so that kind of feel and that’s what I wanted to do. So in that in that for that spot. As a brand new documentary. I turned the lights off In the in the opening shot is two feet and two feet are supposed to represent a morgue. So you know, when you pull a dead body out of a slab, that’s the opening shot of a piece of advertising is the bottom of an old man’s to the bottom of his feet. But I turned the lights off in the place a little bit of room coming through venetian blinds, and then pump the ISO. So looks like the thing was falling apart. And this is five D Mark two days. So you know, you go above 1600 on that thing. And that thing starts to break down. I think I was like, I was about 30 to 3200. And why am I telling you that risk? Yeah, I look at that today. And it’s like, Damn, it hasn’t held up. Like I can the story is great. I he is he’s just recently passed. So I looked at it again. The story holds up the image is dark. And I’m I wish now I hadn’t have pushed so far. Um, but in doing that, I mean that I learned a lot from that from that man from that story from that minute whole experience. And, and then that was that was the that was the first thing that I did when I pivoted, as I mentioned earlier, before we started recording. So yeah, that was a really important time in my life. That all came about because I was pushing pushing really hard. So you’ve got to as a as an artist, but if you push too much, you’ll be poor. So you’ve got to have strategy behind it, which is kind of my point for pushing back on you a little bit. It’s I think the strategy is in pushing in order to get better. And then just being when you take that into the commercial world has to be for the betterment of the of the brand. If the you know, if the clients I’m going to get a business results from it, then they’re going to be unhappy, which is rare. Yeah. Actually, can we talk about the about that spot? That the Mercedes Mercedes spot? Yeah, absolutely. So tell us a little bit about it.
Yeah, so that was a spot I did. In 2018, it was a Would you say that you pushed on it,
because when I came across your work and I I looked at that I looked at the the kind of narrative work you did not look to the commercial. That particular spot really stood out for me. Particularly, particularly because it is kind of raw and dirty and grainy. Was it shot film because it almost looks like 16?
No, we shot that on the mirror with and I don’t even remember us ultra Prime’s okay. We show it on the mirror with ultra primes. But I definitely when I graded it, I added some grain I tried to like dirty it up a little bit. Yeah, good. I love it, man. Well, thank you
spoke about that spot before beforehand. Because I pulled that I, when I saw that, like I really had a quite a visceral feeling as I watched it, and I don’t do I don’t have that very often these days. I see a lot of work. That’s part of it. So it really it really spoke to me. So I’d love to know more about that. And I know that it kind of went pear shaped at the end. We don’t have to talk about that. But I do think the story that you told me about what happened afterwards is important for what we were just talking about in terms of risk. So I’d love to hear that story. And I’m sure people are sick of hearing me talk over the top of you. So over to you, Chris.
Yeah, no, that was a really fun project. I did that in January of 2018. I don’t even remember how it actually came about. But I was contacted by this production company in Toronto who are doing this documentary piece following this photographer. This really young photographer from British Columbia, who is a an Instagram, influencer. And so they were doing this campaign It was kind of like packaged with a photo campaign. And so he was going to take a bunch of photographs of this new Mercedes model. And so they wanted this documentary piece to accompany it. So we went to this, this town called Inuvik, which is in the Northwest Territories in Canada. And we went up there in January. I think we actually flew out January 1, it was kind of a bummer because I couldn’t really go out for New Year’s because I was going to be at the airport, like at 5am the next day. But yeah, we were up there filming in this town and it’s basically I think it’s from December until middle of January. It’s total darkness because of how north, the places. So when we got there, we were there to capture the first sunrise. The new year. So for I think we were up there for maybe two weeks and filmed for about a week. And I think it was like On the sixth day, it was the actual sunrise. But it was so it was so surreal and an incredible experience. Because while you were up there, you would basically be in this perpetual Magic Hour for six hours where the sun was just coming right below the horizon, and then it would just go down. And then with each passing day, it would just get a little closer to just breaking over the horizon. And so the in the actual spot that I have on my site, that’s actually the I think that’s like the fourth day that the sun’s actually held with horizon. So that’s not even the actual sun breaking over on the very first day, because I think there was just a ton of cloud coverage that day. But we were up there and we shot basically skeleton crew, it was me, the director aligned producer, an AC and then a B cam operator. And I have to give huge shout out to john Kerr, who is also a really incredible cinematographer himself, who’s based in Toronto, and my first day see another incredible guy named Michael narmala, who have worked with like, for years, we’ve been all over the world together. But we were up there and we just we filmed for days and days and just working in like the most insane temperatures, it was the coldest it’s ever been, I think the coldest and God was minus 48 degrees Celsius. So it was just like saying, and I was stressing so much, because I didn’t know, I’d never been in those types of extreme conditions before. And I had no idea how the camera equipment was going to handle it. But thankfully, everything worked fine. The only thing that we really had an issue with was the monitors because they would just when it gets that cold, the refresh rate just goes to shit. So it’s like everything on the monitors in slow motion. But yeah, we shot it. And I was super proud of everything that we had done. I thought we got some incredible footage, we told a really great story. And it basically just went away for about a month and a half. And I didn’t really hear anything about it. And I kind of followed up once in a while because I wanted to make sure like, you know, let me know, do you need feedback, I can grab it gather some stills for color or anything.
So yeah, you weren’t involved in the grind at all. You weren’t involved in post. I mean,
I was I kept following up with them. And I made sure I was there for the color grade. And but I think the grade was we only had like, one day, I think it was like one six hour session for the entire thing. And
I remember in posting Southern editorial for for a month.
It was at least a month. Yeah. And, and then we saw then we they invited me in for a cut, or sorry, for the color grade. And it just wasn’t very good. It was for whatever reason, I think maybe I just sort of built something up in my head of what it was going to be or how they were going to structure it. And it just wasn’t that um, and it was
just so it was a bad because it was bad. It was a bad because the you it was just different.
I mean, it’s such a subjective thing. But I think it was bad because it was bad. I think it was it was just so much more. I think the footage that we captured was very I think we got we got incredible footage because naturally the place that we were shooting was incredible. Like we were we were filming these unbelievable winter festivals that had like the whole community coming together, they created like this massive bonfire that’s like 20 feet tall, they just light a huge mountain of skids on fire. There’s fireworks going off. We’re shooting on frozen lakes where there’s like these giant shipping shipping container and vessels that are just frozen in the ice and we’ve got like a Mercedes driving around is just like, the place was something out of like Star Wars. And it just felt like there was all of this emphasis on this influencer. And I mean, I think partially it was just a different vision of what I had imagined it being but I just ultimately I kind of felt let down by it. And so I and a lot of the stuff that I was really proud of just from a cinematography standpoint didn’t even make it in. And so I kind of use that as an argument to reach out to the director and I asked and I gave feedback on the cuts and you know, I’m wasn’t an asshole about it. I was honest and also asked if I could get the footage. Just for myself to basically cut together a cinematography reel.
Yeah. And I want to say at this point you were we spoke about this. Because before we hit record, I spoke to Chris about the spot, because I was really taken aback by it. And he said that he was a little bit reluctant in bringing this up because it was potentially political. So what you’re not saying is that, while you think that the it was bad, because it was bad. That’s not a reflection on the director. Not at all. It’s not a reflection on on the agency or the client. It’s just from your perspective, it said, what it does sound like To me, it sounds like the the team that put the the the production together, didn’t really prep you well enough. So that’s what it sounds like to me. So you went in there, and you’re shooting, you’re looking around seeing all these wonderful things. And what ended up being in the cart was just not bad.
Yes, yeah. Okay. Absolutely. Yeah, I think it was just a different understanding of what the final product was going to be. Yeah. Based on what the client and the agency needed.
Yep. I’ve had that stuffing with corporates where you, you, you don’t prep the client? Well, it’s about setting expectations. If you don’t set the right expectations and explain what you’re going to do. And then they think it’s one thing and you produce something else, then I’ve had it before is like, the client says, That’s not what we paid for. I have had people say that, to me, that’s not what we paid for. So absolutely, you paid me to get you a business result, the video, and this is the best. And then I’ve tested their version, and my version worked better. But anyway, the Okay, so. But here’s the reason why I wanted to say that is that, I think and the reason why I wanted to bring this up, and I kind of push you to because you were a little bit reluctant, if I’m completely honest to even talk about it. But I think the reason why I did is that the what you were so we’re still on question two, we’re still got another three questions to go. You mentioned about the one thing it was it was all about risk taking risk taking in the importance of risk taking in, you know, leveling up becoming a better direct us and photographer, whatever bit of filmmaking yet. This is this is an example of where you’ve done that. So tell us about what happened next.
Yeah, so I reached out to the director, and I gave the feedback. And I was very honest. And I also just asked for the footage because I saw that there was a lot of content that I was really proud of just personally, that wasn’t in there. So I felt this would just be such a shame if this just never saw the light of day. So I reached out to them. And I said, Listen, I would love to just get a copy of one of the hard drives and cut together just like a personal cinematographers reel. So the director was super accommodating, he was totally down for it, organized everything and he got me a drive. And it was very simple. I got the footage and I started playing around with it. And I was working on it just on the side you got no pushback from anyone? No, there was no pushback. It was it was actually really, really good. No no issues whatsoever, which was great. So I cut my own version. And eventually I put it out and I just got like a really overwhelming response to it. It was it was really well received. And funny enough the creative director who was with us on the project actually messaged me and asked me for a copy of it afterwards to herself. It was I think that also kind of made me it assured me that I made the right move in the right call and
yeah, absolutely did my because you told me and sorry to to do all the talking in this bit. But I do want to I do want to let people know what happened because you so when we first spoke I said you I love this spot. Here’s the reasons why I love it. And then you told me about the story. And I think you’re leaving a little bit of the political stuff out but that’s okay. But you did say that because I mentioned there’s no sound design and I really I think the spot works better. And it’s very rare that it does but the spot works better because it’s basically done there’s no voiceover there’s no text is not there’s no sound design is there’s music, and there’s images. And because the place is this kind of it almost feels melancholic. is bitter, sweet, beautiful, but slightly sad feeling the feeling of isolation and yet at the same time you feel this this Oh, did I just go black? No, you’re still there. Yeah. Okay, my camera. I spoke to you about the new camera anyway, so yeah. There’s this feeling that this is Worf I think the better the melancholic is better and sweet, the better is the is the cold is that is the is is the, the image looks dirty and and you know really gritty, which I love. The sweet is the car, the car almost feels like you can get in your car, it’s nice and warm and turn the heater on. And I love cars, so you feel safe. That’s that’s and you get that because there’s no sound design. If there was sound design, this is me being a director, right? If I just if I could take the spot there, if there’s balance there, because there’s those two, if you put the sound design, then then the balance goes more towards melancholy, the more towards the better. Because you can feel the cold through that through the sound you’re in, actually, you’re in that spot with that person, and you’re freezing your ass off. Because there’s no sound design, you get this kind of this nice balance. That’s the reason why the spot works. So what I wanted to point out is that you clearly are a risk taker, which can backfire, no doubt, but it can also create magic. And in this instance, it clearly has and and you almost stumbled over it. Because you were like, Fuck you. You’re smart didn’t work. I hate it. I’m not saying that’s what you said. But yeah, didn’t say that. You didn’t say I hate it. But you are definitely stronger before we hit the record button. And you went, I’m going to do my own thing and your own thing ended up being better. So that’s, that’s fantastic night. And you know, if I ever need a dp for anything that has that kind of look, then here’s the great thing. I’m never gonna shoot a car. But I do shoot documentary documentaries. And I’ve got one coming up. And when I looked at your workers like, Oh, okay. Yep, I’m definitely going to talk to Chris. So there’s an example of work gets your work. Yeah. But it’s not what it’s how.
Yeah, and I’m really glad that you got that from the project, because I was definitely the feel when we were up there that that was what the world felt like it was sort of this melancholic, it was cold, it was dark, it was never actually light. But the people coming together. And also, I mean, even when we were filming it, the car became like our sanctuary, because that was the only place we could get warm. But no, I mean, yeah, that’s, that’s really it. I and going back to the I mean, we’re still on question two. But going back to that, it’s, I think, so much of what I been trying to learn myself is learning more of myself, I think it’s more inward, and building confidence. And I think you build that when you are more comfortable in your own skin, and then it allows you to push more, because like I said, I have gotten pushback trying to push to get what I want. And if that if what I want, or what I think is going to ultimately be better for the project is, maybe we might make a little suggestion for an action or I suggest doing a shot a different way. It’s ultimately to make the project it’s for the better I’m trying to make, I think it’s fair to say or I would hope that everybody on whether it’s a commercial or a short film or a feature, everybody’s there, everybody’s excited. They want to make the best thing that they can. And I find when you do those, at least for me when I’ve done those, quote, fun takes. There’s something like little magic, there’s something magical that happens there when everything kind of just gets stripped away. And you get something real and honest. And I think that’s just it’s me, trying to get that whenever I can. And in more most cases than not, it’s worked for the better. So that’s definitely something I
always try to do. Who’s your favorite DPW manual the best ski, okay, now, I think when I saw a clip, I downsized it.
I was in I was actually thinking you might I was thinking, I wonder if he’s gonna say Chris Doyle. So one called wise cinematographer the crazy Australian gone. Yeah. So because he’s a massive risk taker.
He is I love his work, but I feel like a manual the best ski, at least with him and, and alfonzo quar on there and Terrence Malick. I mean he’s when I went to go see children of men, children and men was like my Star Wars moment. You know, when people are saying when you talk to the or you hear those interviews of the current big filmmakers and they say what was the thing that did it for you and is like the first time I went to see Star Wars. I mean, for me, it was the first time I went to go see children of men. And just seeing what I saw that movie I felt like I was seeing something I’d never seen done before in a movie like the way like shooting and all like handheld and documentary and just I mean in two 1007 at a time using nothing but natural light was such a groundbreaking thing and doing these long single takes, and that moment where he is that climax at the end of the film, and he’s running into the building, and then the blood splatters onto the lens. And there’s I think there’s interviews about the camera operator who’s, who operated that scene talking about when he did it, and he saw that the blood splattered onto the lens and I think it was either manual veski or Alphonse, or the two of them, they were just like, No, no, just keep going. Keep going. Let’s
see what I saw. I saw the same interview. Yeah, yeah. And it’s just like, when I hear stuff like that, and I see things like that. That is like, that’s the magic for me. That’s like, that’s why I got into this and, and what excites me about cinematography. So yeah, no manual. buskey for me, I think,
yeah. That’s I remember when I saw this is, you almost feel like you’re holding your breath. But the one is adjust. You know, there’s there’s the car chase. But the I think the better one is actually the the building one where he’s in the building that that one there, the blood sweating. Almost, you almost feel like, when’s this going to end you’re on a rod, you’re going up and you’re going down and like you start to hold your breath. So it’s like, you know, they come Birdman. And they took that to a whole new level. Yeah, but they’re able to get kind of nuances of up of kind of tension and release in that way. That thing just went on and on and on. And on and on. It’s like, I don’t know, when I was a kid, I used to have dreams where I was drowning, I would dive bomb. And I would go down in a dream. And I would just go down and down and down and down. And, and then in the dream, I’d be thinking, I gotta turn around and get back up. I wasn’t going to drown. And then I would wake up, kind of screaming, but I was like an eight year old. And it was a recurring dream. It happened for a couple of years. That’s what that film that particular scene made me feel like, was that same kind of feeling. So I totally agree with you. But is there much risk in that? Probably from a from a financial perspective, because if something happens halfway through, you’ve got to reset. That’s a lot of money. Yeah, yeah. Cool, man. I’m really enjoying this conversation. Coffee, the coffee work from this morning. And your you’ve gone from your background. You said looks really good now. Almost looks like do you like horror movies? I do like horror movies. Yeah, I love them. So the man is standing behind you now.
Might you look? Alright.
So question three, what do you do to sustain your career? Um, so when you say sustain your career, do you mean
in general or however you want to answer it? So some some people answered? Yes. However you want to answer it. So the question is vague enough that you can interpret it in whatever way you want. And quick question three, Question four related. So question, I’ll give you both at the same time, because we are kind of running short on time. Question three is hat. What do you do to sustain your career? Yeah, four is what are you doing today to help your tomorrow? They’re kind of related.
Right? Um, uh, to sustain my career, I would say, I really tried to take care of myself physically, just health wise. When I was shooting, I was shooting a short film with HIA in 2013. And long story short, I had sort of tweaked my back a little bit. And we were it was a low budget project. So I was bringing back the gear I was doing returns myself with like a PA bringing back grip gear and camera gear. And it was like in November, and I had this really bad cold and I had just sort of tweaked my back, but it was just, it was just kind of like an annoyance. And so I spent the whole morning lift up like moving stands on moving cases. And I’m literally bringing the last thing into the camera house. And it was just a battery charger that couldn’t have weighed more than like two pounds. And I bend over and I hear like a literal snap. Whoa. I’m just like, and I’m frozen, and I can’t stand back up. And of course, I’ve thrown my back out. And I’m like 20 at the time, I must have been like 24 years old. And I think the combination of just like really just that that moment of just like intense pain and just being really sick. I felt myself starting to pass out. And I just had to lay on the floor for a second and some of the guys The rental house, this was at Claremont at the time before they were taken over by koslow. Really great guys, I got to know them through my time at cert. They came over and they were like helping me out tonight. And the PA, the guy who was there with he, like, brought me back and he drove me back home. And I was just bedridden for like seven days straight. And mind you I, the most I’ve ever I’ve ever done to myself is break my toe, which happened to me when I was like four years old. So I’ve never really injured myself. So this is like the first time I’ve really hurt myself. And it was just like, psychologically, I just went down this like deep, deep hole. Because a lot, I got my starting in documentary, so a lot of the work that I do, and because of like children and men and you met Emmanuel lubezki, I think my especially earlier on my style gravitated towards very fluid, handheld, and kind of naturalistic. So being able to move like that, and have that sort of flexibility, it was so important to my career. And here I was in bed, and I literally couldn’t even get up to go to the washroom or, or take a shower. And I just, I mean, I all through school, I’d heard these horror stories of like people in the industry who had injured themselves and it just like it ended their career essentially. So it was just this really dark place that I went down, thinking that I was never going to work again. And so it was an awful, awful time. But it was also probably one of the best things that could have happened to me. Because ultimately, I recovered, it was fine. I started going to a physio therapist, he showed me a bunch of stretches and things to do. I started exercising regularly, I changed my diet. I, to this day, I still do the same morning exercises every single morning. And it’s been like that for the past six, seven years now. And it’s completely changed me at physically, I’m just in such a better place than when I was younger. It’s kind of insane to me that I was like living that lifestyle. So I guess to answer that, from that perspective, and I again, it’s something that I’d never really heard about, I think a lot of people don’t really talk about the health and physical well being of yourself in this field. But it’s so so important to take care of your body and just respect your body and make sure that you’re that you know, care about your work and really do what you can to to better yourself and get yourself ahead and achieve your goals. But don’t ever sacrifice it for your physical health because it’s just going to be it’s just going to screw you up so badly. And it’s something I never want to experience again. So it’s just by nature and from fear of that I definitely tried to sustain myself, I try to eat healthy exercise regularly. And just live a good healthy lifestyle.
Yeah, it’s important as freelancers as well because if you’re a freelancer or business owner and you get sick when you get hurt. What do you what do you do? You’ve got a family like you’re still young, but you essentially get kids that you’re responsible for another human being. Yeah, yeah. But at the moment, it’s it’s you and your girl and you’re responsible for yourself and she’s responsible for herself and you know, but you have a if there’s a child there, that’s different world. Yeah. And so it’s very important that we Yeah, that we take care of every aspect of our life. So good answer, man. All right, so on to the final one. We’ll skip Question four because you kind of answered it. Tell us something that you watched heard or read that inspired you recently. Um, I think I can recite that beside the spot. There’s no bullshit This episode is spot inspired me. That’s that’s on I’m not blowing smoke up your ass. Sorry. That’s, that’s a that’s an Australian say. I’m not I don’t know how that translates into, into American culture. Um, I honestly was moved. I was like, this is I would love to shoot like that. It was it’s that good thing someone else someone else would go to that spot and they’ll go What the fuck are these guys seeing? I don’t see. This is dirty. It’s It’s horrible. Right? So aesthetics. But it just goes to show I think it really goes to show the importance of creating stuff. Where this is what I do. Yeah, this is in actually know what how did I phrase it when I’m when we first spoke. This is how I do it, not what I do. So I’m never going to shoot a car. But I can see that working on stuff that I do. So this is how I shoot, not what I shoot, I think is actually really important. Anyway, so what’s something inspired, inspired, inspired recently? Um,
I think one of the most, it’s something that has inspired me a lot recently is actually Kanye West. Which might be something it’d be a whole argument. But I honestly like his newest album has recently come out. And I’ve been watching a lot of interviews with him. And I’m honestly so inspired by that guy. Let me just say I, he’s, I know he can be super controversial. And I certainly don’t agree with a lot of what he said in the past. But from the perspective of somebody who is an artist, and is having an open dialogue the way he is, and it is being, again, he’s taking risks. And he is wholly giving himself publicly and speaking his mind and being open to talking about things on both sides, I think is actually really important. And I think part of the reaction why a lot of people feel the way they do about him is because we’re so not used to that. And I think any time that that happens, it’s really a good thing. I think that’s a good sign. Because then it’s it’s a dialogue, it has to be, I think it’s a bad thing to just surround yourself with the same thing over and over. And I feel like this could also be this could also lead into a whole conversation about social media and how that’s sort of affecting our industry and how I personally think that there’s this stagnation going on, just visually, and from a creative standpoint of how things look, aesthetically, because of social media, and the sort of feedback loops we create for ourselves based on who we follow, and who these companies who are following our tastes are then putting in front of us. But I don’t think there’s very many people who are talking about their ideas so openly, and are willing to push things and take risks the way Kanye West is. And I mean, on the other side of that, I just love his music. I mean, his music is, he’s an artist who has done so many 180s. And I mean, he just came out with a gospel album. It’s just like, what, where did this come from? But he’s doing it. And I think a lot of people would say, Well, I mean, you can’t do that, like, that’s just going to kill your career. But he’s like, No, I’m going to do this anyways. And I’m going to do it the best that I can, and I’m going to put it out and you can just take it for what it is. And I think the same could be applied to really any sort of art form, or any sort of artists. I think ourselves it’s like, you know, I mean, going back to Emmanuel lubezki. He I remember reading interviews when he did Birdman, he thought to himself, I never want to do a comedy, because it’s like, why I want to do dramatic films I want to do you know, things that just seemed more like what he would do and then your ritual comes to him with this comedy, and he eventually sells it on him and then Birdman is it’s I mean, Birdman is Birdman. It’s an incredible movie. And I don’t know, I think there’s just something very inspiring there about people who are willing to say the thing that might be controversial, but if it feels right to them, then they’re going to do it anyways. And I think it’s so important to do that. And I think there’s very few people who are and I really do think Kanye West is somebody like that. Again, I think he is wrong on a lot of things.
And I don’t need to caveat with PC BS. I I’m, I’ll have another look. I’m interested in the album. I think that the thing that I really enjoy listening to you is so what I hear you enjoy about Kanye West is you you really enjoy transparency. You enjoy authenticity, and and to you authenticity means something that is like ugliness. There’s beauty and ugliness, if that ugliness is his authentic ugliness. Yeah, so as opposed to manufactured beauty. So I’m guessing that that I won’t name names because I don’t want to be judgmental to the human beings but there are brands there are celebrities that are highly manufactured and absolutely love The glamour industry as an example, right? I’m guessing that turns you off. On the side, yeah, I’m the same. Because I like, if someone’s speaking their mind, even if I disagree with them, I will respect them for the fact that they’re telling me what they really think. People that hide stuff, people that manufacture truth in in kind of scary quotes. I find reprehensible it like it is so against my core values as a human being and as a man, then I almost feel obliged to point it out. So what I’m hearing is that that you have kind of similar core values, which is probably speaks to the reason why your work moved me. Like I said to you, like we were artistic brothers in someone’s so I really liked that answer, man. I laughed at you at the stop. But when you told me why it was like, Okay, now I get that I totally get the reason why. He would like Kanye West, I am not gonna go anywhere near his music. And, you know, I like punk music. I like stuff that’s kind of dirty and roar. And you know, that kind of stuff. Man. I really enjoyed the conversation. We went over time, but I really enjoyed it. So thank you for today.
No, thank you. This is a lot of fun. I really appreciate it.
enjoyed today’s episode, and here’s what I want you to do. Next, I want you to take one thing that you got from today’s show. And to put it into practice in your career in business, because it’s only through having the right systems in place, that you’ll be able to take your career and business from where you are today to where you want to be. So again, I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. So until next time, I’m Clarke Scott from next level filmmaker. Have a great day.
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