In this episode of the podcast Clarke talks with cinematographer Oren Soffer on his journey and what comes out of the discussion around the importance of curation as a filmmaker will have you thinking more deeply about life in general.
Okay, Mr. Soffer, you ready? Yeah. All right. So the question I asked everyone is, Who are you? What do you do? And how did you get your start?
Yeah, I’m Oren Sofer. I’m a cinematographer, director of photography. I currently predominantly live and work in Los Angeles. I’ve lived in New York in the past, and I still kind of bounce and bounce back and forth quite a bit what we refer to as by Coastal. And how did I get my start? You know, I, my love of cinematography started in high school, it sort of was a confluence between two fields of interest of mine, which were painting, and visual art, and movies. I love the movies, loved movies, as a kid. I was painting and drawing as a very young kid, four or five years old. And basically, as those two interests in artistic endeavors continued up on their parallel path, at some point they inevitably met. Okay, and I used to paint in. No, I don’t do it as much anymore at all. Really, I mean, it’s, it’s kind of a shame, that’s one of the things that fell off, fell off the wayside as I grew up, and sort of had to focus on a career and stuff like that, you know, I’ll still sketch or, or, or draw things here and there, mostly just in the margins of things, you know, I, I won’t sit down with a blank canvas and actually draw something anymore. And I think, I think as a hobby, my desire to express visual art, like that sort of pivoted into photography, which I treat as a hobby these days. And it’s just a little bit faster, and maybe a little bit more connected to cinematography. In that, you know, you’re photographing a tangible object or space. So yeah, sketching and painting fell by the wayside. It’s something I’ve regretted, actually. But I don’t know, I don’t know how to get back into it, that there’s too many other things and elements in play in life, and it’s hard to carve out the time for something like that, unfortunately. Yeah, so it was hard. It was some benefit. Yeah, adulthood is
adulthood is is busy and you have to be you have to kind of you have to be not to use the the S word against strategic but just in terms of where you spend your time. I you know, people send me stuff and it’s like, I’ll look at it and and I want to watch it, but I just don’t have the time. And yeah, it’s it’s a shame because there’s some really, what do I say that something like 50,000 movies made two years out? That just seems ridiculous.
Yeah. So yeah, I watch a lot of movies and TV shows and you know, like to travel and go on walks and go to nature and kind of, you know, there’s so many other things to do with your spare time. Yeah. It’s it Yeah, it’s it’s hard. I mean, I also you know, I don’t do as much reading as I used to there’s there’s a lot of different things that there’s only so many hours in the day. Yeah, totally. Totally. Yeah, we can’t we can’t all be you know, jack Dorsey vampiric? Like, yeah, two hours of sleep a night kind of crazy lifestyle. Yeah.
Yeah, I don’t know. So how are you one day? Hi, yeah, you’re in high school. And these two worlds collide. So what happens next?
Yeah. So you know, around, then you sort of have this realization that Oh, film is a viable career, like people actually do this for a living? And
no, no, no, I don’t know if the word viable is the right. The right adjective? Yeah, I suppose for like, 1% of people, which is probably why you’re here, right? You’re in the you’re in that in that team. But
anyway, it’s true. And to be fair, the the leap from, you know, from the realization of, Oh, this is even something that people do, too, nowadays, of Actually, yeah, turning it into a viable career. You know, I wasn’t thinking about it in those terms. It was more in the terms of like, watching The Lord of the Rings, special edition, DVD sets and all the behind the scenes content that was sort of the final awakening of like, Oh, this is a career path. I mean, people actually tangibly do this and make a living off of it. There was still quite a leap from there to here. But essentially, the short version is, you know, detour through the Israeli army. I served for three years living in Israel. I grew up in Israel. So it’s a mandatory service. So that was sort of a pause. And then after that, I went to NYU film school, moved to New York City, America and started studying film and even then, you know, there was still sort of a naive about pursuing film as a as a passion, but but it didn’t it hadn’t quite translated into, you know, I can actually make a career out of this. And I think that the reality sets in after you graduate from from school and you have to start making a living. And so yeah, just started pounding the pavement there took a few years I would, I would mark it up is about three years from graduating to actually kind of figuring out a plan and a cohesive concept of what a career in cinematography would look like. And then those three years were spent almost kind of just floundering around a little bit. I mean, that’s, that’s sort of downplaying it a little bit, but essentially just a combination of taking gigs from friends or upperclassmen people who had graduated ahead of me who were already working, and were able to hire me as a camera assistant or an operator. So just kind of gigging that way. And then, for cinematography, it was, you know, being open to people that I met in school, just making sure that they knew that I was interested in pursuing this and if they ever had any project that’s going on that I’d be keen on helping them out. And also trawling, Craigslist, Mandy, calm film and TV pros, just a couple of websites. I don’t know exactly what their international. I know that placement is, but yeah, it’s certainly used quite a bit here. And they’ve sort of shifted around in the years I think, one film and TV pro bought Mandy or something at some point, somebody merged and somebody of it but yeah, that was actually not a terrible place to find gigs I wasn’t building a career at that point I didn’t have the awareness yet but I was making enough of a living at least to kind of get by and
it sounds like you are grinding and hustling and basically just getting is doing as much work as possible and doing anything in order to not only pay the bills but just to kind of I don’t know if you’re being strategic about it, but but just kind of learning the craft and and, you know, learning learning the bits of the, the, the entire production that sounds like is that is that a good representation of what what was going on?
Yes, so I would also say I didn’t really have a strategy in those three years, I think there was a turning point in at that point, it was three years after graduation where I did sort of have a come to film Jesus moment and this epiphany of what what a film career actually looks like and what it entails a professional cinematography career sustainable career in those three years I wasn’t quite approaching it that way it was really more kind of just taking whatever I could get. Yeah, um, it resulted in quite a lot of kind of mediocre work and that’s not necessarily a reflection on the cinematography work, I mean, you know, I was and still am growing as as a cinematographer, and honing the skill set and and my taste level but it’s really more indicative of the quality of work that I was not being very discerning about in that three year period you know, I shot a couple of features in that time period that I’m not super proud of as in terms of a final product and no real you know, commercial work or music videos that contributed that are on my website or really contributed to my body of work in any way it was really more hodgepodge. And you know, I wasn’t necessarily fully making a living off of it either. I also taught at NYU actually as an adjunct professor, I taught kind of an intro to cinematography class for for sophomores one on one stuff. I mean, you know, what is what are f stops? Yeah, what? How do you expose it in their basic, basic stuff? So that was sort of my supplemental income, because cinematography was not fully funding my already limited spending lifestyle, but yeah, so those three years were, I guess what I would refer to as the wilderness sort of taking whatever came and not really
planning everything everyone has to do it. Like there’s no yeah, there’s no way around that you you, there’s a phase in people’s Korea, where you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. And you’re gonna work out you got to work out how to do that. And then there’s different ways of doing it. So you know, there’s, there’s film school, there’s YouTube, there’s, yeah, a combination of that and, and practical experience with that practical experience. It’s, yeah, it’s hard to translate knowledge into wisdom. Yeah, wisdom is Yeah, is indeed, electrical knowledge. Plus experience brought in brought brought together it’s the two of them together. So you mentioned this moment where you When you said coming to Jesus, so coming to film Jesus coming to film Jesus, so your your moment of coming to film Jesus, what was that? Tell us about that? Because that sounds like there was some, like a sit down moment where you went where you went, Okay, this is not working, what do I need to make it work? So where did you go from from there? How did you go from that point to it because your reel is very strong. And your website looks beautifully curated. So you’ve clearly spend quite a bit of time you know, I even noticed the color palette. As I move down the page, like you’ve thought about even the even as I move down the page, I can see this guy’s thinking about what he’s doing. You know, Black and White has become much more popular these days. I shot when I shot my first my first independent film, I actually did a grade rendered out showed it to people that was black and white and and living like this is beautiful. But film festivals, I got to like it. And so I ended up going out with Kala and I was like, I still look at that. I still look at it these days and think, I don’t know that black and white look very nice. Anyway, that’s an aside.
Now, but it’s true. I mean, it’s funny that I’ll just to follow this tangent very briefly. You know that even big filmmakers, like James mangled with Logan, and George Miller with Mad Max, we’re kind of tempted by the black and white, the allure of the black and white. Yeah, release of black and white versions of their films. Obviously, the main versions were in color. and rightfully so I would say, especially with Mad Max, but yeah, I
can’t. I can’t say I had Mexican black and white. Yeah. It’s it’s interesting
to watch because it’s it’s exactly that feeling of that you had when you you kind of switch it over to that and you go, huh. I mean, there is something so primal about the quality of it. That is undeniable. There’s a quality but yeah, that’s neither here nor there. Just a funny tangent. Yeah. So So what was the what was the come to film Jesus moment? You Yeah, I mean, it was it was so this was in 2016. I mean, I can put a date on it. And it was really, I think just looking at some of my peers at the time, who I’d gone to school with, or who were maybe one year ahead of me or two years ahead of me and tracking their journey. And having this concept and perception that they had sort of figured something out, that they’d sort of cracked some sort of code that I was missing. No one,
no one knows what they have. No one knows what we’re doing. Right? We’re all kind of, you know, that’s life, isn’t it? No one knows what the hell’s going on. We’re all trying to work it out. Yeah.
Anyway, exactly. But but some people, some people do kind of find their way at different times. And I was very much inspired by the work that I was seeing them putting out there on on Instagram, and Vimeo at the time, you know, kind of just following their work and checking out the directors that they were working with and seeing their body of work. And, you know, there there started, there were some common threads, sort of trendy elements of the the projects they were making, at the time that I was starting to identify in terms of shooting style, exposure style, but actually mostly sound design and editing. Those were elements that I felt that were that were missing from, specifically the short form content that I was creating the commercials and music videos that I were working on. Were just not at that level, there was a gap between the projects that I was seeing these filmmakers put out on Vimeo and the projects that I was working on. And with narrative, this coincided with a sort of cynicism developed cynicism that came about with narrative after a bad experience on feature number three, which was one of the kind of trash heap features I shouldn’t say that but I mean, I don’t know, I don’t think they would
to lie because the hit to light it’s recorded.
Those those people who made that movie aren’t going to hear this, but okay. But and, and you know what I mean? Why not? There’s no reason not to be honest about it. It wasn’t a great experience, shooting this film. And, you know, that was sort of the, the initial the initiator of the epiphany of sort of, like, there must be another way because what I what I’ve been doing up until now has not gotten me anywhere that that I find pleasurable, or, you know, inspiring.
What do you think was happening like, the so you told you’re talking about the epiphany. So there’s a moment where you’re going through, you’re looking at your peers work, you’re comparing yourself to them, which is never a good thing.
Terrible idea. No, only bad, the inevitable.
Sure, sure. But if it’s done, if it’s done correctly, it can be useful. It’s not pleasant, but it can be useful so you’ve gone Yeah, it was I went to school with him. I went to school with her. I went to school with him. They’re all up here. And I’m still here Why? And you’ve you’ve used, even analyze what’s going on, you’ve kind of pegged it down to sound design, which, obviously you have nothing to do. So therefore you’re going, alright, so the directors I’m working with don’t. And here’s the thing. The difference between I say this all the time, sound design is the thing that’s missing. And, and I had the experience where I’ve had, I’ve had scenes that don’t work, they just don’t work. And I, and I don’t know why. And then all of a sudden, it’s like a sound, put sound, you know, like really layering sound and the same pitch, it’s the same acting same, everything was the same that was missing. So you’ve really, I’m guessing what I’m hearing is that is that you’ve gone and you’ve got all right, so it’s the, the level of director that I’m working with, because they don’t understand that the sound design is actually a it’s half the film, like,
you hear. Yeah. Sound Design. You do? Yeah, that sound I mean, you know, Walter, merge, and Lucas. And a lot of these people have talked about, specifically around Apocalypse Now in Star Wars, and all these other films that sound and music are really doing a lot of the heavy lifting. And this is a very true statement that I think people forget. But, you know, film, a film can lack in the visual aesthetic, you know, quality, I suppose. But have a slick, professional, full, and fully realized soundscape. And it can still be a great enjoyable film. I mean, I don’t think anybody is praising the movie tangerine, because of its literal aesthetic, visual aesthetic value. Obviously, shooting on an iPhone for that film was both a financial limitation and a gimmick.
It was a marketing marketing ploy, but totally ended up the sound.
The sound mix and sound design of that film is no different than any other professional level Hollywood film. And that’s why the film works, because that’s why it actually functions as a movie, because you can compromise visual aesthetic, but you can’t compromise audio aesthetic, you absolutely can’t, because that’s the first thing that audiences will hone into. And there’s a whole litany of examples. I mean, 20 if people go back and rewatch 28 days later, or collateral or other films that were shot in the early days of digital I think you’ll be shocked at how kind of pour those films kind of look but it doesn’t matter because obviously a the story works but the thing that makes it feel like a cohesive film is the sound it’s the sound the music everything about it rings, authenticity and truth and and and and quality that you can compromise on visuals, but you can’t. So basically, you’re absolutely right. It was the Epiphany was the directors that I’m working with are not to necessarily tuned into this, the potential of sound and editing I would say, I think, you know, I’ve shot I had shot many a project that was just sort of sloppily put together in the Edit. There’s no authorial intent, there’s no rhythm, there’s no sense of rhythm, there’s no anything, right? So the Epiphany was, I need to I love that. I love that phrase. Dude, authorial intent, yes, authorial intent. Yeah, beautiful. Beautifully says slap together at it. I’m sure you’ve seen that happening. Dude, I’ve done on the timeline, press export done.
I do a lot of Yeah, I do a lot of corporate work direct to brand taught. And sometimes it’s just this thing needs to get done. And you just, you know, I’m guilty. I’m sure there’s a lot of filmmakers that have done work, that they’re never going to show anyone because they’re not proud of and but there’s only the one thing that always suffers the thing that suffers the most and at the start will be sound it’s always sound. Other than like, if you’re doing interview type talking head, obviously you can’t fuck that up. But for me, sound creates the world and the story lives in a context and that context is a world so that’s and that’s the reason why tangerine works because it’s a world it’s a world of that part of of La that that Yeah, street corner of LA and all the people that that are there. And yeah, without the sound there is there’s no there’s no world. No,
I can’t No, I take that. Yeah, so. So the Epiphany was, I need to find a way to either either find directors to work with who do have the understanding, and the taste level to apply those elements to the to the big picture two projects, and I’m talking specifically about commercial projects, music videos, stuff that maybe has real potential, you know, the corporate world talking head interview, stuff like that. It’s probably not going to go on Real anyway, so yep, that the lack of authorial intent there is by design and not a huge issue, right. But when you’re shooting a project that has the potential, you have the production value, you know, shooting stuff for reasonable brands, nothing major, but at least stuff that that had visual interest, private jets, Miami locations, palm trees, helicopters, different things, or music videos, where there’s potential, but there wasn’t a bridge to the to the execution. And so the Epiphany was, I need to either find directors who understand this, or find projects with some of the directors that I was working with that that that I can maybe help get to the get a final product to a place where I could use it on my reel. And that it would come across as something that bares an air of legitimacy and quality that is on par with the other work that I was seeing. And then to you know, this would be a mutually beneficial arrangement where they’re getting something out of it as well, you know, yeah, doing this purely is for myself, the idea here is, we can both create something that would help, that would be of a certain quality level that would help both of us.
So yeah, talking about sound design, when you’re going out to meet these directors or find them, specifically you’re looking at work with the sound designers is just better, and you’re trying to make a relationship with this person. And or the people who already know you’re going to them and saying, Hey, dude, we worked on this thing together, it was okay. But you know, the thing that was really missing was the sound, let’s do something new. But let’s make sure that we really, you know, this the sound is the thing that’s going to excuse the pun, it’s not a cliche, take it to the next level, right? Yeah, we have to totally Yeah. Is that is that what you were doing?
It was that and that’s actually what happened. So there were two sort of catalyst projects that I pin, sort of as the beginning of my actual career, and sort of my realization of the, you know, or actualization of a quality level that I that I feel comfortable with. And those both happen in 2016, when it was in music video, excuse me in one was a PSA, both low budget. So you know, we’re still not, we’re not dealing with high end equipment, or production value or anything like that. But the idea here was to find a way, even within the limitations to focus in on those elements, specifically, a really tight edit, great sound design and score, and use those to kind of bring the piece as a whole, to the next level, as he said, to the point where, you know, with those projects, as we were putting them together, I’m sitting with the director and being like, okay, check out this project, let’s, let’s reach out to this editor, you know, let’s reach out to this sound design firm, or team or company, get the work that they did on that project, let’s get them to do that for this project. Let’s reach out to company three, you know, let’s let’s go out on a limb and see if we can find a young up and coming colorist there or not even see if we can find, look, here’s one, here’s the young colorist who’s done these projects that are just starting out, she’s building her reel, you know, also kind of projects in a similar scope and style and budget level is the one we were doing, let’s reach out, let’s let’s try to bring people into this that can actualize that quality level. And that’s what we did. And then those two pieces, I think were are they’re both still on my website. And that was sort of the launch of this, this newly found ability or idea of focus on actualizing the potential in a project and getting it getting a final product and focusing on getting a final piece of content, that that has a quality level that is consistent throughout. And that’s something that I think is on par with the work that I was looking at for my peers and saying that’s this is the gap that I need to close. So yeah, that was that was it.
Great story, man. Yeah, I start every interview. By warning people, if we talk about the quality of work being the thing that gets you That is the difference between success or not, I’d push back. And and I stick by that, but he’s a classic example of where, because I did say that you have to be good to even play like to get on your field, you have to be good. But what that doesn’t mean is that I don’t care about the quality of work because I do in fact, yeah. I would say that. One of the reasons why I don’t want this conversation to go around all it says is that if you start leaning on just the work, then we don’t get to understand how to make good work. And that So that story there is a very is a detailed and deep dive on what’s actually required to to level up to get to a. And it doesn’t stop there where you’re at, I’m sure you like all of us, we’re all trying to get better and better and better. So. And there’s a lot of strategy with what you did. It almost sounds like you’re there’s some producing skills in there. Now, you may not want to get into logistics and, you know, organizing crews and what have you, but there
Yeah, I don’t want to call locations and check availability. Yeah. But yes, there is, there is a macro producing element to this of, you know, producing in the Yeah, just in that in that big picture sense of sort of, in the literal sense of the term as in as in committing some actions that lead to the project as a whole coming together and certain elements being executed a certain way. And that sense, yeah, absolutely.
So I would, I would say that all of us are producing our careers. So you got to think you got to think about your own career is, it’s not just a case of making good work, and they will come this is not the field of fucking dreams. You have to you have to produce it. And producing is doing exactly what you just did so. And some stuff in there. I’m some advice you gave, I’m going to utilize in a project that I’m pitching on this Friday, Friday, my time for a big doc series, so So thank you, man, like I yeah, my
pleasure. That’s great. I
learned something he said, right.
That’s awesome. That’s the idea right now. Yeah. So this was three years ago. And so obviously, you know, things have grown quite a bit since then career wise, but the underlying principle is, is similar. You know, there’s a constant pursuit, even in the work that I do now of identifying the potential for to create a piece that is of a certain quality level. And I should emphasize here that, you know, I haven’t, I haven’t even really been talking about cinematography. You know, when we’re talking about the quality level of these projects, I’m referring to sort of the, the overall piece the piece as a whole as, as, as, as a as a work of art or a piece of content, whatever you want to call it. You know, we don’t have to get into the Martin Scorsese debate. I personally think anything is art, but that’s that’s fine.
I’m on Scorsese side.
Well, Tyler Tyler,
we can have a whole conversation about that but yeah, I don’t see why you know, the this PSA for Special Olympics isn’t a piece of art but that’s just me. The point is, is that the the quality control you know, we’re not just talking about cinematography skill because the skill level I think is there you know, my work on those two projects was wasn’t necessarily I mean it was maybe I was more happy with it maybe just because the, the projects themselves allowed some freedom to really push for something aesthetically, that that was out of my comfort zone or not out of my comfort zone, but sort of more aspirational visually something that I was really stretching to to achieve to accomplish something but the the quality level of the project that’s just one piece of it, you know, you can shoot something pretty but if the piece as a whole doesn’t work, it’s not going on my reel. And so that principle is still active today in my interactions with directors on projects that I work on with them you know, if if, if I can identify potential in a project that I can see a version of a final product of a piece as a whole that I think is of a certain quality and something that I think would be good and enjoyable and good good to be use on my reel or put out into the world. You know, have a conversation with them, like what do you think about doing are you going to do a director’s cut? Who’s going to be the colorist who are using to edit who’s doing the sound design like it’s the same conversation I want to be as helpful as possible to try and Shepherd that project into the quality level that that I think it can fulfill and that is one that I would be proud of putting on my on my website or on my reel
is it ever backfired? fully being in the in the phrase that come to my mind as you’re saying, Yeah, nosy. If I’m if I’m a director, and the cinematographer starts to ask me, who’s doing the Edit who’s doing the car, be like, Oh, I get the color, or who’s doing the sound? I get the color because you’re the cinematographer? Sure, fuck are you asking me about sound? Yeah, um, has a backhoe note.
You know, it hasn’t but I think there’s there’s certainly a strategy and this is really, this is really something that needs to be honed.
Depends on how you ask it. too well,
that’s, that’s what I’m getting at is you need to be able to identify first and foremost, like when it’s even appropriate or, or I guess, viable or reasonable to even ask I mean, there’s plenty of projects that I won’t even bother. Because either I don’t think I have a close enough relationship with the director. Or just because I don’t think it’s worth bothering you know, there’s a lot of projects that I shoot that I sort of just I show up, I do the job, I walk away from it. And then sometimes you get lucky, and a good product comes out of it a good end result. And then I put that on my reel, and it’s a pleasant surprise. And then oftentimes, more often, I guess, you know, you walk away from it, you see the final results, it’s kind of shit, you maybe post a couple of stills for an Instagram, because at least maybe some elements of your work are worth sharing, but you don’t put the actual whole piece anywhere, and you move on. And that’s okay. So it’s really um, you know, this only this process only happens for a small handful of projects a year, it’s only in the cases where, you know, I’ve either gotten close to or have already been close to the director. We’ve already talked about this idea in the past about director’s cuts or the mutual desire to create a good end product. So you know, you sort of suss it out, it’s almost a social skill thing more than a title, title. Yeah, skill set, it’s just understanding when it’s when that’s a viable thing to ask or when it’s when there’s any point in doing it versus when there’s no reason to bother.
Yeah, so I think the, if it’s a one strong key indicator as to whether someone can ask or not is the degree to which the director has. So if we look at a spectrum, on one, one side, someone is highly collaborative just wants input from everyone, and someone who has a very strong vision. So some directors, and I would tend more towards this, that I’ve got a very, very clear picture on what it is that we’re doing. And what I need is people to not basically follow me, but not in a kind of Hitler esque type approach. Right? You’re still collaborative, but it’s a top down approach, as opposed to short, like a lack of hierarchy.
The Division? Yes, it I think it’s a trust thing, right? It’s like, yeah, I have the vision. Trust me.
It’s not about Do as I say, it’s about Yep. Don’t you know, you don’t have to? You shouldn’t have to question it. Because, because this is something you can you can trust me with. Go just go, you know, go along with it. Yeah, yeah, I agree.
Yeah, cool. Um, and the reason why I bring that up as if someone goes, Well, how do I know if someone’s listening to this now? Like, how do I know? Yeah, that’s just if you ask questions around, just trying to get an indication as to how collaborative someone is, then you’ll get you’ll get an idea. That’s just simply asking a question, but you don’t want to ask it in a way that makes the director feel uncomfortable. I know, if someone wants to say to me, so how much can you How much will I get to collaborate on the project? immediately that person has just not been has not got the job? Because you’re asking the wrong question. Totally. And you’re asking it in the wrong way. You’re being very demanding but if you would ask that same question and I I don’t know how I’d want to hear it. But if you would, if it was more about I’m here to I remember listening to a read Murano years ago, I 10 years ago, so she was not she was not the read that we know today. That’s about when when I met her, okay, so around that time 2011 2012 this is like, yeah, so before Yeah, 2009 something like that. And yeah. She she was talking about, she was watching it, so she was not a director at that time, she was just a dp. And she said, I the way that I like to work is that I’m basically I’m there to to support the director’s vision. And at the same time, what I like to do is make sure make certain that the the partner that I have, that I’m responsible for, that’s that’s the the the area that I get to control. Yeah, I’m not articulating the way she said it was like, okay, that that’s exactly the kind of cinematographer that I want to work with. So I want to be able to say, look, this is the kind of look we’re going for, here’s some reference stills and then just be able to hand that off to someone and and know that that person supporting that vision and not kind of undermining it anyway, but at the same time, not having to micromanage that person or the people that are around To her or him. So I couldn’t
agree more. Yeah. And I actually have to say, I’ve been occasionally shocked at a couple of cinematographers, not a ton, but a few that talk quite a bit about, basically, how they’re able to impose their will and vision on a project. And that that’s always shocked me a little bit, because that seems antithetical to the process. To me, I approach it in the same way that you just described, as you know, I am responsible for a very major component of any project, it’s my full responsibility to execute camera placement, movement, choice, lenzing, lighting, composition and everything. But, you know, that’s not happening in a vacuum. And I think it’s, it’s both naive and almost aggressive at the same time to sort of, say, like, Well, you know, I must, I must impose my will on this in any way. That seems strange to me. But, but yeah, I
love the story. I love the story. qubic, I don’t remember which movie it was. And I’ve told this story on the podcast before, but I think that the cinematographer was Gordon Willis, who’s now passed. And it was the first day first shots, I first set up, and Kubrick says to Willis. So I want a 25 and $1. Here, and you know, we’ll come back, I’ll come back in an hour, and you know, we can, it’ll be ready. Yeah, it comes back. And the dollar is like five feet back. And there’s a 50 on the camera. And he’s like, that’s not what I asked for. And Gordon started argue it’s gonna look the same. And he’s like, no, it’s not going to look the same. You put the doing work, where I told you to put it, put a 25 on the camera, and I’ll be back in an hour. If it’s not that I’m gonna have you gone, you sacked. I loved hearing that story. Because that’s, I mean, that’s classic Kubrick for stop sure. But it’s also the case of a cinematographer going I know better than you motherfucker. And because I’m the director of photography, and I’m going to impose my, my will on the project and the director, but it is curbing. So you know,
it’s just rare,
but a 2025. And a 50. look different.
I feel they’re theirs. Yeah, they do it,
the idea that you can you can pass a 50 off for 25 is a joke, anyway, well, I would do the same I would be, I would not be happy. So I the reason why sorry, I don’t mean to keep talking. The reason why I did that is that you said your responsibility was camera placement, and lens choice. And, and every project that I’ve been involved in, that is the point at which there’s a collaboration. So I want you to be able to tell me, not telling me, I want you in order to have a conversation. This is what I’m trying to achieve here. This is where I want the camera. And if you think it’s if you think it’s a and this is the lens, I want to 35 this is what we’re trying to achieve. Yeah, if you’re like clocking out what would actually be better. If we put a if we do this, we do that. And then we can light from this, if you bring a competition, conversation about light and how that’s going to improve the narrative, then I’m interested, if you just impose your will by whacking a 50 on a moving a dolly bag, it’s like, Fuck you. That’s not how this this set works.
I couldn’t agree more. You know, I, I would say as a as a dp, I think it’s our job to do as the director says, so if there is a director who has a very specific idea of what lens he or she wants, and where that camera should go, it’s our job to execute that. You can complain about it later to your dp friends, right? That said, as a dp, I enjoy the collaboration, more than simply executing a vision. And I will say that in many, I mean, there’s very few Kubrick’s and ventures out there. And Spielberg’s in many cases, what I’ve encountered is directors who do have a specific instruction, sometimes quite a bit will have a misinterpretation of what that lens that they chose, and that camera placement is doing. And, and to me, it’s better to do to enact the scenario that you just described, which is talk to me. Let’s talk about how we want this shot to feel. Yeah, what is our goal? What is our storytelling goal with this shot? Why you say, you say put the 25 mil here on the dolly? My question is, tell me why. What is the what are we trying to evoke here because yeah, maybe the 29 will will do the same thing but add a little extra layer to it. The 25 won’t give us, but let’s have a conversation about it. Like that’s the way I like to work. It doesn’t always happen. But that’s sort of the ideal scenario. To me. The flip side that happens that I also don’t enjoy is, you know, and this happens a lot with at this stage in my career working with some younger directors, and I’m not throwing any specific person under the bus. I think this is, this isn’t anybody’s fault. But you can’t you can’t have people who don’t who don’t really have an opinion one way or the other. Yeah, and who’s not gonna give, you know, yeah, cuz they give you too much power to sort of say like, Well, you know, you can put the camera up wherever you want, use whatever lens you want. And then I’m like, Okay, well, this is the opposite extreme that I’m not enjoying, because we’re still not having a conversation. You’re just letting me Yeah, you’re basically letting me make some directorial choices, which I don’t want to do. If I did, I would be a director. I don’t want to do that. I want to collaborate with you. So.
But they’re actually they’re actually missing the point of what the camera is. The camera is a character. And so yeah, your agenda is a subjective point of view. Totally.
So if you if you’re not doing a stage play, we’re not capturing a stage play here. Yeah, exactly.
So if the conversation is a director, the conversations you have with actors, where you’re talking about motivation, what do they want, you know, blocking as well, like, you need to move from here to here. But this is what you should be thinking, not in a in a very active way, right? This is what she wants. This is the reason why she’s moving from there to there. And then some texts, if I go into a lot, I like to talk about subtext, like the reason why she’s hostile, not just active, I have a conversation with the DP in a similar way, the camera is a character. So I want to, I want the camera here. I want it below my line. And I want a 35. And this is the reason why. And and it’ll be from that single point of view. This is this is the story. So it’s not always the feeling, but it’s certainly I think about it as a character. And then the person that’s operating that character, like a puppet master, is you the cinematographer, and then you make that happen, you’d go and sell your gaffers and your whatever’s to, you know, all the little mice come out, they do their thing, and then we call action bang, and we get a play between that single point of view. And that’s why don’t two things. I like to shoot single camera whenever possible, as much as possible. But it’s not always not always possible. Yeah, there’s limitations.
Yep. Yep. And
the, I think 3d was doomed from the very start, that was a marketing gimmick, for that same point of view is that it is a single point of view. And then when you bring that third dimension in, sound goes away, sound becomes far less important. And it’s like the viewers, eyes are now part of this anyway, I’m talking way too much in this interview. Yeah.
No, no, you’re absolutely right. And actually, to tie this into what we were just saying before about, in case somebody is listening and wondering, how do you know how do you know when a project is something that that you can potentially have that kind of collaboration with a director in order to start a larger conversation about the final piece? If a director is talking to me about subtext and reason behind decisions and motivations behind this? I would I’m not going to question them about anything. Because the minute a director is having that conversation, I know they’re tuned in, to what I’m tuned into. And then I know that we can have a good faith and productive conversation even down the road about, you know, it’s something as simple as like, so what are you? What are your What are your goals for the project? And what it’s done? Do you? Are you planning on creating something for your website for your reel, if there’s, if I can tell from the way that the director is talking about the filmmaking, the collaborative process, how we interact on set, what kind of things he or she is saying, what kind of actions they’re making. And I can see that trust and that trust his bond is created. I’m not going to ask about the end goal of the project, because I already know that they are thinking about creating something of quality, right? Yep, the questions only start to come up when I’m not sure. And then it’s sort of like I liken this to you know, your, your the Raptor, testing the fences, in Jurassic Park here, you know, you you, you can start asking questions to try and figure out where a director stands. With regards to project as a whole. Sometimes you can even just tell looking at somebody’s website, if a director has a really well put together website, beautiful design, lots of great interface, aesthetic decisions being made graphic cohesion, then that is already a signal to me, or you know, you can see it in a treatment if a director puts together a really aesthetically pleasing treatment and applies good taste even to something that most people won’t see. That’s a sign to me that this will be somebody who’s thinking about this stuff. Somebody who isn’t thinking about it, yet. You start to ask little questions here and there. And it’s not even questions, it’s often something as sort of as simple as like expressing to somebody, look, I’m here for you, I am a resource for you for this project. You know, DPS shoot a lot more than directors do just by virtue of time, you know, directors spend a lot more time on fewer projects, because that’s how it goes you’re involved earlier, and the end later in the process in order to create whereas the DP can hop from shoot to teach. So I always try to preface it with like, Look, I’m here for you. Let me know if there’s anything, let me know if there’s anything I can do for you. If there’s any idea you want to bounce off of me, like even just opening that door, is almost in secretly sort of a test of like, are they going to do it? Are they going to use this? Are they going to ask me? Do I have any thoughts? Or do I have any reference images that I’m thinking or what did I think or this and that net, starts to unravel? Or tell me what that what the collaboration is going to look like? And how, how the two of us can see the whole project through to fruition? And whether or not this is something that has the potential to end up on my reel? Or maybe I’m just going to show up, do the job, get paid go home?
Which we all need to do a little bit of that as well? Oh, yeah, sure, I
would say because that jority of what I do is that but yeah, is that
I mean, that’s what pays the bills, the stuff that we’ve been talking about, up to this point is either quality commercial or narrative stuff, whether it’s shorter, longer form, Doc, or kind of narrow narrative narrative.
Yeah, dark music, video maybe or dance film. I mean, there’s sort of a middle ground of in uncategorizable content that maybe falls in there but
but this is less money until you’re at the kind of the, the upper end of that. So, you know, many DPS. In fact, I was talking, I was talking to someone, I won’t mention names. Who said he was talking about a massive, like a massive dp, la dp, who does really high end work. And one. So this younger cinematographer has a friend who saw it must be a producer something saw a call sheet and saw the cinematographers name is and I think he texted me a photo of the call sheet to say, look who’s doing this. And it was it was a shitty mattress job. So even high end cinematographers in LA, who you would think would just be working all the time, have to shoot stuff that no one no one is ever even going to see, let alone hear about the only reason why. You know, there’s no no’s we mentioned here. So it’s, we’re not hurting anyone. But we are helping because here’s the point. Don’t think that when you go to a filmmaker like your your website, that you’re the only work you’re doing is the work that you’re showing. There’s there’s a whole bunch of stuff that you have to do to pay the bills that you don’t even want to talk about, let alone shopi
Oh, yeah. And this is, this is a great, this is a great. Did I just lose? You
know, no, it’s my Oh, no, you’re there. It’s the here. It’s the 30 minute mark on my,
on my camera. Got it. Got it. It’s a camera. Yeah, this is a good a good thing to mention in terms of strategy is is and you mentioned the sort of curation on my website, which is very, very true even earlier, about just how certain projects are arranged by color and stuff like that I want the process of scrolling through to be aesthetically pleasing. You know, so that that’s, you know, I consider very specifically which thumbnails to use for each project, and so forth. So yeah, I should, I should probably about maybe 40 projects a year total. And I would say, on average, I mean, I’ve only been at this for a few years at this level, but I would say on average, maybe about five or six. If I get five projects on my website, from a given year, that’s a good year. That’s a good haul to have five. Okay, so
90% of the work you’re doing, you’re showing that 190 percent, almost 90%
Yeah, sometimes if I think I mentioned this earlier, but yeah, if there’s a project that I think maybe I have some good stills from, but I don’t think the project as a whole in terms of its edit or sound designer, you know, any of the other elements that would create a full piece that I think is interesting. I won’t share the video, or I won’t put it on my website. But if there’s some stills that I think are good, I’ll share those on Instagram. Yep. Yeah. In terms of what makes it on my real my website, my curated portfolio app. Yeah, and I think you make it on
there. I don’t think you’re any different than anyone else. And a lot of people don’t we don’t always see that we look at work and go wow, I want to be like him or I want to be like her. We don’t really that’s fair. Yeah,
that’s fair. But yeah. I think it’s I think it’s important to realize to to acknowledge how much how curated things are. And I also personally believe in the power of that, I could very easily share more of this work. I choose not to because yeah, I’m trying to sell a specific aesthetic vision that represents what I’m interested in, right? I look at a website as, as half a presentation of my past portfolio, but also 50% as an aspirational thing, like, these are the projects I want to do. I’ve shot these, but I would like to do more of this, please. You know, that’s why I’m putting it out there. So I think that’s something that’s important to keep in mind. Yeah,
totally, totally. It’s, it’s absolutely something that people need to do. curation is very, very important. But it’s also important to understand that things are being curated, so that you don’t feel awful about yourself and your own work, when you’re when you’re actually going out and seeing other people’s work. Because if you just see, it’s not a true representation of what of that person’s life, it’s a it’s a curation of timbers. You know, it’s 10%, maybe 20% for some people. So let’s move on, because we’ve been with me for nearly just over an hour. And we haven’t even got to question two. So yeah, we kind of,
we’ve, we’ve been weaving and we have and ducking and weaving everything through. But yeah, we have so good conversation, but Yeah, go ahead.
I love these men. I love these since I’ve started the podcast, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s for me, like, it’s partly selfish, because I just have to, I just have to turn up and have a conversation with people. That that I like meeting new people, that’s one thing, but I’m having a conversation about things I love. So it’s just it’s fun. It’s it’s not it’s not working. It’s not
like, exactly right.
So So I reckon we can probably skip question two, because we’ve pretty much gleaned that you’ve, you’re highly strategic, without that sounding like a horrible kind of marketing phrase. Using analysis, to be able to work out what it is that’s missing in your work, and then finding people that you want to collaborate with, and, and developing relationships with those people. And the people that you do have a relationship with, that you see that you can bring value to, you are doing that without asking for anything in return. That’s that’s pretty much what I’m hearing. And so question three, will bring question three and Question four together, because they’re kind of related. And and that is, what do you do to sustain your career?
Hmm. Well, um, you know, in terms of the strategy part of it to to sustain the career I think it’s, it’s sort of just always being tuned into that process of trying to find more people to align with philosophically and artistically and aesthetically. And you know, the process of expanding that group of collaborators I think doesn’t stop. So you know, this, this isn’t exactly rocket science. But you know, I interact with other with directors on Instagram, mostly, through mutual friends, or just people that I cold reach out to just based on their work. I try to periodically if I have some downtime, just take some time away to sort of get lost in the vortex scroll through find new people, new faces, new voices, check production company rosters, if they have any new talent that I that I haven’t noticed before, haven’t seen before, you know, just kind of going through roster websites and seeing who’s new. Or sometimes even just being on mailing lists, a lot of production companies have mailing lists, or even their Instagrams, they’ll announce new directors. So there’s all sorts of different ways to kind of track new talent or new people to whose work you can check out maintaining a regimen of reaching out to people trying to set up coffee meetings and stuff like that, you know, this all sounds very calculated and strategic, but at the end of the day, it’s also very organic, in that it’s it’s relationship building, like any relationship, you know, you can’t force anything to happen. You sort of just have to make an initial connection. meet somebody in person, if you can, and then if if something sparks if you have a connection, great, and if not, no harm, no foul. I mean, there’s plenty of directors I’ve reached out to, we met up we didn’t really click, we don’t work together. It’s fine. There’s plenty of other there’s a lot of directors out there and there’s a lot of content being made. But yes, I’d say on the strategy side in terms of trying to grow a career. That’s that’s a big part of it. And then, you know, there’s also an aesthetic sort of creative growth that I think is important. Whenever possible. On commercials, this isn’t very possible often, but I do occasionally take on some narrative shorts and music videos, of course, and stuff like that. And I think it’s good to take those opportunities to try new things, to really push yourself to push your aesthetic or try something new or different that you’ve seen and want to see if you can do or, or try to execute ideas that you have that you have maybe felt reticent in trying before. And basically, this is a piece of advice that Greg Frazier has said before, actually, and I really admire him and you know, he
said that he got from from my hometown, so he
is Yeah. Yeah, for real, he’s dominating between him and Adam marcopolo. I mean, yeah, the output is pretty high quality that you guys have there. Yes. So he talks about how, you know, he won’t take on a project unless, unless it scares him, unless there’s an element of it. That is, that is scary that is that is that an element of the unknown of, of the, the, the mystery that you’re going to have to go in and cover have a little bit of discomfort of maybe something is more ambitious than you’ve done before? Different Canvas, different genre, different budget level, anything at all, that’s really kind of, you know, pushing your limits. And I think when you look at his career, that’s very clearly manifested. He doesn’t repeat himself very much in genre in style. And he has an aesthetic that an aesthetic commonality through his work, but you know, he’ll bounce from Rogue One to lion to Vice to Dune, you know, it’s it’s, it’s ping ponging around it’s always ping pong, it’s always doing something different. And I really liked that philosophically, I think that that’s, that’s a great pathway to, to, to growing a career as opposed to allowing things to get stagnant. And, you know, I acknowledge that
that he didn’t start that way, though, that I now know, because I don’t know Greg’s story. But I know, I know, his lineage I know. And I know, I know, people that know him. Well, that worked with him when he was first starting out at exit films as a production company. Of course, yeah, he was shooting, like, cat spots, like,
of course, and that’s the thing. So yeah, there’s a certain level of privilege in your career, to be able to make those decisions. But But this goes back to that 90% 10% thing, right? The question is, can you find a way to push yourself in that 10%, the 90% is the 90%. I look at it as a day job, you know, it’s, it’s, I show up i x, I bring my skill set, which of course, is also constantly growing and learning. And even on those kinds of projects, there’s always Little things like, oh, a new piece of equipment that I’ve never used before talking to your gaffer and being like, oh, let’s try this light, or this new product or something or other. But in terms of creativity, artistic, aesthetic expression, it’s it’s in that 10% it’s in those projects, that’s those few those those precious few opportunities on narrative shorts or other projects with fewer boundaries, where there’s, there’s possibility to ask yourself, can I push this? Can I find a way to push myself here? That’s a healthy approach. Yeah. If it’s one project a year, that’s, that’s, that’s fine. Like it’s find, find the opportunity, wherever you can, you know, it’s, it’s not going to be in everything. It’s just not.
Yeah, and I think even in the projects where there’s like a lack of budget, or it’s just, you know, it could be a corporate thing. For those who are still shooting corporate, there’s still a way of being able to kind of level up shooting the way that somehow and, and I’ve shot branded content. Just before I shot my first feature, when I shot a series of branded content, and the way that I ended up pitching that to the client and getting the job and then shooting it, is I wanted to shoot it in a way that I could then almost practice camera movement, so that when I shot my end, I could utilize already, and I was prepping for the end by shooting, shooting some branded content for people. So yeah, there is a way of being able to kind of bridge those two worlds in a very smart, smart way. And what that meant was that when I was on set for 1000 moments, I’d already done this thing that I was trying to do was basically like a conscious camera type thing where the cameras moving. Oh, yeah, consciously. Yeah, I never shot anything like that before. And it was something that I needed cameras of character, I needed the character to be telling us something ahead of time, so that the audience could catch up with what was going on some textually within the narrative. So I tried that in some branded content to see whether I could actually pull it off. I couldn’t, it didn’t work. So I couldn’t I didn’t put it in the Edit because it just didn’t feel right I was it right, it felt staged basically. But in 1000 moments, there’s one scene where I do that, and it just it works it, but I wouldn’t have if I had have done that the first time, probably probably would have still worked, but I wouldn’t have had the same level of confidence in being able to, to do that. So there is a way of kind of bringing the more aspirational type projects and the kind of the day job stuff, as you mentioned, and kind of trying to bridge those two worlds, you know, in Greg’s in a very privileged position. Of course somebody is
almost at the top of the game basically so yeah, but the journey there along the journey there you can see you can still see how that philosophy was implemented and yeah, also you know, in reference to the the DPS that you alluded to that are the top working narrative cinematographers who also all shoot Metro, yes, shitty commercials that you’ll never see. I know that they those people, those those people use those commercials specifically and explicitly as lens tests. Yep. As camera tests, as exactly in the way that you described with your indie film, it’s like, oh, I have a narrative feature that I’m working on in prep, or that’s coming up and we have this crazy thing we want to try Oh, here’s a commercial project where I can sort of try it or test out new lenses and new products that are on the on the market So absolutely, there’s totally a way to even within those projects find a a value and a way to kind of still use them to push something forward or to try something new. Yeah, can’t agree more
than final question what tell us about read read watched or heard that inspired you recently?
Oh, yeah, you know, you’ve caught me at a good time because this time of year there’s there’s so many good films out and actually briefly in relation to the previous question, one of the things that I think is important for self growth and improvement is immersing yourself in media and watching and learning from you know, other DPS specifically the Masters I think, I sometimes find myself surprised that certain talking to certain cinematographers and finding out that they don’t go to the movies and they don’t go see films and they don’t they don’t see a lot of TV shows because they’re too busy or this and that and I understand that there’s some you know, I’m single, but people have lives and kids and everything so I get that but you know, I do think as artists You know, that’s an important element to growth is is watching and immersing and learning and analyzing other work. So on that note, I will say yeah, I think I think one piece of cinematography recently that that is really stayed with me and struck me as the King on Netflix which, speaking of your, your fellow countrymen, David Moyes showed directly that film and shot by Adam ARCA pa
and a whole bunch of these some actors in there as well so
yeah, of course while Edgerton and everybody yeah um, stunning accomplishment the film is decent good interesting little long but aesthetically just jaw dropping i mean i i can’t i still thinking about it all the time there’s there’s such a precision to the work there that I find very very inspiring and aspirational to my own work so that’s one example Yeah, I mean there’s there’s a ton I think the Mandalorian looks stunning talking about you know Greg and his influence and that show was he shot the pilot but then his longtime second unit dp took over for the rest of the show. Great stuff there. The Crown season three just hit Netflix today one of my favorite shows and visually stunning in terms of non non cinematography specific I was really struck by the film honey boy, which is in theaters
I can’t like to say that that look scaly? Yeah,
just a pure artistic work like of the purest pure sense. There’s no ulterior motive behind that project. It is pure expression. And yeah, really gorgeous. So I can’t recommend that one enough. Another one that I have to shout out another one of your country people is the nightingale directed by Jennifer Kent. Which is so that’s her follow up to the Babu. This is her second
film I could not watch. I watched the trailer when that first Yeah, yeah. And not knowing not knowing what it was. Yeah, this is the light, the light thing where she turns the light off the light back on and then there’s that Like, oh, no way I’m watching this that’s way, way too scary for me.
So so another piece of another piece of media that really inspired me recently was was the nightingale. Witch, which I really think was kind of underrated. I mean, I don’t think a ton of people saw that film. It’s a drama. It’s not a horror film, but it’s sort of this adventure. drama film set in tears in Tasmania, in the early 1800s in in a penal colony colony, and it’s a harrowing film. It’s a difficult film to watch. It deals with colonialism, misogyny, a lot of heavy subjects in the time, but ultimately, it’s a very empowering movie. And just beautifully done and the directing the vision, the overall vision, the whole thing is just so strong. And I think it’s a shame more people didn’t see it. So I’m trying to plug it wherever I can, because I was really blown away by it. Yeah. So check it out, then. That’s a good thing.
It sounds like you’ve got quite a connection to Aussies as well. Like the the both the king and the nightingale is full of Australians. And yeah, yeah, what else do
good work? Yeah, you tell me what it is where there’s something in the water. I
know, it’s probably the beer.
It’s the beer, isn’t it? Because it’s not just that it’s also actors, actresses. I think the ratio of of, you know, world class caliber actors that come out of Australia, proportional to the to the population is somebody should should do a study about it, because
it would be hard fathomable
well I mean
it is very high but he’s that just comes down to the the culture so it’s it’s economically people are able to sustain themselves and be artists that’s that’s what it is so yeah it’s there’s nothing in the water there’s strains on any different than any other we may sound different we may we don’t look different we’re all got two arms, two eyes two ears we’re all human beings right but the country economically I think it allows you to sustain itself I did he recently though a mate of mine who owns sorry runs a large non for profit in the states he’s married to an American NGO said that land is much more expensive here than it is in the state so he was looking at buying now when now we’re not even talking about filmmaking. This is just two blokes having a chat sure but I’m very interested in this when he was he was looking to buy a large parcel of land as a like a like a like almost like a retreat kind of place. So when businesses how he needs to get away he’s got a like a farm to go to Yeah, he was looking at kind of coastal but farmland kind of New South Wales and the same same kind of parcel of land there compared to California. And I don’t think but I don’t think was neat on the coast California was like 50 to 60% more expensive here in Australia which is I was shocked as like I’m frankly
shocked at that just purely because landmass wise we’re talking about the same size between the continental United States and Australia is about the same landmass. Yep. Population wise much lower. So you think there would be more land available?
Yeah, but the land him most of Australia’s desert. It’s only if you go to Australia, as you know, there’s a base around the coast. It’s around the coast and around the coast. That’s why we’re also some of the best surfers in the world. But obviously, I’m biased. So anyway,
I couldn’t I wouldn’t know but I I reckon you’re you’re absolutely spot on between that and Hawaii. That’s that’s I think
the Hawaiians would get it. Would they? They’d papers for sure. Yeah. All right, man. Thanks. Thanks for today is a graduation so I’ve really enjoyed. Thank you.
Thanks for having me. This is awesome.
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