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At some point on the way to becoming who we want to be, we have to stop being who we were. Muhammad Ali had to stop being Cassius Clay. Rachel Morrison had to stop working on The Hills. And Katelin Arizmendi had to stop being a camera assistant. “I moved to L.A. and I decided I wasn’t going to introduce myself as a camera assistant ever again,” Katelin told us. “I only wanted to shoot.”

As David Foster Wallace famously put it: “Of course you end up becoming yourself.” Which probably just means that everything seems inevitable in retrospect. And maybe that’s why it’s not surprising that despite having so many things working against them, cinematographers Autumn Durald (Palo Alto, One & Two) and Rachel Morrison (Black Panther, Cake) have built not only successful film careers, but also families. Which isn’t to say it was easy. Just that, when you hear them talk about it, it makes sense. “I guess on some level, [being a DP and a mother was] always a part of the plan,” Rachel Morrison says. “But I got to the point where I was like, ‘How the hell can you be a DP and a mother?’”

How can you become a better filmmaker when there are so many aspects of filmmaking to improve? It’s easy to get overwhelmed. But here’s the thing: Filmmaking is inherently interdisciplinary. Every piece is related to everything else. Improving one part has a strange way of improving the whole. So when we asked some of our favorite cinematographers for their advice on taking their work to the next level, we realized that everything they were talking about could also be applied to a broader lifelong goal of becoming a better filmmaker. So whether or not you’re a cinematographer, here are some world-class opinions on how to get better.

If there is no “right way” to make a film, then is there no “wrong way” either? If you’ve seen Paul Özgür’s work — an award-winning Dutch cinematographer whose films have screened at festivals like Sundance and the Berlin International Film Festival — you’ll start to question if there are any boundaries at all. “This is filmmaking,” Paul told us. “There are no rules.”

In a film, “Every object, every color, every detail tells a story,” cinematographer Laura Merians told us. “For me, philosophy and filmmaking have a lot of similarities. You’re trying to communicate something. You’re trying to explore a subject or find meaning. As a filmmaker, I’m constantly trying to find the deeper meaning.”

Shane Hurlbut, ASC is a legendary cinematographer who’s worked on such blockbusters as Into the Blue (2005), Terminator Salvation (2009), and Act of Valor (2012). After putting this much time into the business, he knows a thing or two about creativity, community, and collaboration. When we talked to Shane, he was color correcting his latest film, Need for Speed (2014), and he graciously took a break to let us hound him with our questions.

It may have started as a film school assignment, but the short film AWAY quickly became a film school in itself for Zach Zombek (a.k.a. Convolv). Over the course of its three-year production, the demands of the film forced Zach to master everything from cinematography to visual effects to scoring. “That’s one reason we kept the team so small,” Zach told us. “It forced me to learn these things instead of having someone else do them for me.”

It’s funny. One of the reasons we were so excited to talk to the creative husband-and-wife duo Sea Chant was to find out how they’ve cultivated such a distinct visual style. Everything they do is beautiful, colorful, almost hyperreal. They have a consistency of voice that a lot of beginning photographers and filmmakers strive for. But when we asked how they’ve done it, the conversation took a surprising (and great) 90-degree turn. It turns out Andrew and Carissa Gallo have no interest in aesthetic consistency, in voice development — in being “Sea Chant-y.”

We don’t talk about gear very much here on the Musicbed blog, but when we found out our friends Casey Warren and Danielle Warren (a.k.a. MINDCASTLE) had gotten their hands on the first ARRI ALEXA Mini, we wanted to know what they thought of it. As filmmakers, gear is an inextricable part of our creative lives, whether we’re using our iPhones or the latest high-end wonder. So while we don’t like to focus on the equipment of filmmaking too much (plenty of amazing publications are already doing that so well), we can’t help but geek out a little from time to time.