There is an age old saying that tells us “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” For many different art forms, these words could not be truer. For instance, by nature, the art of cinematography is entirely subjective. What may appeal to one person, may disinterest another. What you consider beautiful, your peer may deem hideous. It all amounts to the different ways in which individuals perceive the world. In order to succeed as a cinematographer, therefore, an artist must be able to speak to multiple different audiences at once. They need to understand how to channel the vast array of emotions, thoughts, and experiences that life has to offer into their medium of choice. They require a different kind of creativity and they must use it to entertain audiences of all different sizes. They need to see the world the way that Calvin Khurniawan does and once they do, they need to share their artistry with people from all walks of life, challenging them to see their surroundings in new lights.
“It seems obvious, but if you ask ten different painters to paint a tree, you’ll wind up with ten different styles of paintings of the same tree. It truly comes down to an artisanal approach. No other cinematographer would be able to replicate and do the same thing as the other, even with the same material to focus on. Everyone will light and place the camera differently. For that reason, I would say that cinematography is an impressionistic art. It makes my job all the more enjoyable because I get to determine how I’d like to tell a story and then I get to bring it to life,” told Khurniawan.
Khurniawan’s unwavering passion for filmmaking extends back as early as his childhood and his perspective derives from years of immersing himself in the arts. At a young age, Khurniawan’s father allowed him to use the family camera to take photographs of their vacation and he became addicted to the feeling of seeing his photos once he had them developed. He began to notice the different ways to manipulate an image he’d like to depict and loved the depth of emotions he could capture. It wasn’t until he began taking videos with his first ever mobile phone that he realized how intrigued he was by filmmaking. From there, he never looked back. His work as a photographer and cinematographer has landed him success with a number of films, many of which he ended up winning awards. For instance, Khurniawan’s film Alchemist won Best Student Film at festivals like the Around the World International Festival, the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, and more. His other films, such as Antifilm and Kudeta, have also earned Official Selections at a number of prestigious festivals, as well as praise from his peers. He is a force to be reckoned with in the filmmaking industry and he has no plans of stopping any time soon.
In July of this year, Khurniawan collaborated with fashion guru Peggy Hartanto to bring Kudeta to life. The film juxtaposes modern choreography with modern fashion as it portrays Hartanto’s finesse in the fashion industry. The simplicity of her design doesn’t simply translate as modern, but rather it signifies a daring take on modern wear. Essentially, the basic idea of the film was to dress female warriors in dresses and present them like they hadn’t ever been seen before. It created an anti-thesis to fashion film and Khurniawan is drawn to the idea of bringing unexpected notions to life before his audiences. Prior to filming, however, Khurniawan was apprehensive given the amount of VFX shots that he would need to create. Rather than succumbing to the pressure, he dedicated every fiber of his being to learn how to use VFX to the best of his abilities and the result was profound. In fact, his mastery of VFX and his eye for filmmaking made him an instrumental key to the film’s success.
“It was truly challenging at first because I knew there were going to be a lot of VFX shots, but I trained and I took my time to understand the tools. I stayed up all night prior to each shoot in order to prepare so that I could be confident that I would capture the best content as possible,” recalled Khurniawan.
Another of Khurniawan’s favorite aspects of his profession is getting to collaborate with other top artists in the industry. For Kudeta, Khurniawan was fortunate enough to work with Hartanto and explore the world of modern fashion. He was also able to work with other designers and film enthusiasts on set. For instance, Kudeta’s production designer, Indrianty Lihardinata was humbled by the experience of working with Khurniawan for the film. Most artists who work with him are taken aback by the caliber of professionalism and expertise that he brings to the table when he works. According to Lihardinata, in fact, Khurniawan was the ideal combination of professional and enjoyable to create with.
“My favorite part about working with Calvin is his willingness to spend time with key departments to discuss the different aspects of the film. Kudeta was a fun one because it is a high-speed fashion film and so he would shoot everything in a high frame rate to accentuate the movement of the dancers. He is the coolest person to work with because he would take the time to frame every minor detail to ensure that it had a strong “wow” factor,” emphasized Lihardinata.
In all, Khurniawan takes great pride in the content he created for Kudeta. For this reason, he was even more pleased when Kudeta earned the recognition that it did so early on in its festival run. It was chosen as an Official Selection at both Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival in Florida, as well as the Short to the Point Festival in Bucharest and will likely go on to inspire even more audiences as time progresses. In the meantime, the esteemed cinematographer is excited to try his hand at creating a documentary. He believes that it will allow him to exercise his instinct as opposed to allowing technical elements to dominate his content. Stay tuned for more.
Photo by Joshua Kang