Category Archives: Cinematographer

Cinematographer Yang Shao talks ‘The Great Guys’ and philosophical filmmaking

Yang Shao always knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. He loved the idea of sharing his views with the world, and filmmaking is the ultimate way to do so. Born and raised in the Eastern part of China, he wants to share his passion and viewpoints with the world and bring heartfelt stories to the cinema.

“Modern cinema being predominantly shaped by the western culture is in my opinion missing some jigs of the puzzle which I think eastern culture can offer. Films can be entertaining without having one guy kill everybody around him. Life is so much more than just guns and murders. Beauty and soul of the world – that’s what I want to share with the world through my cinematography,” he said.

It is such a philosophy that has made Shao an internationally sought-after cinematographer. His contributions to films such as A Better World, Under, and Once More have asked audiences some of life’s biggest questions while captivating them with their stories, and the comedy horror television series Life is Horrible has brought joy and tears of laughter to viewers all over the world.

In Shao’s most recent film, The Great Guys, he explores a magical world through the lens of his camera. The film follows a fairy who comes to earth to look for the greatest kid to keep in her home, which is in a fairytale world. She meets eight kids and hears eight different stories. At the end of the story, she decides to bring all those eight kids back to her home together. The story reminded Shao of his childhood.

“To be honest with you, as a kid I always believed in magic. I was a naïve kid when I was growing up and I think that helped me become and achieve those results in the film industry. I try to always stay curious and allow things to surprise me. I think that’s what drew me to this story. I wanted to share this magical world with the young generation, including my own kids who are growing up in a completely different world today,” said Shao.

The Great Guys premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival where it received the Best Director Award. The movie then was distributed in theaters across China. After a successful run, The Great Guys was sold to one of the biggest streaming platforms in China iQiyi. The Director, Jin Zhang, thanks Shao for the success the film received.

“An artist friend of mine recommended Yang as a highly professional and aesthetically exceptional cinematographer. Talented artists have their own vision of things, of ideas and scripts. We managed to find the midpoint where our visions met. To create an outstanding product, you need an extraordinary talent. I’m lucky to have had Yang on my movie,” said Jin Zhang.

Shao did indeed find ways to make each scene visually shine. He aims to light up every scene in a way that drives the story forward. There are different ways to do that, but specifically for this project, he decided to experiment with using only soft filling light of warm colors. He wanted to put more emphasis on the characters. The light therefore is what draws audiences’ attention to various parts of the scene, highlighting what to focus on. In this story, it also shows the difference between the protagonist and the antagonist.

Shao also used a hand-held camera to film, having long takes between cuts. With a magical story, he wanted that feeling to be conveyed at all times. Lots of colored filling light helped to achieve bright and colorful picture that played well with the story and highlighted the emphatic world saturated with magic.

“One thing that I particularly like is the dedication of the crew and the entire team to the craft. I really enjoy working with people who are not only professionals but who also are passionate about what they do. Passion is really what shapes the work and how you see yourself dealing with those people. Nine out of ten times when I’ve seen people had some issues on the set is when they were not driven by their passion. Passionate-driven people on set come from a very different place and in my opinion the final outcome is different in this case. More intimate and personal,” said Shao.

Shao’s favorite part of making the film, however, is the interest he received from his daughter. At the time he was reviewing the screenplay, she was only five years old. He was unsure if he had the time to take on the project, so he read the script many times trying to make a decision. When his daughter asked what he was doing, he began to explain the technical aspects of filmmaking. He realized, that rather that talk to a young child about these things, he’d explain the fairy tale script instead. Immediately, his daughter was enthralled.

“At that moment I thought that with this movie maybe I can get her closer to the magic and not let her think that our life depends only on technological progress. And I did. With that movie my daughter and I started talking about more fun and kid stuff,” he said.

So, what’s next for this industry leading cinematographer? Keep an eye out for Shao’s three upcoming features, NeedIn the Middle of the Night, and Excel on the Highway.

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Yuito Kimura uses unique cinematography style to create masterful pieces of art

As a child, Yuito Kimura always enjoyed watching mystery and crime movies. At the time, he would just watch them as a source of entertainment. Now, he appreciates them from an artistic standpoint, noting how each shot is framed and how the filmmakers chose to tell the story. As a celebrated cinematographer, Kimura’s style was inspired by such films, being dark, contrasted, and stylized, using practical lighting. He carefully pays attention to framing, camera angles and movement depending on the scene and what the character is doing. If there is a scene about a girl crying by herself, he won’t just frame the character without having meaning behind why he chose to do so. His job is to tell her emotions by choice of lens, framing and camera movement. Such attention to detail makes Kimura a standout in his industry and shows just how much talent he possesses.

No matter what project he takes on, Kimura makes sure it is the best he can visually be with his work. The Japanese native has shot everything from music videos, such as “We are Stars” by Snowy Angels, to commercials, like the one for Townforst, to acclaimed films including Star Wars: Amulet of Urlon and Back to the Future?. He consistently impresses all those he works alongside with his commitment to his work.

“Yuito was wonderful to work with – he always showed up on time and when he came to work, he brought his creative suggestions on how to make a scene better. His extensive knowledge about camera lenses and how to angle the camera had a positive impact on many of our scenes in the film. Yuito also put together a hard-working crew who never complained and always had a positive attitude while on set. He has a unique way of looking at a scene and telling a story. He is very thorough and made sure that my vision was being brought to light during filming. The fact that he is willing to take risks when capturing a shot for a scene makes him vastly different than a lot of other DPs who tend to stick to what’s safe and traditional,” said Christina Kim, Director who worked with Kimura on the film Dropping the S Bomb.

Dropping the S Bomb tells the story of the not so book smart Cassie, who, after discovering that the guy of her dreams plans on attending Stanford, does whatever it takes to be accepted, even if it means doing things that may get her kicked out of school if she gets caught.

“I really like the idea of the story. The girl is trying to get into Stanford because the boy she likes goes there. She does do whatever it takes to get into school and I really like those funny and silly decisions and actions that she would do for him. Throughout the story, I’ve learned that nothing is impossible. It reminds me of my school era. It gives me sympathy,” said Kimura.

While shooting this film, Kimura made sure to always stay focused despite a fast shooting rotation. This is what he enjoyed most about working on the film. With such a fast-pace, he had to come up with ideas quickly, and he was given a lot of freedom to do so. He needed to think about more than he usually did and deeply understand the story compared to other projects.

The film was then screened at Action on Film International Film Festival 2016, Nice International Film Festival 2016, Action on Film International Film Festival 2016, Hollywood Dreamz International Film Festival 2017, and Phoenix Comicon Film Festival 2017. Kimura is proud of what they could achieve through hard work and a great story.

Most recently, Kimura shot a commercial for Townforst Slip Resistant Shoes for both television and online. It follows an Asian businessman who encounters an unexpected event after he goes back to his office at night. It is a sexual comedy, and although it is a commercial, Kimura knew the importance of telling a good story.

In this project, Kimura used two kinds of contrast styles to achieve a mysterious mood and add to the comedy. He used one style for the visual, and another style for the story. From the beginning shot to climax, all shots are contrast. When it hits the climax, he then used a more flattering lighting style to show what was truly going on. The moment he read the script, he came up with this idea to help enhance the story, knowing that as a cinematographer, he is vital to telling it.

“Yuito is an extraordinary cinematographer. He works really hard and focuses on his profession, treating every detail so seriously. He is also a very creative cinematographer who always has new ideas and concepts to make the films better. He has a unique eye and is an asset to every production he works on. He really loves what he does. His passion is totally on this field,” said Phenix Jiangfu Miao, Director and Production Designer.

Watch the Townforst Slip Resistant Shoes spot here, the winner of Best Commercial at the Los Angeles Film Festival 2018.

An Early Love for Design Led to Saif Al-Sobaihi’s Celebrated Cinematographic Career

 

Saif Al-Sobaihi
Cinematographer Saif Al-Sobaihi

While many cinematographers find their way into the field through photography and other areas of filmmaking, cinematographer Saif Al-Sobaihi, who’s made a powerful name for himself in the U.S. film industry and abroad in recent years, initially found his way to the craft through a love of visual art and design.

“I used to collect a lot of visual books, especially interior design books,” Saif explains. “I just loved looking at the lighting, composition and the smooth design… At that point I had no idea what cinematography was.”

Growing up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Saif immersed himself in design at a young age, swiftly developing an acute visual eye and an unparalleled attention to detail. His boundless creativity  even led him to be recognized by his country whilst elementary school when he earned the First Prize Award in the Saudi Arabian national painting competition “Homeland in the Eyes of Our Children.”

Constantly collecting photographs and books focused on visual design, those roots eventually taught him to recognize such things as the interplay of objects in a room, how to achieve an aesthetic balance, and the way the light or lack there of sets the mood, have been key to his success in the film world.

As the cinematographer of highly praised films such as “La Calvita,” “El Circo,” “Pinwheel,” “SKEMO” and others, his unique ability to blend the technical and creative sides of his work in the field of filmmaking shine through flawlessly.

“Some cinematographers are more artistic and others are more technical… To me cinematography is a balance that can’t be defined. It’s a field where creativity, energy, personalities, obstacles, and the importance of timing overlap on set,” explains Saif. “Just like the way harmony in music supports the melody and provides its texture and mood, cinematography supports and even creates the texture and mood within the stories we see on screen.”

Saif has earned extensive accolades for his film work, with “Pinwheel” garnering him two Best Cinematography Awards at the Festigious International Film Festival and the Around International Film Festival in Berlin, “El Circo” earning the Southeast Regional EMMY Award for short form fiction, “La Calvita” being screened as one of “The Coming of Age Mixtape” films chosen by the Bushwick Film Festival, and “SKEMO” being chosen as an Adobe Design Achievement Semifinalist.

“El Circo” director Pablo Ramirez says, “Saif understood perfectly what I had in my head and helped me transform those ideas into beautiful images that showed the organized chaos we wanted to portray… Saif has a unique vision, he has the ability to listen to what his directos want and he also has the sensibility to express himself when he has a different opinion. Saif is one of the most professional persons with whom I’ve had the opportunity to work with.”

While he’s been key to the success of multiple narrative films, Saif actually began his professional career as the cinematographer on the music video “We Are” for well-known Swedish popstar Peg Parnevik. The vivid colors, combination of panning shots and close-ups, as well as the pace of the frames reveal Saif’s unparalleled skill behind the lens.

 With nearly two million views on YouTube, the video serves as an impressive accomplishment for even the most seasoned cinematographer, so that says quite a lot considering it was his first professional project in the field.

About the video, which he shot on a RED Scarlet Dragon 6K sensor with Zeiss CP2 primes, Saif says, “I learned a few valuable lessons from this project: lose the ego, keep things simple, and have fun!”

Out of all of his work, Saif marks the 2017 film “La Calvita” directed by Giulia Jimenez as ‘one of the most interesting projects’ he’s been the cinematographer on to date. With the saturated colors, shots of miscellaneous items such as tires, bathroom sinks and other odds and ends riddled through the streets communicating the semi-impoverished nature of the neighborhood, and a storyline that centers on Lupita (Karina Rovira), a young Latin American girl who travels to the Venezuela-Colombia border on a mission to make some money by selling her hair, it’s easy to see from the trailer alone why the film was so interesting for Saif.

In addition to being an Official Selection of the Bushwick Film Festival, “La Calvita” was also an Official Selection of the 2017 Georgia Latino Film Festival and the 2018 San Diego Film Festival.

With an almost surreal visual style, and a transporting latin garage style score composed by Hugo Raúl Blanco, “La Calvita” has a unique appeal that’s reminiscent of of experimental psychedelic films like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain” and Vera Chitlova’s “Daisies.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the way Saif takes us into Lupita’s world through close ups on her face that allow us to truly feel the complexity of her emotions. This, coupled with the wide shots he takes to reveal the peculiar nature of her surrounding, make it feel as though she lives within her own world– one removed from the actual environment where the film takes place.

Saif shot “La Calvita” on a Sony FS7 using only the Cooke 25-250mm T4.0 Zoom as his lens for the entire film.

“As a cinematographer in stories like that where the world seems a bit surreal, you get to experiment with different equipment and techniques more comfortably. And that is a lot of fun,” explains Saif.

I wanted the look of the film to be gritty and authentic… This film talks about real social issues, so I made sure I captured not only the physical performance of the actors, but their psychological processes and inner world as well. ”

Some of the social issues Saif refers to revolve around Lupita’s economic status and feeling that selling her hair is the only option to make money to pay for her mother’s medication, and the concept of beauty promoted by society compared to what it truly means to be beautiful on an individual level.

After having her hair lopped off in exchange for $35, Lupita wanders through town looking forlorn over the messy buzz cut that sits in place of her previously long and beautiful brown locks. As she runs her fingers through her hair clearly trying to make sense of how this new look has changed her, she encounters a billboard where the model comes to life and begins speaking to her as she stands alone in the middle of a grassy field. The model tells her she wants her to feel better and that she needs hair to feel better; and like a fairy godmother, she releases a waterfall of pink flower petals that graze Lupita’s face and like magic, her hair reappears. From the viewer’s perspective the scene is touching and emotionally subtle, but on a technical level it’s easy to see that a lot of effort went into it on the part of Saif and his team.  

“The director wanted the billboard model to be commercially “well-lit” like a 90’s latin billboard commercials kind of vibe. We shot that section in a green screen studio lit with spacelights, Kino Celebs and later on used a Mole Richardson 2K” explains the cinematographer. “My gaffer Dylan Genis rigged the camera on a 12 ft ladder for the high angle shots. For the ‘low angle’ shots, we used baby sticks and hi-hats.”

He adds, “It’s great to have a team who are interested in the project and have good sense of communication and experience.”

Through narrative films like “La Calvita” it’s easy to see Saif’s talent for creating impactful visual stories that draw the audience in and evokes emotion. His attention to detail and his aptitude for blending the technical and creative sides of his work in film make it easy to understand how he got to where he is today, and it all started from his love for visual art and design.

 

Cinematographer Alberto Bañares’ Creative Serendipity

ALBERTO-1Spanish cinematographer Alberto Bañares’ unerring eye and passionate involvement with all things visual have won him a reputation as one of the top hands in his field. Bañares’ style—driven by a singular flair for creating evocatively composed shots that deliver a communicative impact—enhances any film, video or television assignment, and is distinguished by a consistency of tone and rich atmosphere that is irresistible to any viewer.

His immediately recognizable, arresting technique seems like the work of a dedicated craftsman with generations of deep experience, but the astute, ambitious Bañares achieved this striking of level of quality while barely out of his teens. At age 18, the Barcelona native was studying Economics when a sudden realization took hold.

“At university, I realized quite early that my future wasn’t behind a desk,” Bañares said. “So I started writing and taking photographs on my own while studying International Business. I did a small 5 day course on script writing, and was completely astonished by what I saw and learned. That gave me the courage to move straight to film academy in 2003.”

“I studied at one of the best film schools in Spain, ESCAC [Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia],” Bañares said. .”It was a very intense experience.  After two years, you had to choose your specialization, and I quickly understood that between script writing, directing and cinematography, I would naturally pick the last one.”

“Suddenly, everything made sense to me,” he said. “I was always very attracted to the camera and highly intrigued by light. Cinematography teachers seemed to me more like wizards than anything else!”

After obtaining his degree, Bañares wasted little time. Working as on-set electrician and in camera and light crews at first, gaining experience and making connections, by 2012, he decided to accept cinematographer jobs exclusively, and in 2013 prestigious talent brokers L’Agence were representing him throughout Europe.

His recent job as director of photography for a commercial from a high-end German auto maker, the striking, effects-laden Audi: The Invisible Man. The spot, promoting Audi’s pilotless vehicles using the famed horror character as protagonist, mixes wry humor with impressive visual effects and epitomizes Bañares’ signature combination of creativity, problem-solving and technical prowess.

alberto-3

This was no simple task. “As a DP my role started some weeks before the shoot,” Bañares said. “This was a highly technical project for all of us, so starting the preproduction earlier than normal helped us to arrange meetings with Metropolitana, the post-production house, in order to understand their needs and the way we were going to shoot it.”

“It was a highly technical job, for sure,” director David Verges said. “To create an Invisible Man we had to shoot different layers of each shot in order to remove the actor who was ‘performing’ his moves. We used a Motion Memorizer which required us to be very accurate during the shoot as well as having to mentally “compose” the shot in our mind from the different layers we were shooting. Alberto was very helpful in this regard, as his comprehension of the technique was complete. He also has this natural quality that puts everyone at ease and is greatly appreciated by his crew and the rest of us. “

Bañares’ holistic grasp on the assignment’s complex challenges proved invaluable. “We had to be very adaptable during the shoot as we had to bear with constantly changing weather,” he said. “We had determined to shoot the main table scene during the morning but we had extremely grey skies so we had to go inside the house meanwhile the weather improved.”

“After several hours we realized that the motion memorizer shots took more time than initially thought, so we had to be very quick with any shot that didn’t use this tool,” Bañares said. “Being fast on set is something that no one teaches you when you are in film school, but after all these years as a DP I’m very used to have a high-speed on set plus gently pushing everyone in order to keep a good pace.”

The results, thanks to Bañares’ formidable skills, were nothing short of spectacular, and the spot generated significant buzz in professional circles

“Due to the unique creativity of the Audi commercial, it gained a big reputation amongst the family of filmmakers,” Bañares said. “I consider myself to be a useful asset no matter what. I like to help my directors get what they want, but I also want them to know what I like and dislike, which elements could be improved and which ones must be improved.”

His flexibility and instinctual grasp on how best to complete a shoot have allowed Bañares to rack up a spectacular roster of achievements and placed him at the forefront of the contemporary DP community.

“DPs must dissolve their egos within the director’s ideas,” Bañares said. “Sometimes a DP must be like a medium or psychologist, in order to be able to understand the director’s vision and their original vision of the project. When it’s fiction, I like to talk to the director as much as I need so I can see where everything comes from. Once I get their original idea, I subtly transform it into a light and camera concept. I love to communicate and express ideas using my tools, it’s such a rewarding process.

“Lately I’ve been quite attracted towards creative serendipity and subconscious intuition,” he said. “In order to operate the camera in a genuine way, I’m constantly exploring different, new ways to reach that state. I love that too.”

His rare mixture of technique and aesthetic sense qualify Bañares as a force to be reckoned with. “I’ve known Alberto for years but we hadn’t been able to work together until this one,” Verges said. “I was very happy to have his good taste and discerning eyes in this project. He was very focused and he always brought a creative input to each shot, to each take, in order to improve it. I’m looking forward to collaborate with Alberto on future projects.”

Staying True to Their Roots: NYLON Magazine’s “To The Authentic” by Jessica Pantoja

Upon shutting down their print magazine at the tail end of 2017, NYLON Magazine wanted to remind readers that despite moving into solely digital-based content, their founding roots wouldn’t waver. With their focus moving more towards engaging with their audience through striking video and digital content, it made total sense to release a commercial that spoke to their continued dedication to the diversity of their audience despite the change — so they joined forces with cinematographer Jessica Pantoja to create “To The Authentic.”

“As NYLON is currently evolving from a print to a digital publication it was important to state that regardless of the change they would continue to be true to who they are and who they have been,” explains cinematographer Jessica Pantoja.

“‘To The Authentic’ had the intention to express NYLON’s commitment to the audience and the bond between the publication and the readers… NYLON is part of the audience as the audience is a part of NYLON, they both influence each other.”

In creating “To The Authentic,” Pantoja captured 25 models, influencers, dancers and actors, essentially asking them to come as they are, with the ultimate goal of revealing their authentic selves on camera. Using such a culturally and aesthetically diverse cast that collectively blurs the lines of traditional gender ‘norms,’ which are so yesterday it’s not even funny, not to mention the broad range of personalities brought together in the commercial, Pantoja nails the mark with her creative vision for “To The Authentic.”

From the minimalistic yet bold bubble gum pink opening frame featuring the words “BE YOURSELF” followed by the hashtag ‘#Benylon,’ to the progression of models who hit the screen, the commercial flows seamlessly and expresses what the brand stands for. DIVERSITY.

This is ultimately one of the key reasons tens of millions of readers look to them as a source of information on everything music, fashion and pop culture each month — they’ve never covered what every other glossy on the newsstand does, and they’re not going to start now. Their mission is furthered by the audio narration that accompanies the visual content, which adamantly reassures: Through media changes, political changes, cultural changes — you keep true to yourself. We see you. We are here for you. Always have been. Always will be. NYLON.

Pantoja says, “The meaning behind [To The Authentic] lay on the changing social climate… we were just trying to express the belief that diversity is beauty.”

Capturing each model (moving around to their own tune) in front of various backgrounds that visually fit their individual aesthetic, style and personality, Pantoja’s selection of backgrounds, which include recognizable murals, architectural structures and other interesting locations across Los Angeles, also speak to the magazine’s ceaseless attention to design and local culture, something they’ve covered in extensive detail since their alternative beginnings back in 1999.

She explains “We asked all the models to play a song they liked so they would feel comfortable showing us who they are. They could dance or just stare at us. It ended up being super fun because they would feel really comfortable and share their personalities and style with us. Each person brought something completely different.”

From the way she fluidly pans her camera across each model as they grace the screen and creates an engaging flow from frame to frame, it’s easy to see the seasoned nature of Pantoja’s skill on a more technical level in terms of her work as the cinematographer behind the project. Key in eliciting the authentic personalities we see from each of the talent featured in the commercial, Pantoja manages to capture model after model through her camera lens in a way that never gets boring.

“It’s never easy to photograph 25 models and build and light more than 20 different sets, to pull off 25 different outfits and looks in a 12 hour day. The team was amazing and thankfully we had very talented and professional people with us. At the end I think that it’s all about having the right people as your team,” explains Pantoja. “In film you are only as good as the people who stand by you and they are only as good as you help them be. It’s a very collaborative industry and if you fly solo you will never be able to make it.”

Some of the models Pantoja shot for the commercial include influencer and beauty blogger Katie Joy, model Matt Jones, actress and poet Portia Bartley from the six-time Los Angeles Film Award winning rom-com “You Have A Nice Flight,” actor Ido Samuel from the Carlo di Palma Award winning film “Fill the Void,” dancer Stacy Gaspard and other notable pop-culture figures and influencers.

It’s not at all surprising that NYLON chose to lean towards featuring social media influencers rather than supermodels, A-listers and red carpet frequenting celebrities in the commercial. The content is all about being authentic, and featuring unique in-the-know creatives is what they’ve always been about. The plethora of music, beauty and fashion collaborations they’ve executed over the past two decades have influenced millions, in the same way that their relationship with their incredibly diverse audience has influenced the content they release.

At the end of the day, “To The Authentic” really does scream to viewers at the top of its lungs: Be yourself, THAT is what’s beautiful.

“Being you is ok. No matter what that means, you should always be true to who you are in order to achieve the better version of you,” adds Pantoja about the overall message of the video, and her personal feeling about the kind of self love and acceptance each and everyone should focus on cultivating.

With the concept of beauty being one that has remained in flux over the ages, what more and more people around the world today are coming to regard as ‘beautiful’ is reserved for those who remain true to themselves, those who unapologetically expose their strengths and flaws with fearless authenticity. And this is something that directly connects with the attitude and voice of NYLON and their readers.

Cinematographer Jessica Pantoja
Cinematographer Jessica Pantoja

Aside from being the cinematographer for “To The Authentic,” Pantoja, who’s originally from Queretaro, Mexico, has made a strong name for herself as a cinematographer in the film industry, something she’s dedicated herself to for the past decade. She’s earned extensive international acclaim for her work as the cinematographer behind countless films including “Mute,” “Cold Night,” “Harvest Moon,” “Evanescent,” “The Wind Outside” and many more.

“Jessica and I have collaborated on many short films and commercials in the past… Nylon was a very special project where I saw and experienced great energy and drive from Jessica, as a DP and as a leader,” explains “To The Authentic” production designer Clarisa Garcia Fresco, who production designed the 2017 WorldFest Houston Platinum Award winning film “Clarity,” as well as “Evanescent” and “Harvest Moon” where Pantoja served as DP.

“I enjoyed our teamwork efforts as we were striving to create an image and identity for the project. Her enthusiasm and drive for film and storytelling are truly an inspiration to me and everyone around her.”

In 2017 Jessica Pantoja also earned a nomination for the Best Cinematography Award at the 2017 Camerimage Etudes Competition, arguably one of the world’s most prestigious competitions in the field of cinematography, as well as nominations for the Best Cinematography Awards at 2017 VIZIO + DOLBY filmmakers Challenge and the 2017 Cine Gear Film Competition for her film she as well as the film “Manners of Dying.”

In a way, “To The Authentic” marks her foray into creating branded content, and it’s a powerful one at that.

“‘To The Authentic’ was the first project I created for [NYLON] and it opened the door to build an ongoing collaboration with the magazine,” explains Pantoja, who has since created the videos “True Beauty. By NYLON” and “Fashion as Art. By NYLON” featured below.

With NYLON magazine being revered for their bold colors, in-your-face graphics and the kind of cutting-edge style and groundbreaking pop culture that appeals to Millennial and Gen-Z audiences, the video really does embody the brand’s unique attitude and their commitment to readers. It’s definitely the perfect commercial to be featured on their About Nylon page; and we can’t wait to see the next collab from cinematographer Jessica Pantoja and NYLON Magazine.

Calvin Khurniawan perfectly captures loneliness in heartbreak in Andrew Belle’s “Down”

Calvin Khurniawan believes a cinematographer’s job is much like that of a comic book artist. Both roles involve how a story is seen; they don’t write the story, but they take on the visual stimulation for audiences and readers. They add to what is originally written, and decide exactly the best way to show the story they are given. Such a unique way of looking at his job is how Khurniawan sets himself apart from other cinematographers; he can look through the lens of a camera and find the perfect and most distinctive way to capture a scene. It is what makes him so sought-after, and why he is currently one of the best Indonesian cinematographers.

 “A lot like acting, cinematographers react to actors’ inner unconsciousness by utilizing camera elements such as composition and lighting. Similar to editing, we choreograph how a scene unfolds by dictating where the audience’s eyes should look,” he said.

Earlier this year, Khurniawan worked on the viral music video “Down” by Andrew Belle. The video premiered on “Paper Magazine” in June. From there, it went on to be a “Nowness Staff Pick” and a “Vimeo Staff Pick”, amassing over one hundred thousand views on YouTube alone. The cinematography was key to such success, as it connected to aspects of the video in an artistic and meaningful way.

“It’s been delightful to hear how much people like the video. I think the biggest compliment came from the people who responded emotionally to the choreography because the cinematography is built around it,” said Khurniawan.

The choreography is what tells the story and emotions in the video, and therefore required talented dancers that Khurniawan could work with to do just that. Eventually, they found Dassy Lee from So You Think You Can Dance 2017. Together, the cinematographer and the dancers perfectly portray the loneliness in heartbreak.

The cinematographer’s input was valued for every step of the production process. Before the concept was finalized, he would create storyboards for his shots and present them to the Director, Joshua Kang, giving an expert’s opinion as to how each shot could be framed. He would then sit down with the director and the dancers to converse about what he thought would work for the video, as he knows good ideas mean nothing if they can’t be executed properly. He knew there was more to the video than dancers against a pretty background. He wanted to do more with the camera and reacted to the choreography, asking the dancers how they were feeling emotionally and designing the frames based on that. Such a unique and dedicated take was vastly appreciated by Kang.

Andrew Belle Down. Joshua Kang and Calvin Khurniawan. Photo by Kiu Kayee
Joshua Kang and Calvin Khurniawan filming “Down”, photo by Kiu Kayee

“I love working with Calvin because he is always prepared for every project. When I show him a treatment for a project in pre-production, he brings in various different ideas on how the look for the project could be, and what he thinks would be the best within the given circumstances. Having visual discussions with Calvin before the shoot always makes the job of the day easier for everyone on set. He is someone I want on set. Not only is he kind and respectful to everyone on set, he has great set skills. Working with Calvin, I trust him and his camera crew to have everything prepared and ready to shoot on time. He’s helpful in post-production. Calvin keeps in mind how the visuals will look like in post when he shoots. When we’re sitting in a color session, he gives inputs on how the color can be corrected in the best possible way. Having a director of photography like Calvin that cares about the project until it is completely finished makes him professional and reliable,” said Kang.

Initially, Kang approached Khurniawan to work on the video. The director had seen his work and was immensely impressed. Khurniawan was interested in the project before knowing that it was for Andrew Belle, and upon hearing the artist he was immediately on board, as he was already a fan.

“Imagine getting a call to work on a music video with one of your favorites artist. It was the quickest decision I’ve ever made for a job,” Khurniawan said.

While working on the video, the ideas changed frequently, as everyone wanted to ensure it was the best it could possibly be. From a cinematography standpoint, this can create challenges, but Khurniawan never let that faze him. He was happy to work diligently to make everything effortless for those that worked alongside him. The dancers, Dassy and Jordan, were immensely appreciative of Khurniawan’s dedication to the project. He perfectly showcased their vast talent while still creating a telling and poetic video.

“This is by far my favorite collaboration for a project. Joshua, the director, liked keeping a small crew and resulted a more intimate crew. We communicated easily between one another compared to having a big crew. Dassy and Jordan presented their choreography early to us then we design everything based off the choreography. Our approach is based on the choreography really, because we wanted it to be the center of the attention. My job as the cinematographer is to fully reflect on how they’re telling the story and emotion through the movements. I thought it was an interesting approach to music video,” Khurniawan concluded.

You can watch the “Down” music video here and see just how talented of a cinematographer Khurniawan is.

 

Top photo – Joshua Kang and Calvin Khurniawan, photo by Kiu Kayee

Cinematographer Ismaël Lotz talks award-winning film ‘Who is Alice’

Ismaël Lotz sees life through the viewfinder of his camera. He knows the power that film can have, and the artistry that comes from making one. As a cinematographer, he ensures that every single shot is perfect. Everything is important; from lighting, to lenses, to the smallest movement of his camera. Such dedication takes more than just talent, it takes unparalleled drive. Very little people actually possess such a trait, and Lotz is one of those few. His work ethic and outstanding capabilities as a Director of Photography have led him to be one of The Netherland’s best, and he is now internationally in demand.

Throughout his esteemed career, Lotz has worked on many critically-acclaimed projects. His documentary I am Famous tells the story of Tom Wilson, famous for his role as the antagonist Biff in the Back to the Future films, and living with that notoriety. As a child, that series was one of Lotz’ inspirations for becoming a filmmaker, and now, those he idolized he now works alongside.

The highlight of Lotz’ career, however, is his recent film Who is Alice. This internationally-acclaimed comedic drama whisks the audience away on a humorous, non-conventional quest to avoid suffering and find happiness. Lotz, known for his work in cinematography, also took on the roles of co-director and editor for the film, knowing that understanding such positions would make him a better cinematographer. His involvement from pre-production to post-production helped make the film an enormous success.

“The reason we wanted him as Director and Director of Photography is because of his talent and passion. He is known as one of the best Directors of Photography in The Netherlands and the quality of his work is outstanding,” said Paul Smit, the Writer and Producer of Who is Alice. “It’s always a pleasure to be working with Ismaël. He is passionate, creative, intelligent and able to exceed people’s expectations. Actors that I’ve worked with told me that they had never seen a Director of Photography like Ismaël. Normally it takes two cameramen to do what he is doing all by himself. Besides his talent, he is very easy to work with and always aims for the highest level.”

Who is Alice premiered in the city of Helmond, where the film was shot, with several sold-out shows. It then went on to several prestigious film festivals, such as the Los Angeles Film Awards, Festigious International Film Competition, London Independent Film Awards, Miami Independent Film Festival, Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, TMC London Film Festival, Actors Awards, and the Move Me Productions Film Festival. winning over 25 awards throughout them.  Amongst these accolades, Lotz was recognized for his outstanding work as Director of Photography, and took home the prize of Best Cinematography at the New York Film Awards, not to mention the recognition he received for his work as Director and Editor all over the world.

“It’s very rewarding and feels great that the film has achieved what it has. I am so proud on what we’d accomplished with our work. It brings a big light on my future endeavours as an international filmmaker,” said Lotz. “It makes me very proud to have won the award for Best Cinematography. But besides the awards for several departments on the film, the biggest reward is that complete strangers approached me and told me what they think of the film. It leads to very pleasant conversations with all kinds of different people. It’s inspires me to keep working on more projects like this.”

On-set, Lotz worked closely with his co-director Robert van den Broek to ensure the all-star cast was working to their fullest potential, and that the two directors were always on the same page, which was essential to Lotz’ cinematography. Many times while shooting, problems can arise and situations can change, making what was planned in pre-production alter drastically. As a cinematographer, adapting quickly to these situations and coming up with equal or better alternatives is a must. At one point while shooting, Lotz and his team lost a lot of time because of a power outage. The solution was to do the scene in one take. In hindsight, it is now one of Lotz’ favorite scenes of the film, as one take scenes are immensely challenging for everyone involved, but create an authenticity for viewers, truly transporting them into the film.

Lotz is known for the energy he brings behind the camera. He is a team player and plays to his crew’s strengths. This brings a creative freedom for everyone to work toward his vision, creating a harmonious working environment, which is essential to the success of any film. It was working on such a great team that made the experience of making Who is Alice extraordinary for this cinematographer, and knowing the story they were telling was important and would impact audiences is why the filmmaker began this journey in the first place.

Who is Alice carries us on a funny, compelling and sometimes cringe-worthy journey into the highs and lows of what human beings will do to try to avoid pain and connect to happiness. It’s about being yourself in a world full of big egos. It shows how big the power plays are in the entertainment industry in a funny way. While it also shows the drama of Alice’s life, I think the movie carries a lot of spiritual elements with it. Who are you? And if you found out who you are, what are you doing with that knowledge?” Lotz concluded.

Who is Alice is now available on worldwide streaming services such as Amazon, iTunes, and Hulu. Those in China and Japan can also look forward to seeing the film soon, as a distribution deal has just been signed. No matter where you are, be sure to check out Lotz’ outstanding work on the film.

AWARD-WINNING CINEMATOGRAPHER DEPICTS A WAR TORN FAMILY IN “LAST CALL”

Cinematographer Ruixi Gao can’t help herself sometimes, she is overwhelmed with ideas. This is the blessing and the curse of possessing a creative personality. It’s incredibly difficult to make a film so when you do, you want someone talented and driven like Ruixi to be among those enabling you to manifest your vision. This was the mindset of Zhipeng Xing, director of “Last Call” when he approached Gao to be the DP for this film. After receiving the script from Xing, Ruixi recalls, “I sat down and read it immediately. I think it is instinctual for many cinematographers, it most certainly is for me. I could see the scenes inside my mind as I read. The whole picture played out for me. I understood the lighting & the perspective of the camera in relation to the action. It’s exciting when you read a script for the first time and the film is playing in your head; I wish the audience could see it so quickly. That’s part of what motivates me as a DP; I see this wonderful movie and the desire is to bring that to life for others to witness.” Besides her obvious passion, Ruixi brings years of experience and talent to every production she is on. An emotional film like “Last Call” requires every bit of her sensitivity and expertise.

The relationship between Director and DP is commonly accepted as one of the closest working relationships in film. Each director has their own process and the cinematographer must be flexible to this to help said director achieve their vision for the story being told. “Last Call” director Zhipeng Xing prefers to focus on the actors instead of fixating on the framing of the scene in the lens. Rather than a shirking of responsibility, this was a result of Xing’s trust in Gao’s abilities and talent. This allowed Ruixi to communicate extensively with her team. Working with her Gaffer and Key Grip to establish the lighting plan, and framing with the PD, the effort was highly collaborative. Her plan used soft filters for imaging effects and a low-key style with warm and cool tones to control different emotions between war and home.

This story depicts war and its effect on family. The father and son are separated from the mother (& wife) who is still in war torn Iraq. They communicate via letters and a weekly Facetime. After one of the weekly family Facetime talks, the father is speaking with the mother after their son has gone to bed. Disturbing noises are heard and the signal is lost. A week goes by with no word from the family’s beloved wife/mother and they fear the worst. Unable to sleep from worry, on the morning of the son’s birthday, the husband hears a knock at the door. It could be the mother or a government official to announce her unfortunate death. The filmmakers do not reveal the answer, leaving it up to the viewer to decide what they think happened. The purpose of telling this tale is not to resolve it either way but rather for the viewer to contemplate the effect of war on real people with families. In the last scene, prior to the knock, the father receives a letter from his wife in which she states that she won’t make it to see them for their son’s birthday.  When the father reads this letter it’s impossible to not feel the pain of being separated by these circumstances. War is cruel, it makes people ache; it’s also what makes this film work and have such impact.

Ruixi was awarded two best cinematography award for this film: Best Cinematography Platinum Award WINNER at the LA Shorts Awards & Best Cinematography Gold Award WINNER at the NYC Indie Film Awards (the film also received multiple other awards at these festivals). Gao’s passionate disdain for war and its malevolent effect on people in many parts of the world moved her to dig deep in her abilities for “Last Call.” Edwin Beckenbach worked with Ruixi on the film and professes, “Ruixi brings with her the experience of an international woman to a domestic industry that has traditionally been dominated by men and is not known for inclusivity or diversity. Film as art is a powerful generator and amplifier of cultural values and perspectives and as such the addition of underrepresented voices, especially those as promising as Ruixi’s, can entertain as well contribute to the benefit of society overall. In an industry where many people place their image before their abilities and ‘fake it until they make it’, Ruixi is authentic to a fault and is singularly focused on the artistic and technical challenges of the job at hand. Her dedication to her craft and clarity of vision is a unifying motivator for the camera and lighting crew to perform to the best of its ability.”

For many viewers of the film the most heart-wrenching aspect of the story is the young boy’s difficulty in being separated from his mother. With the understanding that this character would have be both a catalyst and proxy for the audience, Gao took extra preparations including reading psychology books on working with young professionals and preparing props with stickers and colored tape to make them more enjoyable. Far from being the task of a normal DP, this type of approach in working with a young actor is indicative of Ruixi’s overall pattern of professionalism. By creating a positive and friendly atmosphere in a variety of ways she is able to get the best performance from everyone and thereby get the best shots with the camera, to say nothing of coming in ahead of schedule. While some prefer to stay in their “own world” Ruixi Gao feels that the images she wants to create allow us to see through the eyes and emotions of others, which is what “Last Call” is all about.

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Cinematographer Andre Chesini talks viral music video ‘Oração’

Andre Chesini behind the scenes of Oracao 2
Andre Chesini behind the scenes of the “Oração” music video.

Anyone can move around with a camera to their eye, in fact, many people try. However, Andre Chesini understands what it is to be extraordinary at what he does. Chesini’s unwavering passion for filmmaking extends back as early as his childhood and his perspective derives from years of immersing himself in the arts. He understands that the artistry of cinematography comes from controlling what the audience sees and doesn’t see. As a cinematographer, he doesn’t just strive to make a frame beautiful, he tries to create images that evoke emotions and enhance the storytelling. That is what makes him such a rare talent.

Chesini has adopted a style of cinematography that many of the world’s most recognized strive and fail to achieve. For him, lights are motivated by nature, not only by the actors. He searches for a naturalistic cinematic sense of reality. He worked on several documentaries in the beginning of his career, and is an experienced Steadicam operator. This experience translates into his cinematography.

“Documentaries are based on working with the environment and searching for the natural and available light. That shaped me a strong bond for an alive camera and strong naturalistic sense of reality. Thus, I’m looking for a life-like images. A design that is closer to reality, yet enhancing the cinematic look making the ordinary into extraordinary. Every cinematographer is unique; it is about the inner voice that each of us have. How it echoes with the director and all the people involved in a film,” said Chesini. “Steadicam operation is an amazing skill that makes my senses for motion and blocking of the actors very sensitive. I can feel the energy that the scene requires, capture the emotion of the actors and translate it through the movement of the camera.”

Having worked on several award-winning films, such as Chocolate, Tereza, and A Fabrica, as well as the television show Life on a Leash, Chesini put his work on the world stage, showing audiences everywhere what he is capable of. However, this versatile cinematographer has had limitless success, and his work on three music videos for Banda Mais Bonita da Cidade displays that perfectly.

“Music allows you to have more freedom in style as a cinematographer. It is a great territory to experiment and push your visual limits as a creator. “Oração” was actually the first music video that I shot. I mostly work in narrative. I believe that this narrative background weighs on the decisions and how I could contribute for the impact of the music video,” said Chesini.

Three days after its release, “Oração” already had over three million views on YouTube. It now has over 27 million. Chesini went on to be interviewed by Fantastico, a popular Brazilian Sunday evening program, to comment on the video. Later that year, “Oração” won the Best Web Video for the MTV Video Music Brazil Awards.

“It was an insane reaction, from no recognition to international recognition, being published in Rolling Stone and Washington Post, among others. The Banda Mais Bonita da Cidade became recognized artists and in that year, and have recently released their third album,” said Chesini.

Vinicius Nisi, the creator of the band and the keyboard player, called Chesini to be part of the video. The proposal was to record three music videos in one weekend, the main video being “Oração,” a one-shot video while recording the live audio at the same time. Such a task was enormous, and Chesini was the only one for the job. Chesini’s Steadicam experience once again was vital for the music video, as his knowledge of where to place the camera and follow the talent to have the six-minute film be one shot was fundamental. The two other videos shot were “Boa Pessoa” and “Canção para não voltar.”

“Given the success of “Oração”, our band became full time job, becoming our main source of income. We owe this to the talent and love that Andre has,” said Nisi. “Andre is an easy-going person and very easy to work with. He is always with good-humored and is very communicative. He likes to know all details in order to do a good job. His technical and artistic capabilities are undeniable.”

“What I most like working with him, is that he is secure, calm and aware. He is also really humble, and would listen all my directions and when was necessary he was pro-active in resolving issues that would appear. Andre focuses on making his work pristine. He studies the video, techniques, equipment and always makes his best. Andre knows his immense responsibility as the first viewer of the everybody work. At the same time, he does that gently and with kindness,” Nisi continued.

It took 8 shots for Chesini to get the one-shot film that was needed. This technique was a fundamental factor for the success of the video. It required skills and a sensibility as cinematographer and camera operator that Chesini always displays.

“I’m really proud of that video and its success also gave me strength to continue to pursue my dream of film,” said Chesini. “The challenge of a one-shot film is quite exciting, and being a steadicam operator, I felt compelled to immerse myself in this challenge. The long shot also requires working together with all the musicians, extras and everybody involved and seeing the involvement of everybody was really rewarding to see.”

You can watch Chesini’s work in the “Oração” music video here.

WHY NICKY MARTIN LOOKS SO FUNNY

Comedy feels a certain way and it looks a certain way. There are not specific parameters which define this but it easily recognized. When you feel something is funny or see something that is funny, you know it. It’s a characteristic older than cinema itself. Before there was sound in films, comedy was more accurately conveyed than any other sentiment. Xing-Mai Deng displays this concept exceedingly well in Andrew Elliott’s “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar.” As a cinematographer with a highly diverse list of award-winning film credits (including this one which received an LAIFF award for Best Comedy/Dramedy and a Jury Award at the Melbourne Indie Film Festival), “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” is yet another example of Deng’s ability to visually achieve the intent of the writers and directors he works with in an exception manner. With the ubiquity of the pursuit of fame, often via social media these days, the film’s story reveals the all too common hopes of someone who wants to be famous almost solely because they desire fame.

In an ironic turn, this written story necessitated studying reality TV productions in order to accurately be presented with authenticity. The look of the film needed to bring out the absurdity of the story while spoofing the standard reality TV show. The film’s director and Xing-Mai researched several American reality TV shows to study their lighting, framing, and documentary-like camera movement. The blocking and camera angles were all decided before the filming to achieve a deliberate chaotic appearance for the shots.

Much of the look of “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” required Xing-Mai to use his extensive knowledge and talent to appear as if he did not possess these attributes. It’s an aspect that took him some time with which to relax. Constant second guessing and reassessment of going too far was required. He explains, “I purposely moved the camera in an amateur way in order to make the film look absurd. High-key lighting and amateurish camera movements brought the feel of a valid reality show to our film. There wasn’t any dramatic lighting. The camera movements followed the actors in a passive way rather than anticipating the characters’ actions as compared to a scripted production. We wanted to have the reality TV feeling but we also wanted some cinematic moments in the film. Some of the reality productions I researched were not lit at all. I added contrast for most of the scenes to give a cinematic touch to it but used it sparingly. Most of the reality TV shows I studied were not comedic so the usual reality TV look would not serve ‘Nicky Martin’ as it still desired to look funny. We did not want it to look like normal mockumentary as that look has become fairly common and we wanted something that stood out.”

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The improv nature of the film and the actor’s performances kept Deng on his toes and required a fair amount of improvisation on his own part. As different cast members spontaneously changed and evolved their parts during the actual filming, Xing-Mai was required to essentially collaborate with them in terms of lighting and framing the scene, accepting what he could get away with in terms of these parameters. With knowledge of this potentiality in advance, he created general lighting schemes based on the blocking and devised a plan that would give the widest coverage possible while achieving the largest part of his goal. Because the film is a comedy, Deng used a wide warm color palate.

“Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” is a spoof comedy about a man who wants to be a country music star but doesn’t know how to sing or play guitar. He wants to be a cowboy but he’s afraid of all four-legged animals…so he rides on stools. Upon hearing about a singing contest at the County Fair, Nicky gathers his cohorts and prepares for what he believes is the chance of a lifetime. Numerous efforts towards achieving his goal of becoming a legitimate cowboy fall short. In a scene which drives this failure home and yet endears the audience to his tenacious drive, Nicky and his close friend Mickey reconcile by riding their stools together into the sunset as they have learned that being a cowboy is not about being famous but rather about possessing the cowboy spirit.

Andrew Elliott, the mastermind behind “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” communicates, “I honestly had always planned to convince Xing-Mai to be the DOP for this film, since it’s very inception. Xing-Mai’s insight was invaluable to the success of the shoot. He was able to quickly and efficiently form a great crew and was always present with ideas and suggestions on how to make thing flow more smoothly. His work ethic was unquestionable on the shoot. Nicky Martin went on to success in the festival scene the following year, winning awards at several of these. Xing-Mai’s understanding of the story and unique ability to shoot the film played an integral part in winning these awards and in the success of the film as a whole.”

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Immersing one’s self in an industry that contains some of the most skilled and creative minds and then attempting to shed the abilities you have come to rely upon as second nature in order to move you forward in said industry is disconcerting at best. Shakespeare often depicted the person who appears as the fool to often be the cleverest of all; communicating the idea that the misdirection of the depth of one’s knowledge and abilities is often the most difficult task of all. In “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar”, Xing-Mai Deng proves that he’s no fool but he knows how to convincingly present the appearance of one to the laughter and enjoyment of his audience…and does so as a master.