The Last Fall, makes its world premiere at the SXSW Film Fest tonight. The Last Fall offers a subtle and honest look at an "athlete who struggles to deal with life's complexities after his professional NFL career is over."
1. What's your approach to cinematography? What are some essential elements that have to be in place before you start a job?
Before the production begins, I think it's important that every department head is on the same page and united under the director. I think anyone who works on a film should approach their craft in a way where serving the story is paramount. So I feel that my job is to serve the story as well as the director. And because movies are so expensive, it's also important to finish on time. So, if I have to sacrifice a few things on my end to insure that happens, I will.
3. When you get a script and decide to sign-on, what are some of the first things you make note of?
When I first read the script, I read it strictly for the story. But after I'm brought on board, I read it a second and third time and jot down initial visual ideas that come to my head. I also make note of anything I have to research, whether it's special equipment or any unfamiliar story elements. I also look for logistical issues that could affect the shoot, like schedule concerns, special effects, light gags, amount of day scenes vs. night scenes, moving car scenes, long montages, etc.
|A True Story|
4. Filmmaking is a collaborative art form. How do you go about forming a relationship with the directors you've worked with?
Every director works differently. I've worked with some directors who don't make detailed shotlists, so they can base their decisions off of rehearsals on set. But I also worked with one director who went as far as to make an animated video storyboard of the short we were shooting (complete with score and dialogue), and we used that as our guide. So some directors are more hands-on when it comes to the camera and some are not.
The goal is to get on the same page with the director and gain their trust. Once we're on the same page, everything can move smoothly. A great example is my working relationship with director Malcolm Goodwin. On our comedy feature based on a play, A True Story, we spent time blocking the scenes out in the locations with the actors during prep. This informed our shotlisting and we didn't really need to talk much during production. And because we were well prepared, we were also open to happy accidents. We ended up shooting the 112 page script in 12 days! During prep, I try to meet with the director to gauge their sensibilities and quirks, their weaknesses and strengths. I feel that it's my responsibility as a DP to magnify the strengths.
|The Last Fall|
|The Last Fall|
Matthew has huge ambition, a passion for what he wants to do, and tons of hustle. This caused us to disagree a few times but it was constructive; he keeps me on my toes and ultimately it helped to produce some of my best work in The Last Fall. For example he came up with a shot idea for a scene in the film that would require motion control, which I would never have expected was possible considering our budget. But because he has that infectious ambition, I figured out how to get that shot for him, we pulled it off, and it's right up there on screen.
7. How would you describe the vibe on set?
Of course being on a tight budget for the scope of the project, it was stressful at times behind the scenes. But we had a great crew that truly held it together and that stress was never apparent to the actors and never affected our work. I had a great time working with that team.
8. Let's switch gears to your early influences. Was there a specific shot that fueled your passion for the art? Perhaps a particular scene or director's touch that you would push the pause button, freeze the frame and admire?
I vividly remember the moment when I wanted to be a DP. I was originally studying to be a director at Howard University. Then I went to see the movie Road To Perdition on the big screen and was floored by the climactic scene in the rain where Michael Sullivan takes revenge on the man who murdered his family. The lighting is immaculate and a perfect marriage of emotion, photography, music, sound design, and editing. It blew me away and really showed me the effect that good filmmaking (especially cinematography) can have on an audience. By the end, I was floored and I took the train back to my dorm room in a daze. I wanted to be a DP ever since.
9. At what age did you start noticing the craft of cinematography?
Around 9 or 10 I remember watching The Secret Garden on TV, directed by Agnieszka Holland. It was the first time I can remember thinking that a movie was "beautiful." It wasn't until college that I realized that it was shot by one of the most popular DP's working right now, Roger Deakins.
10. Let's go back to the genesis of your cinematography career. How did you get your start in the business?
While studying cinematography at the American Film Institute Conservatory, the great DP Matthew Libatique gave me sound advice: "If you want to be seen as a cinematographer, then you have to shoot. So shoot whatever you can and be consistent." I took that advice to heart and started shooting anything that came my way. Pretty soon after graduating, I landed my first feature film job, as co-DP on a horror picture called Growth, which we shot for a month in Martha's Vineyard, MA. Since then, I've been trying to stay as busy I can.
11. What's your favorite format to shoot on?
Each format has its strengths and weaknesses. It really depends on the story and the needs for each project. I'm not tied to any one format, although 35mm anamorphic is magical and has a special place in my heart.
12. Could you talk about shooting on the RED camera? What are some of the benefits? Disadvantages?
The RED One is one of the best in terms of bang for your buck, but it does have a lot of disadvantages, mostly in the way it renders skin tones and certain colors. Ergonomically, it has problems as well. It's terribly designed for shooting handheld and the buttons are in strange places. But it's fairly intuitive to use, and makes great images. I mean, look at what David Fincher has done with the it. Also, the new cameras from RED have solved many of those previous issues.
13. How would you describe the camaraderie among other cinematographers in the business?
It's a great community. Of course there's friendly competition, but everyone is gracious with sharing information and helping each other out. The DPs that I went to school with at AFI still hang out together and visit each other's sets. There are also great online resources where cinematographers can come together and share info, like the message boards at cinematography.com and the Cinematographer Mailing List.
14. Looking to the future, what kind of projects would you like to work on?
Specifically, I love westerns and I would be very excited to shoot a good one, with classic themes and a great villain. But I mostly just want to tell great stories and work with talented directors. I want to make movies that I could love, not because I shot them, but because they're simply great.
|The Lost Coast Tapes|