In this episode, Clarke speaks with cinematographer John Schmidt about finding the deeper meaning within filmmaking and storytelling in order for your work to also have a deeper meaning.
Do you want to kick into this?
Oh yeah, Hi, i’m john Schmidt I’m a dp I’m based out of New York City and here I am next level but the next level podcast
Okay, so basically you kind of jumped the gun a little bit that’s okay. I asked three questions at that oh sorry one question at the very start which is Who are you what you’ve already answered what do you do what you’ve already answered but the the final question is the one that you did not so we can get in get into that is where do you get to stop I winded up with all of where did the john Schmidt story begin when it comes to filmmaking?
For sure. Well, I guess you can say my my path is not so so different from anywhere else anybody else’s path. I went to a film school in California I moved down to Los Angeles I started crewing mainly on the lighting side and you know at the same time was shooting alongside and that’s kind of it I mean, you kind of grow your reel you meet new contacts you kind of build up from there and you know, sorry
john, can I just can I just interrupt for a moment you got a zipper on your jacket? And it’s just yeah, it’s hitting the microphone that’s all
got it. Okay, here just hold this off about make it a little easier. Okay, so anyway, um, where was I? Film School? Film School? Sure. So I went to a state school in California and then moved down to Los Angeles which is kind of the the obvious move for anyone in Cali and then eventually found myself in New York and you know you kind of just grow it step by step you know learning along the way. You where’d you grow up? I grew up in Northern California in the Bay Area San Francisco area
okay and so and what’s what film school did you go to
I went to a school to state school called San Jose State and it at the time it didn’t really have that great of a film program this is going on quite a few years ago but um you know, it kind of taught me what I wanted to do kind of moving forward so i think you know, you end up learning so much more on sets anyway and you know, I was lucky enough to kind of work with a lot of really great DPS kind of coming up and learning from them through through the lighting side.
So when did you first start shooting
um, I mean I was shooting college a little bit you know, like I said it was kind of a I would shoot a little bit I would crew a little bit i’d you know, have to have to have a day job or at least a freelancer job on the crew side to kind of make money and then you know, I’d put that money back into into personal projects or you know, short films or you know, music videos that didn’t have a budget and just kind of like work alongside with friends and eventually you meet kind of your your lifelong collaborators that way and you know, it’s kind of always my impression that there’s plenty of other ways to make a whole lot of money I think in this world so if I could kind of you know, do like they say do one for the meal one for the real you could kind of put some you know, you save some money you put it away and then when a project comes up, you kind of figure out how you can give it a little bit more, more production value, try a new trick, you know, explore and expand kind of your artistic voice.
When did you first start shooting though? You didn’t start rolling in college in film school, obviously. So like when did it all begin?
I mean, you know, it kind of did start you know, I mean, you do short films and then you kind of realize that you need a more professional reel. And but
in order to even get on a short film set, you’ve got to be don’t come from nowhere. Was there like were you 13 and your grandfather was doing film and you would show the darkroom like when it all kind of waited waited to begin.
I did a few video projects in high school I was a video production class, but I mean, as far as you know, being serious about it, you know, me and a bunch of friends from film school moved down to LA together and we just kind of started making shorts and spec projects and you know, you realize that you need a reel to get the work and you kind of just build a reel out of thin air, you know, it’s like there’s nobody stopping you from going out and making a spec commercial of your own. And then you know, you pretend that it’s real, you put it on your website and somebody eventually believes it and wants to pay you to do it later on, you know, and maybe it’s a very low rate, but you kind of build up the ladder like that.
Okay, didn’t quite answer the question, but that’s okay. The so you’re in film school and you so you still San Francisco what after you finish film school like moving down to LA You said you just just then you just move down with a bunch of with a bunch of mites was that really to kind of break into into movies?
Um I mean it’s kind of where the industry is there’s not a lot in San Francisco it’s mainly corporate videos so it’s kind of the obvious move if you’re anywhere in that area um yeah, I mean, do you mean you move down there you start kind of getting whatever work that you can do Craigslist or Mandy at the time and but
the jump Why did you move down there? The question was why Yeah,
I moved down there to work on larger productions on you know, music videos and feature films and you know, kind of place chase that dream of making movies I guess, you know,
yeah. And because you shot saw on your IMDb, you shot some stuff for Stranger Things. So, you know, it’s obviously working out. How did how long like when you first moved down there and you know, you’re trying to you’re chasing the dream, basically. You mentioned earlier that you’re you basically did some stuff on spec. So can you tell us like explain the trajectory of finishing film school moving down ally with some mates chasing the dream? What, like, what did you do next?
Um, I mean, when I first moved down to Los Angeles, I, I had a, I had like, a bartending job at the time, just to kind of like land. And, you know, I would apply to every single job that I could on Craigslist, there’s a crew section, you start clicking and applying and at some point, maybe even a month in, I booked a feature film as a gaffer. And, you know, I quit my bartending job and that was kind of the end of my kind of my employment history, I guess. So that you know, that still like you just kind of like, do one freelance gig and hopefully, before the money runs dry, you can, you know, Book your next thing and kind of keep that ball rolling.
Okay, and so what happened next?
Um, gosh, I mean, I, I, you know, I ended up actually the kind of the trajectory that brought me to New York and brought me to feature films, I met somebody from Craigslist that I actually posted an ad, basically saying, like, I’m a I’m a dp I have I have a camera at the time, it was a an HD x 200. And, you know, I’m new in the city and just looking for, for collaborators looking for a director with an idea and somebody that wants to tell a story. And I met this guy, we kind of clicked we made a short film, that you know, a year later led to another short film and at some point, he had a feature in New York and I came out here and shot that forum. So I think it’s like, you know, slowly but surely you find people that just want to go out and make something and you just use you become friends and you want to you want to make new things you want to kind of explore stories or you know, find projects to collaborate on and you kind of like find your your tribe find your people you know, so it’s it’s like a little bit of progression, I haven’t had a job necessarily, that I think was kind of like, just catapulted me to another level, it’s a it’s a, it’s a, it’s a relationship game. And, you know, you you think, inherently are gravitated to people that are either, you know, similar to you, or at least have similar sensibility, similar values within the industry. And, you know, it’s, it’s, I think, it’s like that for anyone, you find the people that you like working with, that have something to say, and you stay in touch, you know, and maybe they have a bigger project that leads you somewhere else. So it’s a slow progression.
The, how did you first meet this director?
I actually, I actually put out an ad on Craigslist. So I wasn’t the one with a job. I was just a guy who’s new in town, and I kind of said something that, uh, you know, piqued his interest. And he emailed me and, you know, we got coffee and just kind of hit it off. And he’s still a great friend of mine. You know, we still 10 years later, we’re still in very close contact. The
so you’d moved to New York before. You got that gig. Why did you move to from LA to New York, because you moved from San Francisco to LA saying, well, that’s where everything is. sure you’ve moved away from that to New York. What was that?
Sure. Well, actually, he moved to New York. This director moved to New York, and I I was out here for a very short film with a friend of mine just kind of like a, like a work fun trip. And you know, we met up for a beer just to kind of catch up. And he said that he was planning this feature shooting in New York. And a number of months in six months or so. So he asked me if I wanted to do it, I said, of course, I came out here. And it was like, you know, the most beautiful six weeks in New York has ever experienced, and there’s like in the fall, and you’re just kind of seeing a new city with fresh eyes. And I don’t know, I just kind of like, I saw it as an opportunity to kind of reinvent myself and try something new, and just kind of, you know, figure out what I wanted to do in a new place. I mean, I had been in LA for a number of years. And I think there’s, you know, there’s always a grass is always greener element between New York and LA, but
was it not working in LA is that is that the reason why you made
it’s not even that it wasn’t working in LA, I was working a lot. But it wasn’t necessarily the work that I really wanted, I was doing a lot of comedy work, I was working on web series, I was doing a lot of narrative stuff. But that can be like, a long grind, and the rates are often less. And it just wasn’t, it was a lifestyle thing, too. I think I just, I just kind of fell in love with new New York and wanted to try it out. And it was kind of an opportunity to do so. And the thing about it is to Is it because you know, New York and LA are just a plane ride away. You know, when I first transitioned to New York, I didn’t tell anyone that, you know, that new me in LA that I was moving, you know, you just kind of go and you try and set up a place to live and you meet new people. And you know, if anybody calls me for work, you be on a plane, you know, the next week, I mean, I was, I was doing maybe six months where I was bouncing back and forth. And I’d live in LA and crash on somebody’s couch and work a feature and do some electric work and make some money and then go back to New York, and I just kind of lived like that for, I don’t know, six months a year, maybe
you were moving back to LA to do kind of gaffer work. And so kind of non dp work. Exactly. And the stuff in New York was, were you really trying to kind of level up and become an actual cinematographer, as opposed to, you know, a grip, or a gaffer or
Sure, so yeah, that was a union electrician at some point in LA. So I could always kind of depend on that, if things ever got real slow, I could just make a couple phone calls and get on a show. Um, and then, you know, you kind of, I think, I think when it comes to the lighting side, especially, it’s really hard to re like, to reconfigure people’s impression of you, because it’s so easy to get kind of pigeon holed, you know, even if it’s in the position that you’re in, whether you’re an AC, or a gaffer, or whatever. Or if it’s just like a niche of specific work that you do people see what you do, and they can see that you do anything else. So it’s like, if you do fashion commercials, they can’t imagine you doing a feature film, for instance, which is ridiculous. But like, it’s a it’s an industry of specialization. So
it’s probably how the human brain works, too. I mean, that’s how we categorize things. language works that way. So it’s not that people mean it’s just an inherent part of, of, of the cognitive process of a of a human person.
You meet somebody, and you me, and you see them for what they’re doing that day. And you say, like, oh, if I ever need a first day, see, I will call this person you know, yeah,
yeah. But have you ever, ever you ever, I don’t know. I saw a photo of a guy that I knew 20 years ago, just recently. And I was looking at this photo and I saw the name and I thought, I know that night. I’m looking at the photo, I don’t know that this something’s wrong. And then I went, Oh, fuck me. That’s Trevor. As like, like 20 a 20 span. So in my mind, this guy whose name is x had this, you know, it’s like he’s frozen in time, right? Sure. But he he’s a human being impermanence. We all get older, right? So but now looking at him, it’s like, dude, you’ve aged really badly.
We’re not all so lucky, I
guess. Yeah. So but it’s the same with our work, right? So when people come across you that’s very much what’s what’s happening. So in some ways, breaking free of ally meant that you could redesign a career and have people see you with fresh eyes as well. Was that part of the strategy in making the move or was it just very, very much
so yeah, I mean, I I came out here kind specifically saying to myself, alright, I’m going to put up my gloves and you know, compartmentalize these twos lives in a way, you know, I like if I ever need to, I can go back to this thing and you know, and, you know, be be the technician and I was a good technician, but I just wanted more I wanted to be able to tell stories. So, you know, you meet new contacts, and you kind of reintroduce yourself as a cinematographer only and, you know, it kind of worked out, it’s as far as so far at least, you know,
yeah. So the, the transition period was six to 12 months, was that difficult during that that phase at? Like, do you have any advice around, if someone’s in a similar position where they need to basically just, almost, it’s almost like cutting ties, although you’ve kind of left a thread there. So you can, you know, kind of pull yourself back to toward some money, you got any advice for anyone that’s looking to do something like that reinvent themselves?
Well, I think, um, you know, there’s obviously different ways that you can do it, I can only say, how I kind of did it, and I think moving to a different city definitely helps. Because even in your own mind, you can, you can, you know, put this title at the end of your name and say, This is who I am, I’m not looking back. And so it’s like a mental thing to where you have to be confident enough to, like, truly own it, I guess, a lot of people can do it in the same town. And, you know, for me, it was just a matter of convenience that I had kind of this love affair with New York. Um, so, I mean, you know, for me, it was like, a matter of, you know, truly believing it myself, and then, you know, being able to, you know, it’s especially in a new city, you have to make new friends, too. So it’s a matter of like getting out there more than you would, you know, if it’s a Friday or Saturday night, and I was in my mid 20s, in Los Angeles, I’d go hang out with my friends that I already knew. But in New York, I had to kind of do the work to find my new people. And I think, I think, you know, like, doing the social work of finding new friends in general is just much harder, when you’re out of a school environment that kind of has that kind of world set up for you already, you have to, you have to make an make a real effort to, to introduce yourself and, you know, do things that normally would have come super easy in a school environment?
And how did you do that,
um, I found most of the people that I ended up collaborating with, you know, through friends of friends, but the kind of active the active kind of thing that I would do would be to just find people online and this is before Instagram was really the key to finding other artists that think so I would go on rosters of different production companies, and you know, I’d call it call the producer and, you know, try and set up a time to meet or, or the directors, you know, Vimeo is a big help in that, because it’s fairly easy to see the kind of things that are kind of trending or moving faster, or, or people that you already follow, and you kind of appreciate their taste, and then they might like something and you can say, oh, like, This guy has good taste, what is whatever it is, what are they going after? What are they liking at this point, you see who’s done that and, you know, you just you just kind of like can build out a tree of network in a very kind of, you know, very, very, very organic way, I guess.
Okay, so you’re basically going and trying to hunt down collaborators, people that had a similar aesthetic, similar core values. And then either you mentioned cold calling API’s which doesn’t tend to work these Yeah, it’s difficult, right? But the collaborators themselves, emailing people and just saying, you know, do you want to meet up for coffee? Love Your Work? Like how’s that all going?
Yeah, I mean, that’s a that’s exactly exactly what I did. And I think it’s, it’s still something I do on a fairly consistent basis. And I’m not sure you know, this is probably something everybody does to a certain extent, but I think if you if you want to find people that are out there you know, you have to be active in that search. You know, referrals of referrals can only go so far I guess. And I think you know, you can you can find some work that you like, but you really have to meet these people in person because because you don’t know if you’re going to get along and I think that’s really what it comes down to is whether your values your your kind of sensibilities Your kind of philosophy about life can actually click because, you know, so many people can do good work. And I think there’s plenty of cinematographers out there that, you know, are just as good or far better than me, or they do a certain thing better than I do. And I think you’re the only the only distinguishing factor at that point is, are you interesting? Are you? Are you are you exciting? Do you do spark kind of the, the ideas and the interest in, in this person’s head? And do you kind of inspire them to do something, you know, do something better, as opposed to just like, bringing your voice and your aesthetic? What more can you offer to a project where they see you as, like, an essential piece of, of their, of their life, like artistic expression, and not so much just somebody that can, you know, display a certain type of work or aesthetic?
Okay, what do you what, what? What am I trying to ask? How do you see trust fitting into all of that?
Um, well, I think, I think you, you know, you have to be genuine about what you’re about what your intentions are. And I think for me, my directors really trust me, because I, I, I never put myself in front of the project. So for instance, I won’t push somebody to shoot a certain format, because I know that it’s better for my reel. You know, there was a point, I think, maybe, when I was just getting started, and were like, you know, people in film school or just out of film school in my, in my early 20s, you know, they finally realized, like, Oh, you can put, you know, two, three, now, you can put widescreen bars, and just slap them on an image, and it inherently makes it more cinematic almost. And, you know, it was a very kind of easy fix, but also a very kind of like amateur fix, of course, because, you know, it’s as easy as, you know, just changing the aspect ratio, but I would find that I was kind of inherently like, I resisted this kind of approach where cinematographers would, would shoot everything with this in mind, so their whole reel would be in widescreen, just because it looks better in a 92nd montage, you know, for it not to be going in and out. And I think there’s a choice that you make, when you first start a project of what is best for the project, or what is good for you. And it never really, ever really kind of just put a bad taste in my mouth, the idea that somebody would only shoot anamorphic, or only shoot film, for instance. And they and you could tell like, there’s, I think there’s a difference between building a voice, as a cinematographer, and kind of doing things that hone in a marketing, like a marketing plug, like all of my stuff looks the same. And I think for me, you know, most of the time, when I approach a project, especially when it’s something that’s a little bit more of substance, I try and really kind of dive deep with the director about what, what their intention is, what their kind of, like, motivation is with this project, and, and really kind of figure out what he or she, like, wants it to feel like instead of necessarily kind of dictate my overall taste and aesthetic on top of it. And I think, you know, it’s a difficult thing because as an as a cinematographer, I think my job is to interpret a director’s vision. And sometimes they might not have the, they might not have the vocabulary or the technical know how to express exactly how to get a feeling across. And it’s my job to kind of, like, draw that out of them in a way and I think that builds a lot of trust when you know that they that when they know that I’m in it for their vision, and I’m not just doing it so that I can make something you know, slick, that gets me the next job. So it’s kind of like a difference between marketing, you know, marketing my work versus doing what’s best for the project in front of me, and I think it almost makes the progression of finding more work a little bit slower. But I think the collaborators that I do find end up trust. Thing me a lot, a lot deeper because they know that I have their back instead of necessarily shooting just to get the next job for me so that I can keep on doing things.
It’s interesting you say that I had to pull back and really not kind of jump in there because I’m glad I’m really glad I did. Because you, you You dumped out all the way back around to the very start, which was all about trust. And I think what you just said there was fantastic. It also makes sense of your website now. Because your your website is highly non curated, is uncreated, non correct. Like there’s, there’s, like, when I looked at it as like, was this God do this, or you look almost like an educator, it looks like a blog, like a old school. And, you know, I say this with respect, particularly given what you just said, kind of looks ugly, and it’s not curated at all. So it’s interesting that you would push back on, you know, the 235 bars, that, you know, I’ve done it, look at that. That’s that’s that right, exactly what you were talking about. That’s that. And so. And for anyone who’s listening to the podcast, I’m pointing behind me at a screenshot of my nicely curated screenshots, right. So screengrabs. And so you’re, you’re pushing back against that, so that I then go on. So that’s why his websites, and I say this with respect,
so it’s okay, now that,
but hang on, let me finish so. But now that you’ve said that what you’re actually interested in, you’re not interested in marketing yourself in the ugliest sense of, of marketing, we all need to market your market as well. But what you’re marketing on is not a highly curated, glamour FIDE real, but rather, the aesthetics, or it’s not even the aesthetic, it’s the it’s the intention that you’re marketing, you’re marketing yourself as I can be this person, it’s the intention behind how we create images, that is what you’re marketing and that’s the thing that that what I’m hearing is people end up trusting you more deeply, because they can see that you’re not just there for yourself, you’re there for the project, you’re there for the director, you therefore creating the feeling that that the project needs to create. Sure, and if that means it’s, it’s slightly different than what you would normally shoot, or, you know, what have you, then that’s great. And for that reason, you don’t curate, you know, with nicely, you know, curated screengrabs that all have a certain kind of vibe, I love dark and moody that’s that’s me. Right? So does that it? Am I speaking some truth there? I’m very low,
very, so very much so. And I think, you know, what, I really want to, like touch on this aspect, too, because it’s something that I struggle with, and I go back and forth with about like, is it Am I am I resisting the idea of marketing? Or am I? Or is it, that I don’t have a individual artistic voice, you know, and it’s like, I think, as artists, we’re very, we’re very, kind of, at least for me, I’m very much like, hard on myself about what exactly I’m, what exactly I’m doing and what I’m going for. And I think it’s just a matter of personal sensibilities. Like, I actually really envy the kind of cinematographers that have a very specific voice, and it may come down to marketing, and I’m not trying to like, bash on these people, because I see their work. And I say, you know, this is, this is incredible, and it’s all so honed in it’s also so niche ified to the point where, you know, people go after them for what they, what they, what they what they promote, and, you know, it makes you an easy sell. Because, um, because you don’t have to worry about, you know, like an agency seeing it and saying, like, well, this person doesn’t do exactly what we’re looking for, you know, you kind of know what you’re getting, in a way, when it comes down to that. And I think for cinematographers, it’s, um, it’s almost more important for you to have a very specific voice and a very kind of like, curated, curated body of work. Now, at the same time, I think that, you know, like, if I were to go in that way, I might be working more often, but it might not be as diverse or I might not really be exploring what is exciting about the process for me, and I think what’s exciting about making films for me is not necessarily honing on honing in on a very specific aesthetic as much as it is I’m exploring the truth of the piece. And I think, in general, there’s just gonna be different projects that come to me then come to you or come to any of the other filmmakers out there. And I think it’s okay for me to know that like, you know, I’m just not going to be up for I’m just not going to win. If I’m put up against these people that is exactly the aesthetic, you know, I’ve lost jobs plenty of times, just simply because I didn’t have that specific aesthetic, three to five times on my reel. So, you know, it’s difficult in the sense that like, Sure, I probably could be working more often if I was more kind of curated and specific about what I’m showing off, but at the same time, I feel super fortunate because the directors that I, that I that I that I ended up kind of collaborating with, they know that they can, they can, they can trust me to bring something new to the project instead of necessarily just kind of nailing this look that I can do best you know what I mean?
Do I think I do think it hurts you though, because there was a from when I when we first booked the interview time, and I would have seen your work and then I and I definitely didn’t see your website, so I’m not exactly sure what I saw but I don’t just invite anyone onto the onto the podcast, so you’re here for a reason. But if I’m completely honest, when I went back to your website this morning, it was like our fun really, like I had that feeling like Okay, why did I end Why did I organize this interview This is going to be a fucking disaster. That’s what I felt. And I then googled your name went onto your IMDb is like, okay, Stranger Things All right. Okay. And then I went back to your website, and I clicked on something else it was like, This is fucking ugly. And so I personally think it’s, there’s a happy medium between these two these two things, I think you’ve got this perhaps I personal aversion that’s coming from here and a little bit of here. But like in here, it’s like the hot stuff on sales and marketing. You just don’t like it. Maybe most artists don’t. But there’s there is a the silly thing is, is that in choosing to not market yourself, you are marketing yourself. You’re marketing yourself based on don’t give a fuck. And the problem with that is that that your voice doesn’t come across. So even if you don’t, you feel like well, maybe I haven’t found my voice, there is a way of being able to bridge those two worlds between complete kind of punk like, I don’t give a shit through to you know, the Kardashians of cinematographers that will curate every single thing, right? And it feels fake, it feels inauthentic. I like punk. But I still think the strategies are highly important. And so one thing that I have seen someone else do is only three screen grabs per type of job. So you can see that, okay, so they they’ve spent some time thinking about how to present their work, but at the same time, I do many different things. So some of us, some of it’s it’s still curated, but it’s not highly manufactured. It’s not lipstick cinematography, but it’s also not, you know, totally, I don’t know, free jazz type of whatever happens happens and it’s all going to sound good regardless. Because it doesn’t some free jazz is like shit. So anyway,
I think I think also, there’s just different types of cinematographers. I mean, if you look at the very highest, highest caliber DPS out there, you know, your, your, your lubezki. And your deacons, for instance, I think they’re very different in the sense that like, deacons is not necessarily hired because he does one thing, incredibly, you know what I mean, all of these times, all of his films look very different. Now, the best guy at the same time, has a very signature kind of aesthetic that he’s built up over years. And a lot of it is kind of like, you know, has kind of grown through his work with Terrence Malick, for instance. But, um, I would say that you hire these DPS for different things. And to say that one is, you know, like, one one approach is better than another is not necessarily, you know, like, like valid in general because they’re both working at the highest levels, and they’re both being hired for different reasons. And I think my, my approach isn’t necessarily that I don’t care about marketing so much, it’s more that I care more about my relationship with the director, you know, and it comes from the work as well. So it’s not even just a matter of how I’m presenting it. My website is, you know, definitely, you know, not as clean as others, but I think it’s a matter of the work that I get is very,
everyone’s gonna go and have a look. Your website, by the way,
get plenty of plenty of critiques on that, honestly, like, I’d be happy to hear your notes on like how to make it better. But I think like, it’s it’s a, it’s a greater thing about, like, even the work that I get is very broad, you know, I kind of play in different fields, I’m not just doing commercials for music videos, I’m also doing narrative stuff. And I think, you know, I feel really lucky that I get to play in those different fields. And it’s with similar directors that I can kind of bounce around like that. And, you know, every once in a while, sure, it’ll bite me in the ass, and I won’t get the job because like, you know, I’m not the person for it. But I think that’s just the price you pay to kind of like to have broad, broad appeal or broad.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. That’s my point is there is there is a medium where, because if you think about when you spoke about doing these diverse projects, you’re always talking about working with a director. So there’s already a relationship there. This is and and then you’ve gone but and it bites me in the ass because I miss out on jobs. The reason why, because there’s like, we don’t know whether this, it’ll always come back to trust, we don’t know whether this guy can actually do it. So if you can find a way of being able to present the work in a way that still shows diversity, this happy medium, like it doesn’t have to be a roll. It’s not like I’m a pure artist, or I’m a fucking pure marketer, with without strategy. And think about when you’ll move from LA to New York, that’s there’s a big, a big part of that was strategy. And marketing is essentially strategy, it’s being smart about presenting who you are. So if who you are, is all these things that you say, then you don’t have to present your screengrabs you can present that philosophy, here’s my philosophy as a dp, if you hire me, this is what you get. I’m all about the project, I’m about creating the feeling of this project in visual in visual terms, if I was to come across your website that had some kind of black on it a little blurb with actual words, that explained to me what your what you’ve explained to me in his interview, that would go a fucking hell of a long way. Real I really would like if I can
definitely consider that, you know, it’s, it’s something that I’ve thought a lot about, and I think maybe, maybe I’ve just never tried to put it across on, you know, on the page, as far as written down, you know, in a bio or something,
I think a lot of directors would, would appreciate that. Because sometimes, and I think you’re right, that cinematographers will just they will, kind of nature for what they do, thinking that that will get the more work and then they present that, and it can limit them in some ways.
But you are, right, I mean, it’s a visual medium. So you know, people are going to see your work and, and, and, and judge you based on kind of like, how specific it is. So yeah, I mean, you’re you’re right, I think, I think I would like to, I guess approach the art form from a place of, of kind of a deeper level philosophy than necessarily just like, the screen grabs on my website. And it’s definitely hard to get that across in today’s day and age. But if I get to sit down with somebody and have a coffee or beer, you know, they might end up loving me afterwards, you know, so
To be honest, I was highly skeptical at the start. And and as with as the interviews gone more and more than the more and more I’m not that I disliked you. But I even said, you’re like I asked you a question. You didn’t you didn’t answer the question. You went in a different direction, even, like, very frankly, I’m nosy right, so we can be very frank, I said you didn’t even know. I even said he didn’t ask the question. So which was good, because, um, your response to that was good, because you didn’t, you didn’t flinch. Most kind of, you know, not most, some people would just capitulate at that point, when they kind of pointed out you didn’t, which is great. The fact that you’re you’re creating images from a deeper place, like that’s me. I love the fact that you would say that. So if you could articulate that on your website, dude, that would go a long, a long way. And most cinematographers aren’t doing it, it’s all about the image. And you know, after a while, they all look the same. They all you know, they follow whoever they they do their screen, Fuji frames, and it just all look the same. So, anyway, I don’t even think we’ve moved on to the second question yet and we better we better keep moving. The second question is, what do you what do you do or have you done that’s, you know, unique or even strange that you think has been the biggest success? biggest contributor to your success so far?
Um, you know, I talked a little bit about like the reaching out to new directors, but I imagine that’s probably something you hear everybody does this point where you know, you have to find new people to work with. Um, I think the Specifically for me for a lot of like longer projects, or maybe features that I’ve been up for and tried to build out kind of like a, like a, like a deck and instead of necessarily just like a number of screen grabs from other movies that I found that like, I think the movie could look like I, I try and take I guess what I’ve been talking to you a little bit about, which is kind of the like, philosophical take on it and really kind of dive deep into why something should look a certain way. And, and I think, you know, you can you can you could walk a fine line between being, you know, a little bit too pretentious or like too hyper intellectualizing, kind of, you know, why some things look a certain way and, you know, I probably lost jobs because, you know, I’m, I’m kind of, you know, being overly overly Yeah, yeah, yeah, overthinking it in a certain way, when I think some people, they’re looking for a dp to do a look that they already have inside their head. You know, they they’re kind of in the prep process, they’ve already sold the movie, for instance, maybe they’re maybe they already have a visual deck of references that they want it to look like. And I think for me, I think what works best for me at least is to build a look from kind of the ground level different seeds and the roots and then talk about kind of the overall steps I mean, I’ve been on on on interviews where you know, they have a lookbook that has a very specific grade attached to all the images, and they want their movie to look like this. And I think you know, to a certain extent Sure, I could just kind of like roll with that and kind of give them exactly what they want but I think it’s my duty and and I think it’s my value proposition to be able to kind of dig deeper than that so you know, whether or not it’s in person or in some sort of some sort of deck a lot of my a lot of a lot of my decks my presentations I mean a lot of the times if the director has done you know, a 50 page document just to win the job you know, I feel like it’s my duty especially if there’s any sort of substance or depth that we can pull out of this project it’s my duty to almost like come at it from a philosophical standpoint and really kind of challenge both myself and the director to think about this from a kind of base base level so instead of talking about the leaves on the tree the kind of the the you know, end aesthetics which is all figured out way down the line when you’re finally like okay, these are the lenses and these are the camera moves and these this is the final grade um, let’s talk about kind of who these characters are and really kind of break down you know, how we’re trying to how we’re trying to interact with them and and and get the audience to kind of understand them on kind of a guttural level and you know, I think that can be probably fucking irritating to some people because all they want is somebody to to you know, kind of tell them what they want to hear and you know, and present more images of the same thing that they already like and i think you know, it’s it’s it’s simply that I think I can bring more to the project than just being an image creator you know I can I can I can help a director come up with ideas and you know in no way do I think that I’m you know, stepping on toes or or going beyond I think my role but I think
you will be on certain sets for sure.
I think you have to you have to kind of judge who you’re talking to him because some people only want you for a certain purpose and that’s fine.
Or you’ve worked on Stranger Things so you can’t come in and start talking about the philosophy of the characters there’s a look to that show you come in you shoot it you should look and you leave you get paid yes and it’s the same with with certain commercials certain commercials, certain brands have a certain look certain lenses get used you know spot after spot after spot and have a look at coke ads, look at look at an apple and you know what an idiot saying how the cameras not important that that the quality video production is not important. And they cited an apple ad that was shot on an iPhone as an example and I thought this person has got no clue what they’re talking about. Because that spot was a million dollar spot. And I was shocked by filmmakers that know what they’re doing. It was lit exactly the the fact that the camera was an iPhone is irrelevant. It is a look There is all that stuff still works in the independent world that what you’re talking about would work fantastically being able to have a no is a my aspirations to shoot more feature films I’ve shot one if I could have a collaborator like you were we could talk about you know okay so the characters a 12 year old the main characters are 12 year old boy I want the camera to no never go above his eyeline even if we’re talking to adults then and the philosophy behind that then that makes sense and there’s also time this is time for it it has utility there’s a there’s it’s there’s efficacy in it as well because then we know you know that and I know why the cameras only ever you know I’m pointing to a level as if when you can’t even see it because I’m just a I’m a window right but you know like I’m pointing at the level of a 12 year old boy as an example right and I’m thinking the kids in Stranger Things like 12 year olds right
of course yeah i mean they’re they’re they’re teenagers at this point. And just to be clear you know, I’ve worked on a project that was associated with Stranger Things and we were on set and everything but I haven’t shot those episodes at all so I wrote again it was it was like a promo piece for it
yep, you did the same thing with Star Wars as well there was a spot for Star Wars as well exactly
like little promos and stuff and I you know there’s a lot of that kind of work where you’re exactly right we’re doing these things because they’re in line with the way that the show already looks and you’re and you’re absolutely right i mean in the commercial space especially there’s an there’s an already established look that that you can’t deviate from and nobody nobody cares to know you know the deeper philosophical meaning behind your work it’s like make it flashy or make it gritty make it dark make it make it make it a mood and you know let’s move because this is happening in three days you know, so there’s not a lot of projects that I think this is valuable for but at the same time I think if you if you kind of flex that muscle and at least are able to articulate yourself with the director then I think they at least know that they can they can always lean on you for support and even at some times you know, like trust you with you know like picking up the slack when when when they’re they’re completely busy or flustered they know that they can trust it like you’re gonna have this kind of this this attitude kind of embedded in you know, deep in your soul instead of necessarily just I don’t know, you know, like I just make it look this way you know, so I think
I think it’s the alignment of core values. So it’s the same whether it’s thing you know, even in a business the people that you work with, if you if you can trust that they that day I understand where you’re going as a as a as a leader. So whether it’s you know, you’re on, you’re on set you’re there as a director, if you know that the cinematographer who’s standing foot behind you but off to the left understands and we were all moving in the same direction understands philosophically what we’re doing and why we’re doing it that’s that’s about core vates Sure, so I think core values as artists as business people because we are we’re in the you know, it’s a it’s still business, even though it’s it’s art and commerce is kind of weird, weird world of art and commerce, right? So Kobe is really, really important and that’s where you find your tribe where you find your collaborators is through being able to understand what your core values are, and then finding people that have similar core values, even on a project by project basis. Exactly right. Yeah. Yeah. Cool. All right, let’s move on to the next couple of questions which are and I’ll kind of bring question three and four together and that’s what do you do on a kind of daily basis and a weekly basis? What do you do to basically sustain your your career and in business?
Um, I think I think in general you know, you you have to kind of like you know, continuously stay in touch with people and that’s kind of the easy, the easy task at hand is uh, you know, making sure that your relationships are are still still moving and still kind of like fluid but I think also, you know, I really try to look out for when people have their personal projects I like I really try and put make myself available when you know, the directors that I know are gearing up for something that may not be a commercial may not be An official booking or whatever, and they just want to go out and make something so, you know, ever this this kind of started from when I moved to LA with all my friends you know, it’s kind of like, you have to continuously make things that are not beholden to, to an agency and a client and you know, 10 people down the list that are going to screw something up in the Edit, for instance. Um, so I try and really, you know, like, like, stay in contact with my doctors about what they’re working on personally, whether it’s a, like, like a short film, or a spec project, or just, you kind of what excites them visually, that maybe they want to collaborate on and whether it, whether it’s something that like, I can bring my resources and my crew, or even, like, throw a little bit of money into myself, I’m always trying to, I’m always trying to, like, encourage my filmmaker friends to like, go out and like, let’s go out and make something you know, let’s just practice a new, a new, a new style, or a new aesthetic, or get together some people and go and like, go and create, and if it turns out like shit, or if like, you know, the, the, the, the piece isn’t, you know, valuable for us, I think also you get to a certain point where like, you know, the project has to so many things have to have to happen to come right, whether or not it’s a, a commercial, or music, video or whatever. So many things have to come together for it to be good enough to replace something that’s already on your reel. That, you know, if it’s, if some things don’t work out, then you just don’t show it off. And maybe you have, you know, three or four things per year that you really want to show off. But otherwise, I think it’s it’s, it’s still no matter how kind of busy I get, I still try and make room for somebody whose passion project. And I think the only way to kind of really explore what you want to explore without kind of an overseer is to do it yourself and pay for it yourself. You know. So, you know that like no matter what the budget is, if it’s a music video, they might have any money and you might be doing it for almost free. But you know, at the same time, somebody whether it’s the agents, the the label, or the the artists themselves, like they’re gonna have final edit on it anyway. So even when you’re giving yourself up like that, you don’t have full control. So with the filmmakers I trust, I just try and be available for their stuff for their for their personal projects.
Okay, so your sustaining career by doing work that is 100% about the creative has no commercial imperative, or end or someone that doesn’t know what the fuck they’re doing is part of the final edit. Is that what I’m here? Exactly,
exactly. Okay. And then I think, you know, you you have to obviously pick and choose your battles, but I think as long as you’re building relationships, relationships with filmmakers that you actually trust and believe in, then it’s kind of easy to sign on to these things. If you know that, that a they’re gonna finish it and B they’re gonna finish it well, you know? Yeah. Okay, and then that that’s how does that sustain your career though? Um, well, I think like, part of it is about kind of being there for your friends. And then you know, and then and then there’s an element of loyalty where they bring you back for their, their big commercials and that kind of, you know, continuously feeds you. But I think you know, a lot of it I think it’s just a matter of doing things that are good for, for your soul, you know, as far as getting more work, you know, like, it can’t always be about just more and more and more like some things have to actually I think expand the scope of what you’re trying to say as an artist and and i think you know, you you can you can find enough work out there’s enough fucking corporate videos and interviews and, you know, things that need to be said there’s enough content out there that like sustaining a career, I think, isn’t necessarily like impossible. If you just want to be busy, but I think growing a career into the jobs you actually want to do. You have to kind of like, take time away from busy work, to do things with people that that are going to help both of you grow as artists and I think if you’re if you’re your main thing, you know if the career is sustained by directors and producers that want to pay you to do jobs, but you’re not interested in helping them grow as artists as well, then at some point, they’re going to move on from you because they, they like you, you aren’t, you aren’t invested in, in helping them grow, you’re not invested on helping them get to the next level. And I think, in reality, you know, anything that you can do to kind of help somebody else is going to come back tenfold. So, you know, there’s, there’s, there’s an element of like sustaining, and then there’s an element of growth that I think are different in a way and you can sustain just by being busy, I mean, I can, I can sustain, you know, a workload by being a technician that, you know, pulls focus, you know, 200 days a year, but that’s not necessarily what I want to do.
Yeah, it’s so there’s a lack of inspiration there. So what you’re chasing is that kind of, there’s the and the word balance is important in a lot of ways. Here we’re talking about the balance between being able to feed yourself and secure a future for your family. And at the same time, fine work that in some ways, inspires something deeper. So it’s not touching your soul, it’s touching your love or philosophy or, you know, for me stories of human potential is a phrase that I often use and I’ll use it in pitches for corporate clients. Stories of human potential is something that I’m extremely interested in because it’s an interest that I have in my own life. My own story is a story of hopefully human potential and that’s where the growth thing comes in. So kind of a nice little segue into the final question is share with us something that you’ve read watched or heard that inspired you recently
that I’ve read watched or heard um, you know, one of the recent movies I’ve seen which is you’ve certainly seen most of your audience and probably seen as the Joker film
and have not seen it yet so do well for me
I want to avoid at all there’s no spoilers here of course but you know, it’s kind of it’s kind of you know, and you if you’ve seen the trailer in general you might have come away from it with the same kind of kind of
I watched the first 20 seconds of the trailer and went oh my god this looks amazing stop. I don’t want to know any more about it because I want I’ve heard a little bit of the parently it’s controversial I don’t even know why it’s controversial. I don’t want to know anything about it so please don’t spoil it because I won’t say anything I want to go in there a complete virgin because I know that work in Phoenix has absolutely smashed it and some I don’t know what’s happened but he’s performance is just so outstanding that he’s somehow taken it to an you know, whole fucking next level phrase is just overused these days but somehow it’s Yeah, there’s something there. And I’ve upstairs in in so this is my office kind of studio space upstairs. I’ve got a home theater, massive screen, yada yada yada. Um, I want to sit in there hit play, and then just let this thing kind of wash over me and experience it that way. I love watching films where I’ve heard Okay, this is going to be a good experience but I know zero about the story characters, obviously, you know, the Joker so there’s some kind of context but anyway that inspired you so tell us why.
Well without saying too much about it um, I would say that it was very surprising I mean, if you if you’ve seen any of the trailer, it almost feels like it might be kind of like an excessively sad story about a guy who just keeps getting his ass kicked and then eventually dude
I’m here to watch I’m here in
five seconds is saying he at least get beat up in the first 20 seconds of this um,
I didn’t I didn’t watch didn’t even see 20 seconds because I didn’t even know he got beaten up.
I’m sorry. I’m really well, I one way or another. It was it was just surprising. And I think what was inspiring to me is that they made a superhero film different than the ones that you that you that you’ve been saying, you know that most superhero films are very, very similar. And I’m not really a fan of superhero movies nowadays.
So this thing just surprised me because
it felt like a character study and it felt very, very honest. And, you know, I think there’s beyond kind of like the the context of like, the IP It, it felt like somebody was taking a risk with it and was saying something that I think a lot of people either will respond to or won’t but I think, you know, there’s there’s, I think, a little, like a rare amount of character studies nowadays. And
it doesn’t say that’s the problem. Exactly, yeah,
it just doesn’t sound and the problem with it was too is that like, you know, you almost need the IP of the Batman world to be able to sell just like a character study like this. And it’s kind of, it’s kind of a shame that I think these movies don’t exist, but like, you know, like, there’s, I think they still
do, but they’re just hard to find. And I think the amount of content that’s created now, what we need, we need some entrepreneur to come up with a piece of software that can somehow go out and go to all these VOD platforms. And, you know, the kind of movies that I want to be able to go, these are the these are the movies that I’ve loved and put something into a piece of software, and then it goes out and finds all these other things. So I’m thinking of risk taking. character driven explorations of human potential, the movie go Go’s story. Have you seen that? Yeah. Okay. So I, my wife and I watched that and at the end of the movie, we all kind of looked at each other like was, fuck me. That is, that is an amazing story. extremely risky. When the two the two ghosts are kind of having this conversation. And it’s just, you know, they’re not talking but they’re talking. I got chills, not because I’m frightened, but because it’s like, the mind that this has come from, is incredibly inspiring. I want to I want to get him on. I’ve had I’ve had conversations with the guy that shot that and he said yes to come on, but he’s shooting another movie. And so he wants to wait until the other movies finished before it comes on. And I’m waiting on the dude’s name now. I’m the director of that film. But he’s done another one he did man old man with a gun with assessees basic and yeah, I mean that’s again really exciting filmmaking for the exact same reason is it’s it’s kind of risky, it’s an exploration of of what it means to be a human being in a very authentic and honest way and I really like that kind of filmmaking. So they’re they’re they’re just hard to find and so when you
have a lot of a lot a lot of these stories are moving to smaller platforms to you know, it’s moving to Netflix or Amazon and the way that their algorithms are working it’s kind of creating a very niche experience within that platform so you know, the Netflix for instance is going to continuously make more and more content and then you know, everybody’s Netflix is gonna be different from everybody else’s because it will find out what you like and then make you know, like, buy or create that film themselves and then it’ll be just for you and the 30,000 other people that love ghost story you know, so these these things do have a
but the algorithms aren’t working at the moment if I go on now, if I go into my iTunes All I see is fucking Marvel films and I you know, I’d rather shoot myself in the head and watch one of those I completely agree with with Scorsese. It’s not cinema and that’s what I’m interested in because so I don’t want to see it.
I really I felt the same way about it. I mean, you know that there’s no there’s no stakes when the when the characters can die as far as I’m concerned.
Yeah. I mean, it’s just it’s no different than eating Chinese food or McDonald’s it’s just it’s popcorn cinema, which is fine. If that’s what you’re interested in. I want to I want to consume something that moves me that makes me see the world from a different direction a different place. I want to be pushed in some ways. Marvel doesn’t do that.
I think I think that what was really interesting I’m talking to a director friend of mine about Joker and what was interesting about that, is that like, it was you see you said popcorn cinema I call it bubblegum cinema, because like, these Marvel films are just like fucking flash, right? I just can’t get into the stories of the characters. I don’t care about any of them and whatnot. But what was amazing about that is that it blended these two ideas of like, popcorn cinema, it’s entertaining, it’s beautiful to look at, it’s really well done. And it like has this IP that people inherently know something about. But at the same time, it’s like it’s feeding us kind of this, like, this character study that feels intense and real. And, and it’s doing both at the same time. And I think that was what was really kind of inspiring about that is that you can feed people broccoli, give them a little bit of bubblegum, put it together and still create like a very successful picture. Um,
it’s broccoli with cheese on top.
I mean, I think the problem with it is, is that a lot of people are trying to either, like, force feed you the broccoli, or like just like sugar code, you sugarcoat the bubblegum and it’s like, very rarely are those things come together. And I think when they do, it’s just, it’s mind blowing to see because because it’s like, it’s the same thing I was talking about earlier, where it’s like, you know, your marketing is like at top notch but your your, your, your philosophical philosophy is top notch too. And they’re like, they’re, they’re, they’re so well honed together that, you know, I mean, that everything just works. So yeah, I mean, I guess that answers the question, What inspires me? Yeah, I love I love to see projects that can entertain in a, you know, in a, like mind numbing kind of way where I don’t have to be fully invested. But because it’s done so well, on a human human element, I become invested in it.
I think Chris Nolan’s films to some degree. I think he’s films to me, personally, are weakened by the obfuscation of the structure of the film, you know, there’s basically timelines that he mashes together, so you’re never quite sure exactly what’s going on. You’ve got to think your way through it. And he’s doing that strategy. I mean, I’ve seen interviews where he talks about it’s just it’s strategy. He’s, I mean, you look at something like inception, it doesn’t have time. It does have you know, that kind of deeper meaning to it. momento, momento. momento, that was the was one of his first ones. Yeah. That was, that was great as well. But at the same time, you kind of left feeling strangely unsatisfied. I use this as an as an example very, very often is taco tarkowski is stalker. The End shot the little girl at the end of the table and the glass moving. That’s the last shot and it just slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly goes to the end, and then write this like, what kind of leaves you with this weird feeling? That feels unsatisfying, so don’t tell me how Joker ends, I don’t want to know what we’ll see. We’ll see how we go. So just to kind of put a ball on the end of that. So what you’re looking at is, is trying to kind of bring these two worlds together, fill up something that has meaning, deeper meaning, and something that also entertains. Yeah,
yeah, exactly. Yeah. And I think, you know, like I said earlier, it’s really, really hard to do that for anyone, you know, you see, you know, filmmakers that have been doing this for 30 years, and every once in a while they hit a flop that is just doesn’t work at all, you know, I mean, the Irishman for me, you know, didn’t really do it. And I’m loved Scorsese, normally. And people call it a masterpiece. I mean, you know, I think there’s such an element to this art form that is going to be very subjective. And, you know, certain things that touch you aren’t going to touch me. But at least when people are kind of viewing a project for both of those qualities that it is going to be entertaining, and it is going to at least potentially scratch the surface of something a little bit more real, like I just I can’t get enough of that stuff. I, I, they, I want to watch it over and over again. You know, I think I think the saddest thing is like, a feature film, that I’m fine saying once and never watching again, you know, because if if there’s no layers to it, or if, if it doesn’t kind of like, hit me hard, and it’s like, Okay, that was nice, but like, I will never press play on that again. It just feels like a waste of eight months and you know, 10 to a year’s worth of work, and millions and millions of dollars. And it’s just like, just just for this 190 minute experience, you
know, yeah, yeah. Well, that’s it’s kind of like radio, isn’t it? You just, it goes in this year and out the other year and has that meeting? Yeah,
exactly. And you know, as far as as far as all the content that you can watch via YouTube or scroll through on Instagram or Facebook, it’s like, this content is only a placeholder, and it’s sad, I think for for all these people to put so much effort into content, that is a 90 minute feature film. So for instance for you, these ones Rule films are just content. They’re placeholders. You know, I’ll watch it on a plane when I’m trying to get to sleep, you know, but it’s like, I refused to watch it. Just don’t do it for me.
Yeah. Cool. All right. Well, thank you for today. I really enjoyed the conversation.
Me too. Me too. Thanks for making it challenging man. I appreciate it.
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