Filmmaking is All About the Beauty of Collaboration for DP Olesia Saveleva

Cinematographer Olesia Saveleva
Director Joshua Amar and DP Olesia Saveleva on set of “Steady Eddie”

The filmmaking process is arguably one of the best examples of a group of people collaborating across multiple departments in order to bring a single vision to life. Turning the initially ‘invisible’ vision of the director into a visible story that viewers around the world can experience is a massive undertaking, and though the role of every department is integral to the finished work, the relationship between a director and their cinematographer is one of the most vital.

Esteemed cinematographer Olesia Saveleva says that, for her, “the collaboration part of filmmaking is one of the most interesting and attractive parts of filmmaking.” She adds, “You never know how the dialogue with the director and other principal team members will go. I love when there is trust and honesty. I love when everybody is sharing ideas and I love when a director hears all the suggestion and takes a lead in making decisions.”

As the proverbial ‘eyes of the director,’ the cinematographer has to first understand the director’s vision, and then use their creativity and technical skill to translate that vision into what we ultimately see on screen. One of the things that has made Olesia Saveleva such a successful and sought after cinematographer in the film world is her ability to understand what the directors she works with envision for their project.

Earlier this year Saveleva wrapped production on Joshua Amar’s (“Velvet Waterfalls,” “Billy the Kid”) dramatic film “Steady Eddie,” which was chosen as an Official Selection of the SCAD Savannah Film Festival where it premiered in November.

Starring Robert Daniel Sloan (“How I Met Your Mother,” “Bad Teacher,” “Sinister 2”), Gabriel Sousa (“Mad Men,” “Growing Up Immigrants”) and Shawn Lockie (“Criminal Minds”) “Steady Eddie” tells the story of Jesse (Robert Daniel Sloan), a young boy who, fearing his autistic older brother Ed (Gabriel Sousa) will die in battle, takes Ed to their father’s cabin in the wilderness in hopes of getting him to avoid the Vietnam War draft.

“In this project we wanted to stay in the perspective of the young brother, so we are much closer to him,” explains Saveleva.

In order to bring the audience closer to Jesse, Saveleva made sure that each scene in the film included both a shot from his point of view and one of him and his reactions, which helps viewers to identify with what he is feeling. From the lighting, which helped to transport the audience to the 1960s when the film takes place, to the decision to initially keep a portion of the frame out of focus in some shots, which directs the viewer’s attention to a specific area, Saveleva’s extraordinary work as the cinematographer of the film was key in making “Steady Eddie” a highly cinematic and visually gripping story.

Out of all of her productions to date Saveleva marks “Steady Eddie” as one of her top favorites. She explains, “It was the smoothest and the most pleasant set. And we had a very creative, responsible and collaborative team. The production of this film was the best in terms of organization, and I had the best director and producer. Everybody was on top of their jobs so we got everything we needed.”

As a cinematographer Saveleva is also known for her work on films such as Jorge S. Pallas’ “In Girum Imus Nocte,” which earned the Award of Recognition from the 2016 IndieFEST Film Awards, the comedy film “The Worst People at the Party,” the crime film “Brothers,” “X & Y” and the recently released drama “Immigrant Brothers.”

About working with Saveleva, Olga Solodukhina, the director of the film  “X & Y,” says, “It is a very fruitful collaboration. She bring a lot of ideas to the table. Olesia pays a lot of attention to the details. As a cinematographer she is very good with composition and designing camera movements. But also she collaborates closely with the production designer and costume designer.”

While she has undoubtedly made a powerful mark through her work as the cinematographer on a diverse range of narrative films, she’s also lent her unparalleled skill to countless music videos. Most recently she worked with artists Julia Proskuryakova, Elena Esenina and Maxim Galkin as the cinematographer on their music video for the hit Russian song “I’m a Mother,” which was released in October and has garnered extensive attention from media outlets across Russia. The music video, which already has over 377,000 views on YouTube, follows two fed up housewives who get tired of doing everything for their family and getting no appreciation from their husbands so they decide to break free and have some fun.

From the way she zeros in on the intricately arranged food and shows only the housewife’s hands, which gives the sense that she is more of a servant than a person, to the following framing, which makes it feel as though she is trapped within four walls, Saveleva’s composition in the opening scenes perfectly supports the story. Through her camera movements, such as slowing down over a stack of plates as they shatter on the ground, signaling that the housewife is ready to break free, to the way she speeds up the shots and keeps the camera traveling once the women have reclaimed their freedom, Saveleva used her seasoned skill to set the pace of the video.

Thanks to her extensive experience in the field, Saveleva’s technical skill is so on point that she has the capacity to get creative with her director when it comes time to shoot instead of being fixated on sticking to one plan.

She explains, “When I plan a shoot thoroughly with a director we kind of get on the same wavelength. So that when we come on set we are both flexible to change shots and be creative because we are still on the same wavelength.”

At the end of the day filmmaking is all about collaboration; and a strong collaborative relationship between a director and cinematographer is one that often continues over the course of each of their career, with the two joining forces again and again to make magic on screen. And for Olesia Saveleva, that is precisely the kind of relationship she looks for in the people she works with.

“I want to find one or several directors who I collaborate well with and make many projects together. The collaboration part excites me the most because I believe in synergy. The better I know the director, the faster the decision making is happening. We trust each other in making creative decisions and we can challenge each other with ambitious plans. I believe that in those collaboration processes the strongest movies are being made.”

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