Category Archives: Cinematographer

Director of Photography Sergey Savchenko “not working for industry, but making it”

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Sergey Savchenko was born in Siberia.

“I meet people, I listen to their stories and watch their lives. I see and try to understand the visual styles and colors of different countries and places. Every day I try to develop myself, to apply my experience in creating my own style, and hone my skills.”

Those are the words of Siberian born Sergey Savchenko, when describing what he does as a director of photography. Those are the words of someone who does what they do because they love it. Every project Savchenko works on is a learning opportunity. He constantly aims to be better, and he is already respected in the industry for what he does.

“Once, when I was experimenting with video, I noticed something. It was a feeling that I was not previously familiar with. It was seeing how my thoughts and ideas became a reality through film. I understood that I can capture a mood, an attitude, a feeling. It was the spark of creation. I can’t compare this feeling with anything else. I can not only consume, but create. From that moment, this feeling for me becomes one of the most strong and pleasant. I feel that I’m alive when filming and create a certain style or idea,” he said.

Savchenko’s work is recognized across the globe, and has been nominated for several awards. He worked with REN-TV on That’s My House, which was a finalist when it was nominated for “Best Leisure and Lifestyle program spot” at the Promax BDA Europe in 2015. This year, his work on the promo Americans won Bronze in the “Best Drama Promo” category of the Promax BDA UK awards. Savchenko considers these true victories, but they still came as a big surprise.

The feeling is hard to describe. In our work, we constantly ‘run’, focusing on the ‘road’, not looking around. When your job gets to the finals of the international competition, you start to ‘look around’, trying to figure out where you are and realize that you are ‘running’ in the company of giants like the BBC and Discovery. It’s an interesting feeling,” he said.

While at REN-TV, Savchenko worked closely with Roman Toloknov, the chief Director of the Promo Department and the two became close. Tolokonov says Savchenko has a loud voice, joking that he can’t decide if it is a good thing or not, as he Savchenko is never afraid to tell even his boss when something “sucks.”

“Sergey came to our department in late summer of 2013. I immediately saw in him a man who can give good advice and bring our ideas to life. We worked for three years and got a huge number of promotional projects. Sergey is like an engine. You start the engine and it works,” he said. “Sergey has this massive energy, he loves what he does – that’s what really got to me when he came for an interview. He is not working for the industry, he is making the industry.” 

Savchenko describes Toloknov as having an excellent sense of style and humor, producing more great ideas than he team can manage to film. For Savchenko, despite the awards and recognition, it’s the people he has worked with that have made his career into something he loves.

“You know, it is always a surprise to receive awards, it’s very nice, but this joy fades away. It’s always a pleasure to share this joy with someone, but a reward by itself does not bring happiness. The award is a measure of official recognition, it affects to your confidence, but the support of a family and friends, and their faith in you, is much stronger than any award,” he said.

Having this attitude keeps Savchenko humble. Despite his many accolades, he does what he loves for himself and the people he loves. He is motivated by the challenges of the profession, which one can only do when they are truly passionate about something. He knows that every take can have a different approach, and every other director of photography will do it differently, but he takes his time and finds the best approach.

“It’s similar to how you tune a musical instrument, feeling only the vibration from it in your body. You don’t hear the sound, you only see the faces of those who listen to your music. The best gift is to see smiles on faces, this means that your music is resonance in the hearts of the audience. Your instrument is tuned. Constant practice and selfless love helps along the way. Any task has 100 ways to solve and we are always looking for the best choice. The storytelling language, the style and the color is very similar to our speech, if we start talking randomly – we might upset or offend someone, nobody likes scrappy speech. Video products directly affect the consciousness and sub consciousness of an audience, therefore it is necessary to control the quality and check 10 times to make sure, that what you’re doing is right and carries a beautiful thought,” he advised.

Savchenko is not simply a director of a photography. He is an artist. He is a creator. He knows this, but uses his gift to positively affect not only the people directly around him, but those that see his work. There is no doubt that his name will continue to roll through the credits in film and television for years to come.

“I want to grow as a director of photography and work in the film industry. I truly love what I do the more than anything in the world,” he concluded.

SIMU FENG CREATES A DARK AND MYSTERIOUS CHINA IN “SHOP OF ETERNAL LIFE”

Shop of Eternal Life is the passion project of director/writer/producer Yizhou Xu. In the film, he uses an almost literal metaphor to show the dangers we humans can make in times of desperation. It’s an evergreen tale that applies to all peoples of this planet. It just so happens that Xu’s film takes place in two by gone eras of his homeland, 1920’s and 1950’s China. Not only is there an other-worldly occult thread in the film but the obstacle of transforming downtown Los Angeles into an almost hundred-year-old China. While giving great credit to his crew and cast, Xu admits that his secret weapon for this transformation appearing so convincingly on screen was Shop of Eternal Life’s cinematographer Simu Feng. The award-winning Yizhou Xu declares, ““Simu is the most professional cinematographer I have ever worked with. Simu is such a vital part of this project because he is the metronome of the production. The most time consuming part of any film production is the lighting and camera positioning. We had a lot of shots in the film and it was paramount to have a cinematographer with the confidence to finish those shots with the highest quality and to do so very quickly. Simu finished the task without wasting a single second; and his efficiency didn’t harm the result of the image at all. Simu knows how to take limitations and challenges and transfer them into creativity.” The filmmaker’s peers and public definitely agreed with the finished product as it was an official selection at: the 36th Hawaii International Film Festival, the 20th Los Angeles International Short Film Festival, the 10th Bali International Film Festival, and the 8th San Jose International Short Film Festival. The look which Feng bestowed upon Shop of Eternal Life belies the budgetary confines which Xu relates. A story which spans the struggles of its main character, his transformation, and the cautionary tale it communicates deserves a beautiful and elegant aesthetic; one which it richly possesses thanks to Simu Feng.

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Shop of Eternal Life is a film full of fantasy and terror, relating the choices we sometimes make and the unexpected results they have on us as well as others. Even the best of intentions can result in malevolent outcomes for all involved parties. The film is the story of a poor man in 1920’s China who ventures to a pawnshop, hoping to sell his wedding ring to save his sick wife. The shop owner offers only a pittance…or a deal. Rather than money, the pawn shop owner suggests that the husband sell his heart for a great deal of money to him. The man feels he has no choice but to take the offer in hopes of saving his spouse’s life. Many years later, the husband returns to the shop to redeem his heart, but his time without a heart has transformed him into a monster. He discovers that his heart is no longer at the shop. Doomed to a heartless life (literally), he kills the pawnshop owner and assumes duties as its proprietor.

The storyline itself immediately conjures mental images of fright and fantasy infused characters and their surroundings. It was Simu’s task to make the images visible on screen to match the reality of China in the 20’ and 50’s as well as the mystic ideas presented by the subject matter. Feng relates, “The film’s visual dark tone is the key element for the story. We did this through lighting and camera work. I did thorough tech scouting with my long time gaffer Toshi Kizu and planned out the whole low key lighting scheme. I wanted the pawnshop owner character to be part of this darkness; I wanted him to feel inseparable from the shop itself. We hid several single tube kinoflos to give some small pools of light in the room and to add to the depth of the set. Camera movement was also very carefully planned out so the move was always motivated. We didn’t want the audience to feel the existence of the camera. Combined with the blocking of actors, we were able to create tension and a sense of the mystery at the same time. I’ve always felt that, by planning things out appropriately, you can help the audience forget about the technical aspects of a film and thereby lose themselves in the story…which is what we want as filmmakers and what the audience wants as well.” Yizhou Xu confirms, “Simu achieved a very strong visual style in Shop of Eternal Life; a mystery and a sense of darkness. I think this stylish look is the most important part of the film and it’s the first thing people talk about concerning this film. Because of the fascinating visual style, people have the patience to dig deeper on the subject and theme of the film. As a filmmaker, that helps me to tell the story.” Feng continues to explain the look of the film in commenting, “Because the film consists of two different time periods (the 1920’s and the 1950’s.), we wanted them to be really different, making sure the audience gets the idea that the poor man has changed into a monster. The production designer (Dara Zhao) did a great job building the set to be authentic to the time periods yet retaining our own dark and mysterious style. When we discussed the practical lights in the shop, we decided that for the 1920’s we would dress the shop with candle lanterns, and for the 1950s we went with tungsten bulbs. The practical lights are always important for me because all my lighting is motivated from these practical lights. The warm color given off by the lanterns, combined with the black pro-mist filter I put in front of the lenses, gave the 1920’s a softer and warmer tone. I shot the 1950’s with no filter and the tungsten bulbs flaring directly into the lens, making the look harsher and brighter. With more desaturation in color correction, the 1950’s looked pale and cold, fitting the change of the character.”

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Both the look of Shop of Eternal Life and the lesson of the film itself are entertaining and gripping. Yizhou Xu uses his film to communicate the idea that in our sacrificial attempts to help those we love; we risk the danger of turning into monsters. Making a deal with the devil may be very literal in this film but it has great relevance to many everyday choices. The film production itself conceals the challenges that the cast and crew overcame to create such a polished film. Simu Feng is thankful for the creative and unique approaches the production was forced to invent as he states, “Working on a small budget film is always difficult but it can be a truly fun experience if the filmmakers try to make a difference. Every filmmaker will face the situation in which they don’t have enough resources to achieve what they imagined and planned. I always believe certain limitations help yield better result by forcing creative people to come up with ‘poor man’ solutions. The luxury of a big budget does make a lot of things easier, but working on small-scale project helps me to keep the spirit of being flexible and the ability to adapt myself to changing circumstances.”

 

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A CANADIAN’S PERSPECTIVE ON “AMERIKA”

There’s no escaping the discussion of current events in America right now. That should come as a surprise to no one. With an election that has taken most of the past two years and a complete switch in the majority political party, it seems as if the entire planet is watching the US. You can’t turn on a news programs without getting the network’s opinion, so why should music be any different? Of course, musicians have long used their creativity to present their ideas, there’s nothing new to that. You can go back more than two hundred years to the protest song “Yankee Doodle” and see that even the founding fathers had musicians weighing in with their take on current events. The more overt and modern equivalent of this is the music video. “Amerika” is the song and video by Canadian band Wintersleep which presents their perspective of the modern US events and temperament. Just as with “Yankee Doodle”, “Amerika” is a protest song. The first person director Scott Cudmore thought of for the cinematographer position on “Amerika” was Peter Hadfield. This duo has worked on a number of high profile videos (including Vimeo Staff Pick “It’s Okay, I Promise” by Harrison x/Clairmont the Second and the sci-fi “Needs” video from Adonis Adonis) and both were eager to repeat the experience. Katy Maravala (producer for “Amerika”) was also keen to repeat her experience working with Peter as well. Maravala, whose client list includes; Drake, Rihanna, Arkells, and Halsey declares, “Peter has always been one of my first choices as director of photography. I feel confident in saying that Peter is one of the most genuine, humble, and talented humans I have ever met. As proof of his incredible talent, “Americka” was nominated for a UKMVA [United Kingdom Music Video Award]. The breathtaking images in this video were not easily earned. During the video we encountered some challenging locations; frozen waterfalls, old houses, a two-hour hike in the woods, and desolate buildings all in the middle of a Canadian winter. Peter remained positive, upbeat and an absolute joy to work with even during this tempestuous time.”

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While the relationship vignettes are compelling, the vistas in “Amerika” are grand and give the video a cinematic feeling. “Amerika” was shot in Hamilton, Ontario; a steel town on the coast of Lake Ontario that has come into hard times. The people of Ontario often refer to Hamilton as “The Hammer”. While the town possesses a great deal of beauty, it’s easy to see there many of its residents are surviving day to day. The opening shot was taken on the coldest day of the year with a temperature of -40 degrees F with wind chill. At times, Peter couldn’t operate the camera because the wind made his eyes water and the cold would freeze the tears. Hand warmers were taped to the camera batteries to keep them functioning. It was less than ideal circumstances. The crew shot for an uncommon five days in order to get shots at precisely the correct time of day for the desired effects. Their guerilla approach called for a lot of hiking through snow to reach some of the isolated locations. Again, less than ideal in subzero temperatures. It’s hard to find elite professionals whom are willing to endure these scenarios but Hadfield instills, “I am extremely passionate about creating socio political messages in film making. That’s what I’m here for. When I see it in other videos it makes me so happy and excited. When there’s anyone that’s willing to go out on a limb and say something truthful about the way our society is functioning, I couldn’t be more excited. Mainstream artists make art videos too. Kanye West has amazing music videos. There were parts of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” that were beautiful and evocative. Radiohead just put out an incredible video shot by Paul Thomas Anderson and Robert Elswit that I definitely consider art. If I could make something as potent as that “Daydreaming” video, I’d be very pleased. The alternative artists like Wintersleep who put out videos that have less glamorization in them have the freedom to strive for more substance. They’re freer to say something political or polarizing because there isn’t as much money involved or pressure from the record companies and distributors. The music industry has fewer record companies directly involved, allowing artists to self-release. I think we’ll start seeing more videos with greater substance. We’ll start seeing more videos like Kanye West’s “Famous”. But there will always be artists on the fringe, making meaningful work and encouraging the next generation of people to develop their talent. The hope is that they use this to make a positive impact on the world. This is the agreement among all creative people; we are to use our talents to improve the lives of people and the world itself.”

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While this video may seem to be something of a mirror to hold up to the US, Hadfield professes his fondness for the artists and potential of the people found in the spirit of America. He recognizes that the film world finds its epicenter in the US. Peter comments, “There are great music videos and incredibly talented artists coming out of Canada, but most talented people here end up going to America and succeeding. There are amazing opportunities there, you can’t deny it. I think being on a set in Hollywood would be an amazing feeling. I think the greatest joy is being on set, with a camera on my shoulder. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting to the right location at the right time and capturing something special. It’s extremely satisfying and inspiring, and leaves me wanting more and more. Being a cinematographer takes a lot of self-discipline; staying focused and working towards an unattainable goal. That unattainable goal is being a great cinematographer. The challenge is getting than next great shot. I’ve got in insatiable appetite for capturing images, and as my taste and skill grow, I’ll always be reaching for the next shot that means something.” Striving for greatness, isn’t that what we all want for America?

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Director of photography Mariano De Luca captures heart of the people in Argentina’s World Cup video

When you love what you do, every day is easy. But when you not only love what you do, but also get to combine that with your other passions, every day is a dream. Mariano De Luca knows this well. Growing up in Argentina, he was always a fan of soccer, just like the entire nation. Now, he has a successful career as a director of photography working on films, television programs, and commercials. When he heard about a project that would allow him to explore Argentina’s love of soccer, he jumped at the opportunity.

De Luca was the director of photography on the extremely successful Gillette “People’s Video” for the FIFA World Cup in 2014. The campaign featured two videos. The first mainly focused on what the people and fans wanted to say to the players of Argentina’s National Soccer Team before they went to the World Cup. It has been viewed more than 750,000 times on YouTube.

“We know that the campaign was going to be big, but nobody know that it was going to be THAT big,” said De Luca. “It was a one-minute piece that was full of energy from the fans around the country and they wanted to cheer the players up.”

De Luca and the crew went all over Argentina to shoot the segment, in iconic places in each of the cities. They travelled to Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata, Cordoba and Mendoza city. Going to sites like “Puente del Inca” and “Potrerillos” and also soccer stadiums, like the “Estadio Jose Maria Minella” of Mar del Plata.

“Being a Soccer fan, and having the possibility to enter every soccer stadium that we did was incredible, and travelling around the country and shooting in places you only got to know if you are shooting was amazing,” said De Luca. “When you are shooting you get to go to places that normally people are not allow to go, and that is one of the greatest thing of being a Director of Photography.”

They used a video booth with a camera inside and a podium where people could walk in and leave a video message, but De Luca also came up with another approach to shooting to make fans truly feel connected to the players.

“I decided to use a small camera and lenses, with a lightweight shoulder rig, that allowed me to move freely and not have a big weight in my shoulder for long times,” described De Luca. “I told the people that we interviewed to grab the camera, as if it was a cell phone, in a selfie-kind of shooting. It was a nice resource to get away of the typical interview form.”

Capturing the fans feelings proved to be successful. The second segment of the campaign involved showing the players the videos and filming their reactions. The moving video received over 3 million views on YouTube.

“Sincerely, I would never have thought that the national team was going to be so touched when they saw the video,” said De Luca. “Seeing the campaign on TV just before the World Cup, and then seeing how the players watched it was an amazing feeling.”

The original approach De Luca took of filming went along well with the director Tomas Tchechenitsky. Tchechenitsky, who has previously worked on campaigns for VW, DirectTV, Bayer, and Multicanal, described this particular project, and working alongside De Luca, as incredible.

We went to places that everybody wants to be and the captured those moments of joy, tears and excitement,” said Tchechenitsky. “I met Mariano a long time ago. We got along pretty fast, we understood each other quickly. Mariano took the challenge of shooting for more than ten hours a day handheld, and did that flawlessly, walking and going around with the camera on his shoulder like no one else. His decisions on framing and shot designing, alongside his fast pace working, made him the right guy for this job. His approach to this campaign was perfect.”

Having worked together in the past, De Luca finds Tchechenitsky to be extremely talented, and describes the crew as being great people.

“It was a project where we got to be a pretty packed group. We went everywhere together, got breakfast together, lunch, dinner, etc. and besides that, worked together,” said De Luca. “When you are travelling to shoot you have that kind of bonding, and I love it.”

The campaign led to a national trending hashtag on Twitter, and brought the country together for their excitement for the World Cup. However, nothing was more infectious to De Luca than the passion felt from not only himself, but also the crew and the interviewees.

“The way people feel about soccer in Argentina is so special that everyone behind the camera were static after each interview with the fans, including me,” he concluded. “We live the soccer in Argentina like nowhere else!”

Mexican cinematographer Guillermo Garza is in charge of “visual experience for the film”

As a child, choosing your path in life often comes from a film or television program. It is the greatest exposure to different jobs we have in the modern world. However, many are inspired by the characters in the film, not what is going on behind the scenes. This was not the case for Guillermo Garza.

As a child growing up in Monterrey Mexico, Garza had an obsession with his mother’s video camera. He loved holding it, looking through it, and eventually filming scenes with his brother and sister. Many children’s interests change as they grow, but not for Garza. Now, he is a successful cinematographer, living his childhood dream.

Garza’s inspiration came from many classic films. As a child, he would stay up late recreating scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail with his GI-Joe figurines. In his teens, he watched a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Star Wars original films.

“That’s where I figured out that making movies was an actual job you could have,” he said. “Ever since I was a teenager all I could think of ever being was a cinematographer. That is what I have always said when people asked what I wanted to do.”

His instincts have proven to be right, and Garza has achieved a lot in his career. Flores Para el Soldado, his first film out of film school, went on to win the Mexican Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

“An important moment in my career was straight of school. I was invited to shoot the documentary Flores Para el Soldado,” said Garza. “It was a very personal and difficult project with a very low budget. We were quite inexperienced, but we gave it our best and focused on the story.”

Later on, he was the cinematographer for the commercial campaign Native/Time Out Magazine Mexico, which won the Cannes Bronze Lion award.

“The job of the cinematographer is a very complex one, because no two jobs are alike,” described Garza. “I have to take what is on the director’s mind and the screenplay’s pages, and then use the camera, lights, time and space to create the visual experience of the film,”

Success continued for Garza with the films Camino a Marte and Paraiso Perdido. Andres Almeida is an actor, composer, and production designer who worked with Garza on both projects. Almeida describes both experiences as amazing.

“Guillermo’s unique sensibility and understanding of light, as well as his construction of the scene through image, make him one of the best cinematographers working in Mexican cinema right now. The easiness with which he moves through the set with the camera and with actors themselves make him a great partner and enjoyable person to work with. He is both dedicated and passionate in his work and a true professional in all senses,” said Almeida.

Garza’s Mexican heritage is important to him, and he is an admirer of his fellow Mexican cinematographers that, as he says, continue to raise the standards of what is expected of a cinematographer and the cinematic experience.

By chance, Garza had the opportunity to connect with Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro. He was buying some books at a bookstore in Madrid where Garza was buying textbooks for film school. Garza says the experience changed his life.

“I approached him and told him how much I admired his work as a director, and that I was in film school hoping to one day be a cinematographer. I told him how one day I wanted to be able to work and create films as good as his,” said Garza. “He was really nice and said that we could have a coffee after he paid for his books. We sat down for thirty minutes and he gave me some great advice and a point of reference of what to expect from a career in film. He gave me his email and told me that I was welcome to come by his set for the film he was going to shoot in Madrid. Six months later he started shooting and I went to the set. He introduced me to his cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, who let me stick around the set for a few weeks. That was the first time in my life that I was on a real film set.”

The film was Pan´s Labyrinth, and Guillermo Navarro went on to win an Oscar for his achievement in cinematography for his work on the film. For Garza, having this opportunity is a highlight in both his career and his life. He took the most of a chance meeting, and it allowed him to learn from one of the pros. Now, he is considered a pro himself.

“The way I approach challenges in my job is to be adaptable and flexible and to really be able to trust in my experience, my taste, and my crew,” he said.

Garza will be shooting the film Bayoneta in the new year. It is a project he is very excited for. It´s about a Mexican boxer during a dark time in his life, he is coaching a new Finnish boxer while running away from his past.

“I love that every job has its unique set of challenges and puzzles to solve. I love that even though we try very hard to plan and control outcomes in this job there is also room for unpredictability, and that those unpredictable or unplanned moments sometimes are the best, the most real, and beautiful,” he concluded.

Cinematographer Peter Hadfield “disarms” viewers with his talent

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Peter Hadfield is from British Columbia, Canada.

Peter Hadfield has achieved a lot through his career, and a lot of this has to do with his success filming music videos.

The Canadian cinematographer has had four music videos selected as Vimeo Staff Picks. He describes the highlight of his career so far as working on the politically charged music video for Wintersleep’s song Amerika.

Two years ago he experienced success working along directed Dee Shin for Akmu’s video for the song Melted, which has over 6.5 million views on YouTube.

This song gets a strong emotional reaction from people.
There are tons of comments on how it makes them cry, and there are a few reaction videos of people watching the video and crying,” said Hadfield. “I think after this video was released I thought, ‘wow, I can do this.’”

The video was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, and follows a boy as he comes across a variety of different people.

“It was fun to shoot a video with so many different people. Lots of different faces and textures in that video. Shooting a bearded dragon lizard with a macro lens was a ton of fun,” said Hadfield. “Everyone has a sweet spot, or a certain way they can be photographed that shows off their personality immediately. It was a challenge to find that spot with all the different people in the video.”

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Hadfield’s work on Melted brings out an emotional response from audiences.

After this success, Hadfield had the chance to work with his college friend, the musician, Pomo, aka Dave Pimentel, on the video Back 2 U, which Hadfield describes as his favorite videos that he has shot. It was shot in Toronto at the Pan Am Sports Facility as the video features many divers on their way into the pool.

“Finding the angles for the divers was a lot of fun, and taking the dives to the next level by adding the visual effects gave it a weird, trippy feel,” he said.

A challenge was presented when it came to shooting underwater. Hadfield had operate a 7D in a 5D underwater housing.

“We just rolled the camera, put it in the housing, and jumped in,” he said. “You can’t really see what you’re doing when you shoot underwater. I was wearing a snorkel and mask, but there are still a few inches of water in between your eyes and the mask that makes the monitor blurry. It was also really hard to keep the camera still, and I knew that shaking underwater footage wasn’t going to cut well with the footage we were getting of the divers in midair or on the deck, so we had to figure out a way to steady it. Our PA had to dive down to the bottom of the pool each time to retrieve the camera because we ended up just resting it on the bottom of the pool!”

Hadfield worked alongside Bahwee Suh, who was the executive producer and president at HW&W record label, as well as Kerry Noonan who is a producer and art director in Toronto, and Jack Yan Chen who was the camera operator.

“Things always seem to go smoothly when working with Peter. He has a warm and thoughtful presence on set which can sometimes disarm you from how professionally he executes every shot, every scene, every day. In short, Mr. Hadfield has a great deal of technical proficiency and makes it look easy,” said Kerry Noonan. “As a cinematographer, Peter has a lot of skills at his disposal. His instinct and sensibility come through on his reel, however something that you can only see on set is his cautious curiosity. Peter looks at figures, objects and landscapes and wonders how many new ways can we see it. He is always considering slight adjustments to impact a shot. If the idea doesn’t work he moves on, it does, it might just be the best part of your day.”

Hadfield agrees he and Noonan made a good team for the video.

“Kerry had some great creative input on the video and he worked his butt off to make it all happen,” said Hadfield.

Hadfield was not only the cinematographer on the film, but he also had the opportunity to direct it. He says having this opportunity further cemented his knowledge on shooting ratios and how much you actually have to shoot to make a cohesive music video.

“Directors are always editing in their minds on set, and I think being a cinematographer who can also edit and has a deep knowledge of post-production is an advantage. Before you specialize you’ve got to know how the whole machine works. I think that’s the difference between film making now and film making 20 years ago. Before each position was very specialized and delegated in a militaristic way, but the contemporary digital cameras completely democratize the whole film making experience. Since everyone can now direct, shoot, edit, and mix sound more can be accomplished with a smaller amount of people,” he said.

From a young age Hadfield knew what his passion was, and his love for his art has contributed to his many achievements.

“I’ve always had an interest in cameras and filmmaking,” he said. I played with my dad’s camcorder as a kid, and made little movies with my sister. There’s footage of me somewhere filming my sister giving a tour of the house, and walking into a wall with the camera held up to my eye.”

His understanding and appreciation for the art of cinematography, as well as his inherent skill behind the camera show why Peter Hadfield’s name will continue to be seen on rolling on the credits, now and in the future.

Brazilian Director of Photography Makes International Impact Across Australia

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Brazilian Director of Photography Samar Kauss embodies a humanitarian sensibility within her superlative filmmaking endeavors.

 

The highly successful and prolific Director of Photography, Samar Kauss, is a Brazilian creative force who has made far reaching cultural change within the Australian Department of Health. Kauss, known for her work as a longtime editor for several of Brazil’s most popular television shows on the leading network TV Globo, has helped the Australian government lead the charge in documenting and spreading awareness on the plights of aboriginal tribes across Australia. The government-funded 2013 documentary, Big Day Out, in which Kauss performed as the Director of Photography for, aimed to raise awareness to the health issues and concerns of seclusion that the Wadeye community undergo almost 5 months out of every year. Kauss worked tirelessly to capture shots of the Wadeye and their home, in an attempt to unobtrusively capture the everyday life of a tribe member. Kauss has proven herself as an international humanitarian, as she has helped the Australian government in their strives to create a positive cultural impact through their documentaries, on which she at times found herself immersed in a community entirely different than her home back in Brazil.

Kauss was also approached again by the Australian Department of Education to create the Young Achievers Program documentary. She worked closely with the Australian government as their Director of Photography for the documentary, attempting to determine through extensive interviews whether or not the average Australian student received adequate resources to reach their academic goals. As the Director of Photography, Kauss was crucial in documenting the students in a way that empowered the argument of the filmmakers while expertly capturing the ongoing concerns surrounding the future of public education across Australia’s public school system.

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Few filmmakers can easily make such graceful and critical strides on key social issues that Kauss has undoubtedly taken on throughout her career as a successful Editor and Director of Photography. Kauss’ history as a Director of Photography for some of the most culturally and socially impactful documentaries that the country has to offer speaks volumes to her abilities as a filmmaker of genuine impact and marks her as a key Brazilian creative force to watch.

Moving With the Times: Canadian DP Colin Akoon

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Cinematographer Colin Akoon (center) tests the lighting on set

 

Following the progression of cinematography from 16mm to digital over dozens of years, the devoted award-winning cinematographer Colin Akoon not only keeps up with the art, he evolves with it. Originally from the suburbs of Toronto, Canada, Akoon’s love for movie making began at an early age, and the footage he has captured throughout his career has graced our screens with unforgettable, moving, and compelling images alike.

With a resume that is as diverse as it is extensive, Akoon has lent his talents to feature films, commercials, music videos and documentaries. His body of work includes the more poetic and eerie film “Incident(s) at Paradise Bay,” the hilarious Power Rangers’ spin-off “Space Riders: Division Earth,” the ever powerful and gripping “Together Alone.” He is even the eye behind international rap star Booba’s music video “Validee” featuring Benash, which takes viewers through Barrio Pablo Escobar, home of Colombia’s most violent and notorious drug lord, and much, much more.

Thinking back to the beginning of his career, Akoon recalls, “When I started in the camera department, there was no digital… Film cameras are simple; they’re just motors. They are highly precise motors, but they are motors nonetheless. There was only one factor that dictated the look of your image – what film stock you chose.”

In a world gone digital, Akoon realizes that the image is not dictated simply by lens and film selection, but frankly “a million electronic factors.” But this does not stop him; rather, it inspires him to use groundbreaking, top-of-the-line cameras to the absolute best of their abilities.

“I use the RED Epic [camera] often,” Akoon explains. “Not primarily for its inherent image quality, but more for its form factor and work flow design. It’s small and contained-no tethering to another recording device is necessary-  yet I can build it to suit on-the-shoulder hand held work. It easily rigs to any movement device…and it shoots RAW, digital cinematography’s answer to a ‘film negative’ like work flow.”

Akoon also brings up a fascinating point about on-set viewing of the images he captures: “When shooting film, no one on set has any idea what the image will look like but the cinematographer. The cinematographer had a lot of control in making sure the lab and daily colorist followed their instruction to achieve the desired look. But with digital, everyone from the producer to hair and makeup can see what the image actually looks like on set, so it’s important that the quality of the image they see is what you intended.”

Akoon understands the weighted value of live viewing image quality, and uses the technology built into the RED Epic to show the director and others on set what, in the past, would have just been up to him to process later on with negatives. Where he used to instruct very specific manipulations of negatives like underexposure with the intention to print up, pushing to create contrast and pulling to lower it, he now can use his artistically trained eye at point of impact and create a look similar to what he envisions in post production, while not affecting the RAW file itself. This often overlooked touch, while small, is critical to the success of the film, and because of Akoon’s understanding of cinema from the film days, he possesses a deeply rare and invaluable talent.

It is because of his on-set grace and this ability to translate images instantly that directors work with Akoon time after time again. In fact, after working with director Mateo Guez on on a music video entitled “Smokin’ Lounge” for acclaimed jazz performer Molly Johnson (which you can check out below), Guez approached Akoon again to work on another project- this time, a feature film called “Together Alone.”

 

 

This film, inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnets, did not strictly adhere to any one script or blueprint, but rather it evolved through improvisation and experimentation, and, as a result, the filmmaking process was an intimately creative experience. With a limited crew and no camera assistant, Akoon valiantly undertook the project.

He recalls, “The process of making this film was very organic. Almost nothing was preconceived. Not a frame of this film was storyboarded. Every creative decision was made on set, in the moment.” A cinematographer without Akoon’s highly refined skill set would never have been able to capture the essence of this film.

Aside from being able to think quickly and creatively on his feet,  it is also where he places the camera itself that separates Akoon from the pack. He even admits, “As much as I enjoy lighting, and sculpting the image in shadow, camera placement is the most important aspect of my cinematography. Where you place the camera is literally where you put the audience for that moment in the story.”

He demonstrates his uniquely stylistic camera placement beautifully in the thriller “The Body Tree”, which has also been among his most challenging projects. The film follows a group of American youths to an isolated estate in Siberia, where they plan to honor their recently murdered friend, until they discover that the murderer may, in fact, be one of them.  While the story is not overly original, Akoon tells the story cinematically in such a way where viewers have truly witnessed the revolution of the cabin in the woods horror cliche into a tactfully maneuvered character piece.

Good work, of course, doesn’t come without its own set of challenges, but Akoon excels in problem solving, and often his solution to problems that arise with a shot leave audiences with images more stunning than if everything had gone as planned.

Thinking back upon the challenged faced while filming “The Body Tree,” Akoon recalls, “We lost quite a few key locations, both during pre-production and throughout production. The schedule was very tight and more than half of our script was night exteriors. On top of that, we had a cast of almost a dozen actors, that’s a lot of coverage to accomplish in a short number of days.”

Akoon met this challenge with great victory, leaning into the character development aspect of the film, giving the director a final project sure to impress and captivate audiences for years.

To this end, the relationship that Akoon builds with each director is individualized and tailored in a way not all cinematographers in the industry can offer. Truly staying in the mindset that nurturing the relationship with the director is where a cinematographer should spend most of their time has paid off for Akoon, as he typically works multiple times for directors who are impressed with his modesty.  

FDirector Chris Macari, for example, has worked with Akoon on three music videos for international rap star Booba; “Validee,” the first video shot of the three, has over 11 million hits on YouTube.  While on location in Columbia, Akoon noticed many locals hanging around the location and watching the shoot.  A good cinematographer will find a way to use use what the location gives naturally to boost and enhance the credibility of the project, and that is just what Colin Akoon did. “Chris ended up using a lot of that footage in the cut,” he recalls, “and it gives the sequence this authenticity, realism and danger that sets the stage for the rest of the video.” Any other cinematographer may have simply overlooked the value of these potential shots, and the outcome of the final product would have been left craving something more.

Akoon believes that a cinematographer must learn how they fit into a director’s process and adaptation and that over time, the synergy makes him a better cinematographer. “As a result,” he admits, “the cinematographer is only as good as the directors they are working with.” Likening the director’s job to weaving a complex and detailed quilt, Akoon explains that “ I believe that nurturing the relationship with the director is where a cinematographer should spend most of their time. It’s important as a cinematographer to be aware of where you best fit into that fabric.”

Perhaps these views have helped to opened creative doors for Akoon, as he has been able to work with friends professionally on many projects. One particular project, “The Incident(s) at Paradise Bay,” grips audiences with linguistic and visual storytelling alike. Captivating from the very first moment, the film, which is loosely based on the controversy surrounding disciplinary academies like Tranquility Bay in Jamaica, explores the ethics of their practices and intrinsically begs the moral question: were the procedures adopted by these type of institutions successful, or were they simply just abusive?

While the story itself is an interesting one, it truly is the remarkable camerawork that makes this piece so memorable. Raw and yet elegantly framed, Akoon puts viewers barefoot in a cage on a shore with the captives; with beautifully balanced handheld shots, he makes us forget we are watching a film, and with sparingly used zoom techniques, he bookends the film in an unpredictably foreshadowing twist of cinematic genius.

All in all, Akoon’s collaborative mindset and his seemingly limitless technical and creative skill combined with his understanding of the industry has made him the highly sought after cinematographer he is today.

“I love the energy you receive working with other people,” says Akoon. “You feed off of the other’s creative energies. I love that our creativity is about building upon other’s creations. A film is a living animal, listen to it. It will tell you what it really wants when you least expect it.”

Q & A with Cinematographer Ross Radcliffe

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Cinematographer Ross Radcliffe on set of “Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet” shot by Dallas Childers

It’s not often you’ll find a cinematographer with the eye of a skilled artist and the mindset of a trained athlete, but that’s just what cinematographer Ross Radcliffe brings to the table. Well-versed in the technological aspects of filmmaking and seemingly indestructible in any harsh environment, Radcliffe possesses a unique combination of talents invaluable to the industry. He is able to keep up with the greatest extreme athletes in the world, giving viewers the opportunity to experience life’s adventures in corners of the globe we’d otherwise never see.

Radcliffe has been directly responsible for capturing cutting edge footage included in some of the nation’s top-rated shows including Travel Channel’s critically acclaimed series Jackson Wild as well as The Last Alaskans, Animal Planet’s second-most-watched series last year.  A professional lacrosse player turned cinematographer, Radcliffe has dedicated thousands of hours to perfecting his craft, and has captured breathtaking images from the Alaskan Yukon to the great African plains while keeping up physically with the world’s most extreme sporting.

No stranger to the frigid Alaskan temperatures, Radcliffe displays his strengths flawlessly for multiple shows based in the Alaskan climate. One show in particular, National Geographic’s Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet, showcases this cinematographer’s visions magnificently. Without Radcliffe’s sharp eye, technological ingenuity, and physical stamina, Dr. Oakley’s life-saving emergency surgeries performed in season 2 may have never been captured. Radcliffe’s contribution to the production not only brings picturesque scenery and landscapes into homes worldwide, but it also opens up the doors to catch a glimpse of science and biology so uniquely fascinating, yet otherwise unobtainable.  

Last week I got the opportunity to interview Radcliffe about his work as a cinematographer. In our interview, he opens up about what led him to pursue a career in the field, his views on the relationship between technology and storytelling, and the importance of physical fitness in his field of work. For more information on Ross Radcliffe, be sure to check out the interview below.

 

Where are you from? When and how did you become a cinematographer?

RR: I’m from Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, on Vancouver Island. I became a cinematographer in college; I was actually a star athlete on both the lacrosse and track & field teams- I was even drafted to play professional lacrosse- but unfortunately, after sustaining a series of bad injuries, I made the tough decision to put an end to my athletic career. I quickly turned my attention to camera work, dedicating all the time I’d previously spent training my body into training my eye behind a camera. Before long, I was producing my own videos, which lead to an internship with Susie Films, a full service, pitch to post production company. That internship turned into a full-time job, and before I knew it, I was shooting content for reality TV, commercials and short films. I now work as a freelance cinematographer for National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, and Travel Channel. As a cinematographer, I specialize in the projects that are both physically and technically demanding.

What does the work of a cinematographer entail? What are your responsibilities?

RR: To be a cinematographer is to be a visual storyteller. I get to craft images that effectively move the audience through a story, with all the twists and turns of emotions along the way.  As a cinematographer, I test and select camera and lighting packages that will best tell the story at hand, and I communicate with the director to best craft the image of the story they strive to tell. I think a big responsibility of mine, due to the type of projects I shoot, is to stay on top of my physical conditioning. When I film a subject, I want to make sure their are no barriers between the story and the audience, so I have to be a pro at following along, no matter the conditions or situations might be. In my field, a good cinematographer blends into the situation to let it play out as naturally as possible.

What do you think makes good cinema?

RR: I believe that good cinema comes from the relationship between technology and storytelling. When those two things work well together, people will watch.

What has been your favorite camera to use so far and why?

RR: My favorite camera is the Sony FS7. This new camera, capable of filming footage in 4K resolution, is the perfect camera for adventure-based cinematographers like myself since it is lighter than its predecessors, and has the ability to shoot a wide variety of profiles to suit all types of projects, and can be outfitted with a variety of third-party accessories. To that end, the Sony FS7’s native E-mount lensing system can easily be adapted to use both Sony and Canon lenses, which are both phenomenal lines of lenses.

Can you tell me a little bit about the projects you’ve done?

RR: I was the director of photography on The Travel Channel’s show, Jackson Wild. The show revolved around the Jacksons, a family comprised of the world’s best professional kayakers. During this production, I followed the Jackson family to Germany, Austria, South Africa, England and Zambia, where I faced the crazy challenge of keeping up with them- physically. Being an athlete myself, I was able to capture mountain biking through Europe and waterfall jumping in Africa but, for the record, running around Africa with a 40 lb camera on your shoulder isn’t easy!

I also worked on National Geographic’s Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet, as the director of photography. I really enjoyed being just one step behind Dr. Oakley, a famous wildlife veterinarian, through Alaska and the Yukon as she gave aide to all different types of animals. While this project was extremely demanding physically and sometimes entailed stepping in stinky animal droppings or running from an angry muskox, I was honored to be part of such a small, handselected team. Each member demonstrated such an amazing ability to wear many different hats, so to speak, and the results were well worth it. Looking back on the experience, I really loved capturing the vast personalities of the beautiful Alaskan backdrop, and using it as almost another character in the show.

Perhaps one of the most fun and challenging project I have contributed to is The Animal Planet/ Discovery Channel’s The Last Alaskans, where I was worked as a specialty camera operator and equipment mechanic for the entire second season. The Last Alaskans has garnered critical praise from top international publications around the world for its genre-busting take on the people and families who reside in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge, located just above the arctic circle. During production, the crew lives out in the field with the talent; to give you an idea of what this is like, I can tell you that every morning I woke up in a tent in -30 degree weather, and immediately started a fire. Long story short, making this show wasn’t easy, so producers gathered only the best crew in the TV industry to execute the show’s production because of its extreme physical and technical nature. With the great success of this show discussed in the New York Times and the Washington Post, I am proud of my important contributions to the production.  

What would you say your strongest qualities are as a cinematographer?

RR: I take great pride in my physical ability to endure extremely harsh and exhausting environments while capturing content. I also keep myself well versed on the latest and greatest camera technology as it hits the market, and I figure out how it can be best utilized in the field.

What projects do you have coming up?

RR: I am the Director of Photography for the next season of Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet. I have also been offered a job with Discovery Channel’s Alaska: The Last Frontier, but until I have a visa, it will be impossible for me to accept this opportunity.

What are your plans for the future?

RR: I plan on continuing to travel the world, gathering and telling stories of unique people in captivating places. I am also interested in working on feature films.

What do you hope to achieve in your career?

RR: I want to create a body of work that I am proud of; ultimately, I’m determined to tell stories that inspire and move people.

Why are you passionate about working as a cinematographer and why is it your chosen profession?

RR: Being a cinematographer is the only job I have ever had that doesn’t feel like work.  Every day that I wake up on location, I truly cannot believe how lucky I am. I’m honored and humbled to be instrumental in telling stories about people and places that would have gone otherwise unnoticed. It gives me a beautiful opportunity to put myself in the shoes of people living a different life experience than me, and I love trying to see the world from their eyes.

 

Through the Eye of His Lens Egor Povolotskiy Captivates International Audiences

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                                                Russian cinematographer Egor Povolotskiy

Mixing both European and Hollywood styles, Russia’s Egor Povolotskiy is a cutting edge cinematographer soon to be on every director’s must have list. Although beginning his education in artificial intelligence and computer sciences, Povolotskiy soon determined through his love of photography that his real passion was to be behind the lens.

Choosing projects on the potential for a unique story telling experience, Egor’s desire as a cinematographer is to make the audience feel something, and to leave them thinking. Povolotskiy truly believes that “the cinematographer is the bridge between the direct and the people in the movie theatre.”

When asked to describe the role of the cinematographer, Povolotskiy stated: “Turn off the sound, if you understand the story, if you feel it, that means the cinematographer did their job right. The main responsibility is to translate the story in people’s minds without them noticing it.”

With such films as Red, Blue, and Purple, Egor’s camera work is demonstrative of his ability to convey emotion with color, light, shapes, and textures. Telling the tale of a journey inside the mind of a prisoner who’s mentally drifting between, two worlds, the individual, and the collective. In Red, Blue, and Purple, Povolotskiy’s cinematic eye shines brightly.

Egor went on to win much acclaim for his cinematography work on the film Sabre Dance, winner of numerous awards from both the Rochester International Film Festival as well as the USA Film Festival. Telling the true story of famed Russian composer Aram Knachaturian preparing to meet famous surrealist artist Salvador Dali for the first time. Povolotskiy’s excellent use of period lighting and color palettes gave the film an emotional and realistic depth bringing the actors performances right off the screen.

As the main characters were so vastly different, Egor has stated his greatest challenge on this project was capturing the emotional point of view of opposite personalities.

“The cinematographer is in charge of the mood of the film, he or she has to understand not only how the lighting works, but how to be a bit of a director also,” says Povolotskiy.

We Are Enemies, a compelling tale of bonding under unconventional and extreme circumstances, is a prime example of Egor’s ability to do just that. Using gritty color tones and lighting techniques, Povolotskiy’s cinematographic skills are truly evident. This film also garnished several awards from the esteemed Rochester International Film Festival.

Known for making magic with whatever equipment and location he has available, Egor Povolotskiy feels that “by his eye, the audience will see the film.” With his work on the acclaimed film Death of a Government Clerk, based on the famed short story of the same name by Anton Chekhov, this truth is clearly demonstrated. With creative and moody camera work and lighting, this story of the personal trials of a 1900’s Russian clerk who finds himself on a life altering path of self destruction is a compelling and visual experience.

“There is no project for me so far, which I have shot the same way” states Povolotskiy. And with several exciting upcoming projects such as the horror film Goetia, Egor clearly demonstrates he will hold true to this statement, always evolving with each incredibly entertaining and engaging project.