Month: March, 2016

The golden age of content is Now

What it means to be a Director of Photography is changing. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I no longer see myself as a DoP in the traditional sense, but rather as the principle visual designer of the projects I work on. I’ve noticed that as makers continue to push the boundaries of our work, the roles of visual designer and creative producer have begun to coalesce. This is a very exciting evolution in the creative industries.

15 years ago I remember seeing new visual work that inspired me about once a week, perhaps a bit more often when I was in film school. 200 years ago it might have been once a year for someone like me, or once every five years. But today, when the barriers to production and distribution are falling away so rapidly, I see new and powerful content every day. I wish I could track the rate which I have added visual material to my reference archive over the years—today I add four or five samples of imagery or motion content every 24 hours. The best aspect of this phenomenon is that the more work we see that inspires us, the more work we will produce that has the potential to inspire others. This cycle has a name: innovation.

We have entered an age where the technological and social barriers of content creation are falling away at a remarkable rate. I’ve read some opinions recently suggesting that the real battle now isn’t in creating strong content, but rather in marketing: getting as many eyeballs as possible in front of what you produce. There is some truth here, but I don’t agree with this entirely. Marketing is important, of course, and I’ll even concede that in some limited circumstances savvy promotion can compensate for weak content. But at the end of the day it is the cocktail of fearless innovation and judicious promotion that separates great work from the ocean of mediocrity. Though the amount of work we produce is increasing, the standards will always rise proportionally: no matter how much material we create, only the top percentage will be work that people can’t wait to watch. Put differently, it will always be only the best work that gives our audiences goosebumps. And this is what we aspire to deliver.

The view from Kostava Street: new friends, new ideas, and the low rumble of coming change.

What’s next?

Oscars 2016

I generally feel that the Academy Awards are an overrated event, but I would be professionally remiss not to share my thoughts on this year’s nominees:

The Revenant, shot by Chivo Lubezki, was the Oscar darling of the year (12 nominations), and much has been said about its photography. I found two things interesting about this project: the first is that no electric lighting instruments were used to make this film, except during one firelight scene. This approach appeals to my documentary roots and reminds me very much of my favorite cinematographer, Nestor Almendros, particularly his work on Days of Heaven. I trained under DoPs for ten years in Hollywood on productions large and small, and I felt the great majority of the shows I worked on were horrifically overlit, often by design. This is less of a problem in independent cinema. To be fair, Lubezki had the advantage of shooting on an Alexa 65—perhaps the best digital camera ever made for natural light work—and of working with some of the industry’s most talented colorists at Technicolor. But these things alone don’t make great cinematography, and I can’t dispute his talent for and contributions to the craft.

Another interesting element of The Revenant was that it was filmed exclusively on wide-angle lenses (12 – 21mm), which positions the cameraman much closer to the action. This combined with a handheld style shifts many decisions about coverage from the Director to the Director of Photography, which requires a close creative relationship to make work. But when it works, the results are phenomenal. As a side note, I enjoyed the film’s accompanying documentary, A World Unseen, directed by Eliot Rausch, perhaps more than I did the film itself. Worth a viewing.

In all truthfulness, I felt that Roger Deakins’ work on Sicario (also nominated for Best Cinematography) was perhaps stronger than The Revenant, but its photographic style draws less attention to the project’s camerawork. I just happen to appreciate patient, understated cinematography, so I’m drawn to films like this.

I also loved Mátyás Erdély’s photography in Son of Saul, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film but was somehow overlooked for the Best Cinematography category.

Despite all the pomp and pageantry of the Academy Awards, I must admit that the cinematography of almost all the Oscar-nominated films inspired me in some way, even when it wasn’t a style I am drawn to. I looking forward to seeing a very different batch of work at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

The view from Kostava Street: cloudy days, warmer winds, and the unstoppable progression of time. How does one not think about this?