When it comes to movies, the audience always focuses on the actors and plot line, yet there’s one key behind the scenes player who not only captures the entire picture, he also conveys the mood and atmosphere in manner that really puts the entire plot and action across. This, of course, is the cinematographer, an essential contributor to any film and one of the top young guns working behind the camera in 2018 is the talented British-born cinematographer Guy Pooles.
Pooles came to the field through an unlikely conduit, one both poignant and liberating in its unusual nature.
“I’ve always suffered from quite severe dyslexia,” Pooles said. “Growing up, this would make it difficult to consume fiction via the reading of a book. So, films became my primary window into the world of fiction and storytelling. Paired with this fascination for cinema, I also adopted, at a young age, a great love for photography. As both of these interests grew and deepened throughout my life, they slowly evolved to form one entirely consuming fascination with the art and craft of cinematography. I was and continue to be, endlessly amazed at the human ability to tell stories through nothing more than the juxtaposition of images.”
The camera freed Poole from the constraints his condition often imposed and this unusual quality imbues his work with a clarity, vision and overall sense of artistry which really sets him apart. Moreover, Pooles’ approach to cinematography, both as an art and a science, relies on the emotional elements of his assignment, and his ability to blend the aesthetic and technical underscores a uniquely empathic brand of craftsmanship.
“My narrative interests seem to move through all genres, spanning many subject matters, artistic styles and tones,” Pooles said. “I think the one constant that a story I work upon has to possess, is an element of raw human truth. If the film never takes a moment to teach the viewer an emotional truth about his or herself, then I find it very hard to approach the cinematography from an emotional level, and I find it very hard to do my job well.”
Pooles’ always outstanding work is primarily achieved through his own regard for the story and, ultimately, forges an ideal vision of how to present it to the viewer: Case in point, his work on Marko Grujic’s extraordinary short film Unaligned. A tale of unconventional May – December romance between a college student and her one-time female babysitter, Grujic’s story came loaded with exactly the sort of raw psychological components Pooles thrives upon.
“Marko reached out to me after seeing my work on a low-budget web-series called The Ferryman,” Pooles said. “I believe this is because he knew he would require a cinematographer who could execute a complex production without sacrificing the emotive potency of the film’s visual language.”
The director’s instinct was spot-on. “Guy is much more than a common cinematographer,” Grujic said. “He goes deep into the characters psyche and translates it visually on screen with lighting and framing. Guy listens and adjusts to a situation. He understands a director, asks a lot of questions and tries to figure out things from more than one perspective. He is a tremendous talent.”
Although a short, the project presented its fair share of challenges. “The budget of film was very small, as was the crew,” Pooles said. “In light of the scope of the screenplay, it is safe to say that the production was quite ambitious. Our schedule was often so tight that, to fall behind even by few minutes, could result in losing the opportunity to shoot key scenes at the end of each day. Marko and I had to work meticulously with the first Assistant Director to ensure that our plan for the schedule was as watertight as possible and that we were prepared for contingencies, should something go wrong.”
Pooles’ used a shrewd, holistic methodology that took into consideration both the film’s logistical and artistic needs. “My approach to lighting was quite different on this project,” he said. ”I worked hard to keep my lighting set ups as simple as possible, often trying to key a scene off a practical lighting unit already on location. I did this knowing that every minute saved from a lighting standpoint would free up more time for the cast to get the performances that they and Marko were striving for. I was very aware that with a story this intimate and character-driven, it would be very hard for an actor to relax into her or his performance if they were constantly under the gun schedule-wise.”
Thanks to the seamless Pooles-Grujic collaboration, the film was successfully completed and will begin screening along the busy festival circuit later in 2018. For Pooles, who won the American Society of Cinematographers Linwood Dunn Student Heritage Award in 2014 for his work on the short film Dirty Laundry, it’s another step forward in his fast moving journey of professional accomplishment. With a raft of credits both in the camera & electrical department and as a cinematographer (including 5 episodes of TV anthology series Two Sentence Horror Stories), Pooles is poised to emerge as one of the leaders in his field.
“My philosophy has always been, that a viewer should never be able feel the cinematographer’s hand upon a film,” Pooles said. “The visual style can be bold and assertive, but the minute this leads a viewer to dwell upon the strength of the cinematographer’s work, rather than the potency of the storytelling, the entire narrative experience will begin to fall apart. The cinematographers that I admire the most are those whose work remains largely unrecognizable from project to project and who guide a viewer, almost subliminally, along the emotional path of a film.”