Natasha Braier always knew what she wanted to do; she just wasn’t sure where she wanted to do it. While growing up in Argentina, she became interested in photography at a young age and soon began making films with her father’s 8mm camera. “I never really thought about filmmaking as a career. I was just following an artistic expression that resonated with me the most,” Natasha told us. After attending art school in Argentina and film school in Barcelona, she was eventually accepted into a master’s program for cinematography at the prestigious National Film and Television School in England.
In film, it is not enough to be a storyteller. You have to be a storyshow-er. A storyvisualizer. You need to tell stories cinematically — which, as you might expect, is what Jennifer Van Sijll’s book, Cinematic Storytelling, is all about. Sijll explains there has been an unhealthy divide created between the technical side of filmmaking and the story side: “In teaching filmmaking, story and film are often taught separately. Screenwriters are housed in one building, production people in another. Unintentionally, a divide is created where there should be a bond. Technical tools become separated from their end, which is story.”
Some people know what they’re going to do with their lives before they’re old enough to drink a beer. Some of us take a little longer. Autumn Durald didn’t decide to be a director of photography until after she’d graduated college, traveled the world, and held a steady job in advertising. Once she’d made the decision, though, she didn’t look back. Since then, she’s lensed everything from major motion pictures (Palo Alto) to documentaries (Portraits of Braddock).
There’s this concept in psychology called “flow.” It’s that moment when you become so fully immersed in your work that you lose all sense of time, sense of space, and sense of yourself. They say it happens when your challenge is perfectly matched to your ability, and that people who often reach “flow” are the happiest people on the planet.
There is so much good advice out there, but almost none of it sticks. For every thousand pieces of advice you get, you might remember one or two. But what does stick is significant. You can learn a lot about someone from the advice they’ve retained. And you can learn a lot from them too. For the past few months, we’ve been asking filmmakers what advice has stuck with them. Their answers were as varied as their work. But we noticed something: When advice does stick with someone, it becomes not just advice they remember, but advice they give. It becomes their advice. In other words, the best good advice becomes part of who you are. Maybe something below will do the same for you.
When Planet Earth first aired in 2006, it showed us our world in a way we’d never seen it before. It was an awe-inspiring example of not only the beauty of nature, but also the power of cinematography. It was a foreshadowing — or maybe even the catalyst — of an increasingly cinematic approach to nature filmmaking. Last year, a decade after the original series premiered, the BBC aired Planet Earth II. Once again, it challenges the boundaries of what we thought was possible on film, and it expands our understanding of the natural world around us.
The tagline at the end of Volvo’s new ad, “Moments,” says: Sometimes the moments that never happen matter the most. If there’s a corresponding idea in filmmaking, it might be this: Sometimes what you don’t show is the most affecting. In “Moments” — an ad as heartwarming/heart-wrenching as any we’ve ever seen — a young girl speculates about the rest of her life before starting her first day of school. What friends will she make? Where will she travel? Who will she meet? What unfolds is a fantasy within a fiction: an entire life in less than four minutes. What you see is beautiful, striking even. But ultimately, it’s just a stencil for what you don’t see. The story — the girl’s life — is the negative space.
There is a point at which most creatives wonder if they’ll ever get where they’re going. Usually, it comes along after they’ve invested a number of years, a lot of effort, and a substantial amount of money. There doesn’t seem to be a way forward, and there doesn’t seem to be a way back. In story terms, you might call it a dark night of the soul. For Rachel Morrison, this point came about after she spent two and a half years directing photography for a reality show called The Hills.
Roger Deakins said, “People confuse ‘pretty’ with good cinematography.” In a way, he’s saying cinematographers’ work is more important than simply the look of a film. It serves a greater cause — the story. In fact, the visual side of a film, ‘pretty’ or otherwise, can tell a story as much as a script can.
When we asked Robert Legato about his success rate at achieving the impossible, he didn’t immediately answer the question. He’d never thought about it. This is the man responsible for the visual effects in films like Apollo 13, Titanic, Avatar, and The Jungle Book. A man fluent in the impossible. And yet overcoming it had rarely occurred to him. It’s the exact mind-set, we soon realized, that makes Robert Legato Robert Legato.