From 1st AC to DP: Carl Nenzén Lovén’s Journey to Leading the Camera Department

Cinematographer Carl Lovén
Cinematographer Carl Nenzén Lovén

Today we live in a visually driven society more than ever before, but when it comes to film and television, striking visuals have always been key to drawing audiences into the stories on screen. Yet with all of the visual content out there today, having spot-on visuals are even more paramount to the success of a production.  

As the cinematographer and head of the camera departments on recent projects such as the film “Saili- The Light,” an Official Selection of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, the upcoming feature film “I Will Make You Mine” and the music video for the band Twiceyoung’s hit song “Keep,” Carl Nenzén Lovén knows all about creating powerful visuals.  

Managing an entire department on any film crew is an arduous task, but being the head of the camera department is arguably one of the most challenging. From overseeing the lighting, the shot sequences and angles, and so much more, being a project’s cinematographer requires vast technical knowledge, not mention immense creativity.

Before making his way to the head of the camera department, Lovén honed his skills as the 1st AC on a plethora of high-profile projects, such as multi-award winning director Emily Ting’s dramatic film “Go Back to China” starring award-winning actress Anna Akana (“Youth and Consequences”), and Shuaiyu Liu’s film “Underground” starring John Carney from the award-winning thriller “Jake’s Dead” and Barnaby Falls from the award-winning film “Ride.”

For those who aren’t familiar with the work of the 1st AC, they are the ones behind the scenes who help recommend the proper camera, lenses and support gear, and they’re often the one responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gear. From ordering the gear before production begins to setting up the equipment and ensuring the shots are blocked off so the cameras are ready to roll once the director calls “Action,” Lovén quickly proved himself as an adept figure within the camera department.

“I like to look at the job as 1st AC as the nerd of the camera crew. If the camera operator is the quarterback, the 1st is the one that knows all the plays, and is ready to feed them to the operator,” explains Lovén. “He or she is the expert of the camera team, and everything it entails, and also the MacGyver that is suppose to solve any issue when they happen on set. But also a person of fine motor skills, being able to read each situation and adjust focus for every camera move.”

Hailing from Sweden, Lovén actually began working as a photographer in his teens, but found the medium too limiting for the time of stories he wanted to tell. Still, his early experiences as a photographer, combined with his work as a 1st AC, have endowed him with a rare and masterful knowledge concerning the best cameras, lenses and other technical equipment needed to capture the shots required by the vast range of productions he leads as a cinematographer.

When asked about how working as a 1st AC has helped lead him to become a better cinematographer, Lovén said, “To me, this is like asking, ‘Have being a mechanic helped you become a better race car driver?’ Anyone can get inside the car and drive Daytona, but not everyone can get that car running if anything happens. Being a 1st AC have given me the opportunity to learn so much about the camera and how it works in tandem with the lenses.”

Considering the look and vibe of the visuals vary greatly from project to project, having a keen understanding of the precise equipment needed to deliver the director’s vision is key to Lovén’s work as a cinematographer. With the variety of projects Lovén’s shot to date ranging from feature films and music videos to commercials for the likes of CarGurus, a leading online auto sales website, he has used practically every tool of the trade.

Setting aside the cameras and lenses that are needed for specific projects, Lovén admits that his camera of choice is the Aaton LTR, which shoots on 16mm film.

“I have used it a few times. And it is the successor to the camera I own myself, the Eclair ACL… it just works. It’s a no-nonsense, no-bullshit camera. It is French, it is perfectly balanced, it shoots film, and it is quiet.”

But in the modern age where so much of what we see is digitally shot, Lovén also has his favored camera for shooting digital.

“If I had to pick a digital one, I would go with the Alexa Classic EV. I really try to stay away from digital, but the old Alexa is a workhorse really. You can throw anything at it, and it just works, any day of the week.”

Though choosing an effective camera body for the job is imperative, having the right lens is probably even more important. Considering that there is definitely no shortage of lenses on the current market, knowing which one to choose takes an experienced practitioner.

Lovén says, “The classical Zeiss Super Speeds Mark I or II are my favourite. They just look amazing in whatever camera you put them on. They take away that digital feel on modern cameras, but throw it on a Arricam LT and it will do the same job.”

Having spent years immersed in the camera departments on numerous projects, Carl Nenzén Lovén is well-versed in the world of cameras, lenses and all of the other technical equipment required to make a project a success; and all of this has added up to make him the sought after cinematographer he is today.

 

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