Category Archives: Cinematographers

Cinematographer Yang Shao personally connects to award-winning film ‘Once More’

Growing up in Changzhou, a small town in the Eastern part of China, Yang Shao found himself drawn towards filmmaking. As a child, he would pick up his family’s handy-cam and experiment, filming everything he considered interesting. In such a way, he was destined to be a cinematographer. He always had a good eye for photography and frame composition, and when the average person would just see tall buildings while walking in the city, Shao saw letters, signs, magic. He spent his youth thinking of what angle every image he took in would look the best, and he still applies this mentality now, years later, as a celebrated cinematographer.

Shao has put his artistic touch on many film and television ventures. Projects such as A Better World, Life is Horrible, Under and The Great Guys have gone on to see international success with the help of his talents. Audiences can soon expect the same from his upcoming features: Need, In the Middle of the Night, and Excel on the Highway.

The highlight of his career, however, came just last year when Shao worked on the film Once More. It perfectly showcased his talent and passion for cinematography, as the Director and Producer were eager to let him explore his creativity. He was also eager to share the story with the world.

“I was really moved by the story this movie tells. I believe in the importance of telling good-hearted stories and this one is a perfect example of that kind of story. Also, we had an amazing team who was working on the project and working with those folks was really a pleasure,” said Shao.

Once More explores the tale of a psychologically collapsed dancer who failed in a renowned competition and broke his left leg. As the remedy to this life, he intends to commit suicide, but he is accidentally saved by a neighbor girl he was in secret love with. This subtlety encourages him to get back to the stage by dancing with the bum leg.

“At the present time with the #TimesUp movement showing the toxic environment in the film industry that was exposed in the recent year, I think there’s still a lot of room for masculine vulnerability. In fact, that kind of trait in men actually gives me hope in our future. And this movie is a good example of bright and pure emotions that are left in men’s souls. I believe in importance of bringing up the stories that have to be heard but at the same time I know that good-hearted and kind stories is what will make this world a better place,” said Shao.

Once More premiered in March 2017 at the Hollywood International Moving Pictures where it was a semi-finalist on the festival program. From there, it saw great success at many international film festivals, and Shao himself was recognized at many of them, winning Best Cinematography at the American Movie Awards, the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, Top Shorts!, Festigious International Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Awards, and more. In total, the film brought Shao seven awards for cinematography, and also numerous awards for Best Film, Best Director and Best Producer. Such acclaim could never have been possible without Shao’s artistic eye.

“I always knew that Yang is a talented cinematographer and always wanted to work with him. He brought his outstanding skill-set to the project. I’m looking forward to working more with Yang,” said Kees Van Oostrum, Executive Producer of Once More.

It was Van Oostrum that approached Shao to be a part of the film. He knew Shao’s cinematography style and that he would be vital to the production. As the cinematographer, Shao chose to use more of the natural light because the story is very elevated by itself and a lot of artificial light would only have hurt the picture in his opinion. A large portion of the movie takes place in a theater, and he made a decision to use abstract lighting to highlight the emotional state of the character and emphasize the stress that the protagonist was going through.

Coming from the East, Shao shot the story with an Asian flavor, bringing the best traditions of the eastern cinematography combined with his extensive experience working in the film industry. This allowed him to obtain angles many would not have, and this tactic was fully supported by the Director, Rachel Zhou and main actor, Jaeme Velez.

“I think we found something very precious there on set. When people’s energies start to bounce around and more importantly play in the same key, that’s when the real magic happens,” said Shao.

Above all else, however, Once More was special for Shao because of the story. He saw himself in the main character, connecting to the protagonist’s artistic journey. It provided a beacon of hope during a difficult time for the cinematographer, and he will never forget what it gave him.

“His passion and will resonated with me on a deeper level. His struggle and obstacles that were on his way to his dream are similar to mine in a way, and to most of the artists’ paths. There was a time in my life where the only thing that was left was hope and big desire to create something larger than myself. And actually, this film came along right around that time. It was like a big sign telling me to keep going, and I think in the end it paid off really well,” he concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

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Multifarious Skills Behind the Lens Make Zac Chia a Sought After Force in Entertainment

Zac Chia
Zac Chia on set of “Saptapadi” shot by Ran Ro

While the shot sequences and camera angles seen in a film or TV series are laid out by the cinematographer beforehand, capturing those key visuals falls on the shoulders of the industry’s skilled camera operators, those like Malaysian born Zac Chia.

Chia’s extensive skill in capturing visuals as both a camera and gimbal operator have set him apart from others in the industry and have led him to be tapped to work behind the scenes on a number of high profile projects.

Chia says, “I love so many things about film! It’s a business with the perfect blend of art, technology, human relations, and business in my opinion; and an art form with a lot of creativity, yet requires a lot of careful planning. And the collaborative aspect of it is absolutely amazing. Everyone brings their expertise onto the table, and creates a project together.”

Some of the projects he’s become known for include the series “Kore Conversations” and “Cupid’s Match,” which ranked as the CWseed.com’s second most watched show upon release, the films “The Shadowboxer” with Dalton Alfortish from “22 Jump Street,” the 2018 thrillers “Paracusis” with Chris Barry from “The Book of Life,” and “Monkey Man” with Richard Bulda from the series “Fashion House,” and more.

One skill that sets him apart from many camera operators is his seasoned experience using the gimbal to capture scenes with fluid movement, which is exactly what he did for the T-Mobile and Fox collaboration “The Four” aka “The Four: Battle for Stardom.”  The series, which premiered in January, is a music competition reality show where hopeful music groups vie for the chance to win a recording contract with Republic Records.

Arden Tse, “The Four” cinematographer, says, “Zac was extremely critical to the production, to an extent that our productions wouldn’t have been able to run and achieve the shots we were required to get without him. The expertise that he brought to the camera operating side of our production made sure that we could make our days and keep things on schedule.”

Always in the perfect position to get the shot the production depends on– Chia’s foundation in the industry and the vast repertoire of work he’s created over the years stem from his astonishing talent as a camera operator; but this has also led him to be tapped to take on multiple other roles in the industry where visuals are concerned.

Earlier this year Chia was called in to serve as both the cinematographer and camera operator on the “Bodytraffic” promo video for the 2018 Bodytraffic Los Angeles tour, which debuted on May 31 at The Wallis. Founded in 2007 by Lillian Barbeito and Tina Berkett, the LA-based contemporary dance company Bodytraffic has taken to stages across the U.S. being named as one of 25 to Watch by Dance Magazine in 2013 and Best of Culture by the Los Angeles Times.

As the cinematographer and camera operator on the project Chia worked with director Ran Ro to map out how to capture the entire choreography of one of the company’s dance numbers, which was what the client was looking for. Chia opted for a lot of wide shots and strategically figured out how to capture specific dancers during certain points of the routine using the lighting available in the space.

“I realized we had access to a lot of natural light with the big windows, and so I discussed the use of lighting to highlight the dancers and/or moments with Ran. She loved the idea, and so we got a hazer, as fog has the ability to catch light, and in turn cause the streaks to look more concentrated on screen,” explains Chia.

“When we got to the location, I hopped on the sun surveyor app on my phone to see where the sun would be at what time, and we chose our backdrop and which part of the room to shoot at depending on where the sun would.”    

Considering that the project contains so much movement, Chia’s skill as both a camera and gimbal operator proved integral to capturing the fluidity of the routine and including the dancers performance in the way the client and director envisioned. Using his gimbal, Chia was able to move with the dancers, syncing his movements in terms of speed and direction in order to ensure that they were the center of attention at all times.

“Zac was an incredible cinematographer and gimbal operator on the shoot… His role was crucial for the shoot as it involved filming energetic dance movements in a spacious location. It was a great experience collaborating with him,” explains “Bodytraffic” director and editor Ran Ro. “He came up with great ideas during the shoot and we were able to get shots with dynamic energy and movements although they were filmed spontaneously. He is also very patient on set and is a great communicator. I loved working with him.”

With the ability to move from working as a camera and gimbal operator to leading his department as a cinematographer, and the rare capacity to accomplishing both simultaneously, Chia brings a level of versatility to the table that makes him a unique talent for productions like this. Whatsmore, he’s earned quite a bit of praise for his work as a director as well, earning the Festival Award from the Atlanta Horror Film Festival for his 2015 film “Room 205” and the Diamond Award from the LA Shorts Awards for his 2017 film “Saptapadi.”

Zac Chia
Overwatch League Host Tutu (left) and Director & Camera Operator Zac Chia (right)

Chia has also been tapped to shoot, direct and edit numerous videos for the inaugural season of the Overwatch League, a professional eSports league for the game Overwatch created by Blizzard Entertainment, the creators of World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor.

“I was tasked to pitch, create, direct, shoot, and edit shows for the Mandarin audience with OWL’s Mandarin Host, Tutu,” says Chia.

In April one of the video’s Chia shot and directed aired live at the arena in Southern California in between the Shanghai Dragons and Florida Mayhem game, as well as on the platform Weibo in China. He’s also directed numerous other videos for the Overwatch League over the last three months, including ones that aired during the Seoul Dynasty vs Shanghai Dragons game and others.

Chia adds, “I absolutely loved the opportunity to pioneer content for a show in its inaugural season, and I was blessed with a lot of creative freedom from Blizzard Entertainment.”

Up next for camera and gimbal operator, who’s proven himself as a formidable genius behind the lense, is the film “A Good Thing,” which he will also be directing.  

 

Japan’s Yuito Kimura pays tribute to ‘Back to the Future’ in award-winning film

Yuito Kimura knows that being a cinematographer is not just knowing the equipment or having skills to handle camera and lighting; being a cinematographer is being a storyteller. The moment he takes on a new project, he doesn’t just read the script, he studies it. He makes sure to know exactly what motivates the characters, as he knows that will affect how he shoots each scene. He notes how his vision can help tell the story, and that is what makes him so formidable at what he does.

Both in his home country of Japan and abroad, Kimura is an in-demand leader of his industry. His work on projects such as the music video “We are Stars” for pop band Snow Angels, the web and television commercial for Townfrost, and the films Dropping the S Bomb and Star Wars: Amulet of Urlon show just what he is capable of. He was also recently nominated for Best Director of Photography at the World Music and Independent Film Festival 2019 for the music video “Syrup” for singer/songwriter Jaklyn, which he also directed. It also has been nominated for Best Director and Best Creative Music Video.

Back in 2015, Kimura had the chance to pay tribute to one of his favorite film series, Back to the Future. Creating the film Back to the Future? gave the cinematographer the opportunity to explore the franchise that introduced him to American culture during his childhood, and it was an unforgettable experience. In this new film, Marty and Doc Brown go back to 2015 and find that one detail has changed the future as they knew it.

“I’m a big fan of the Back to the Future movies, and so is everyone that worked on this project. The writer, Logan, had a passion that made me, and the entire crew, really motivated,” said Kimura.

3. Back to the Future?_1While shooting, Kimura focused fully on following the director’s vision, and made suggestions that greatly added to the film. Knowing the original films so well, he proposed mimicking camera framing and movement from Back To The Future II when shooting B-Roll and inserts of the props such as DeLorean and its interior. This recommendation made it to the final cut, and truly adds the right touch of a throwback while still making a unique film.

The film went on to be recognized at several international film festivals, including the Wendy’s Shorts Awards, WILDsound FEEDBACK Film Festival, Sutter Creek International Film Festival, and more. It won Best Film at Fan Fiction Short Film 2016 and Best of Comedy Short at the Direct Short Online Film Festival that same year.

“When we realized on day one of shooting for Back to the Future? that we would be without a cinematographer, I found Yuito’s website and reached out to him directly. He arrived promptly with his equipment and was kind and respectful to everyone on set. He moved quickly through the shot list provided by the director and even offered his own insights that improved the finished product. He is efficient and knows how to get the shots we needed. He provided our production information about lenses and suggested cameras that proved to be important in our later work. I would be happy to work with him again anytime,” said Jen Floor Mathews, Producer.

On set, Kimura made sure to focus on achieving high-quality shots. He used simple camera framing, movement, and lighting. His biggest priority was delivering the story without any distractions, ensuring continuity in lighting and camera work. Such discrepancies, he knows, can cause major distractions for audiences when they watch the film, taking away from a captivating story.

4. Back to the Future?_2“I believe that not making any distractions is actually another level of filmmaking. For example, when I watch a movie, I can be distracted by small thing such as unnatural lighting on actress’s face or continuity. I fully commit myself to not frame those things and fix anything that would would be a distraction,” he said.

Overall, the shoot went very smooth and was quite fun for Kimura. They even had a key prop from the original films, inspiring everyone on set.

“The best part was that they used the actual DeLorean that was used in the original movies. I couldn’t believe I had the opportunity to shoot with such an iconic prop. I still remember that everybody started taking photos with the DeLorean and stopped working. At first, it was putting us behind schedule, but then I realized it was just because everyone was excited to be honoring the movies. It was such a funny moment. That was the highlight,” Kimura concluded.

 

By Annabelle Lee

Cinematographer Guy Pooles’ Intuitive Visual Style

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.”

 

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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.”

 

Saif Al-Sobaihi: A Cinematographer with an Eye for Story and Success

Saif Al-Sobaihi
Cinematographer Saif Al-Sobaihi

Cinematographers are instrumental figures in the filmmaking process. In the past it was the actors, and occasionally their director, whose names were remembered by the public; but there is a growing list of creative cinematography auteurs who are are finally receiving their due praise for their contributions to the film industry.

Cinematographers need to possess the ability to blend technical practicality with specific artistry. They both employ and manipulate lighting, shot angles, close-ups, color and have to guide camera operators and gaffers to create moving pictures that present the visual story to an audience in such a way that goes beyond simply ‘looking impressive.’ Cinematographers create images that drive emotional responses from audiences and ensure a film takes a place in the cultural framework.

Saif Al-Sobaihi is one such example of a cinematographer whose crucial role in the construction of films like “El Circo” and “Pinwheel” has helped create striking visual sequences, and he’s built an excellent reputation amongst his peers as a consequence. Indeed, the foreign filmmaker received praise and an Emmy Southeast Award for his cinematography work with “El Circo,” while “Pinwheel” gave Saif an opportunity to showcase themes around true love.

El Circo
Film Poster for “El Circo”

When discussing “El Circo,” Saif recounts how it “was pitched to me by…the Salvadorian director Jose Pablo Ramirez. I really enjoyed reading the script and the values Pablo wanted to capture. It was certainly one of the most joyful sets I’ve worked on.”

“El Circo” director Jose Pablo Ramirez is a renowned filmmaker who’s also known for his work on “The Astronaut’s Son” which starred Megan Mazzoccone, who’s known for the TV series “The Buzz.”

“El Circo” concerns a circus clown, Charles, who invites three audience members on stage to assist him with his final act. Invoking the spirit of his predecessor, Charles tries to teach his audience a thing or two about one’s self, family and the power of laughter. Saif recounts how he used his expertise to showcase the character’s dual personalities – Charles, the good side, and Stupidus, the evil side.

An actor might do that with shifts in mannerisms, a costume designer might do that with different wardrobe pieces – but Saif discusses how he achieved this goal with “subtle changes in camera compositions.” He elaborates, “For Charles I chose angles that were predominantly eye level, and for Stupidus I chose to use slightly tighter shots. The emotional impact that I wanted to achieve with Charles is that his personality is still in the comfort zone of the audience.”

“For Stupidos, I chose to shoot some intimidating angles like I mentioned ‘in your face.’ I chose lower angles and close ups to ECU shots. Stupidos breaks the 4th wall in some of the shots and look straight into the viewer’s eyes. His personality is confusing and unclear, so I encouraged my focus puller to intentionally miss his focus marks on some of Stupidos shots. That way we were visually showing the audience that he is [abnormal] and doesn’t follow the rules.”

Such a detailed explanation proves Saif’s specific understanding of shot composition and his expert-level cinematographic skills being crucial to the development of the story in “El Circo.”

Saif’s expert level knowledge is also evident when discussing “Pinwheel” and how he shot the project. “We shot ‘Pinwheel’ with the Arri Alexa SXT (camera) [and] Cooke S4/i Primes (lenses)… There were a lot of camera and dolly movements; my camera operator Ryan Hance and the hardworking dolly grips were on the same page all of the time, and that made everything so much smoother.”

That project was directed by Francesca Crichton, well known for her project “Jamil Houston: Make it Last,” which starred Sebastian Condor (“When I was Younger”).

Saif’s down-to-earth attitude has clearly also been a crucial factor in developing his distinguished career. Unlike actors, who build their reputations through associating their face with big studios or other famous actors, a cinematographer like Saif has crafted his career through working with top-level companies like Sony, Viacom and PopSugar.

In addition, Saif also has enjoyed spending time on set with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Zac Efron while working on blockbuster films like “Baywatch” for Paramount Pictures.

All of these accomplishments are not surprising, but Saif is very humble about the strong start he had in the industry. These auspicious beginnings were obviously a sign of a distinguished career to come.  

“My first ‘real’ gig as a cinematographer was for the Swedish singer Peg Parnevik for her music video ‘We Are,’ which we shot in Florida. It was later picked up by Sony Music. I was nervous, of course, and wanted to meet so many expectations. My crew and I made some mistakes, but we learned from them and had so much fun shooting this project.”

 

JOSE ANDRES SOLORZANO PEERS DEEP INTO MEXICO IN “HUICOLES: THE LAST PEYOTE GUARDIANS”

Jose Andres Solorzano was looking for work that has a greater sense of adventure. He already had a very successful career at Red Bull Mexico Headquarters but wanted to pursue his career as a filmmaker full time. Although he had experience as a cinematographer he had never taken the full plunge. Feeling that the fortune smiles on those who take the risk, he quit his safe day job and ended up getting more risk than he had imagined or hoped for. Within a very short time he received a phone call from Argentina. Hernan Vilchez, famed documentary director, was looking for someone to cover the gathering of the traditional government of the Huichol Nation on top of their most sacred mountain. The Huichol were discussing a situation with a Canadian mining company that involved one of their most sacred sites. Without skipping a beat Solorzano was in, beginning what would become a three-year-long journey which would include escaping from armed drug cartels, witnessing ritual sacrifices, and often find him alone in nature without protection from its brutality. If Jose were not so busy filming a documentary about the Huichol it would be fascinating to watch one about his own epic experience as DP for “Huicoles: The Last Peyote Guardians.”

“Be careful what you ask for.” is a highly appropriate description of this period in Jose’s life. For three years he travelled some of the most remote areas of Mexico, sometimes alone and often at great risk. At times being around other people posed more danger than the forces of nature. It’s fitting that the Huichol and such a spiritual and enigmatic people; it’s an apt description of Solorzano’s experience as DP working with Hernan Vilchez on this documentary. Hernan sent Jose to the Huichol traditions government gathering on top of the Cerro del Quemado. He was so convinced by what Solorzano captured (by himself) that he immediately extended the project into a feature documentary. Due to Hernan’s permanent residency in Argentina, he often sent his trusted DP out by himself to get the footage he required. The belief of this celebrated director was both confidence building and demanding.

“Huicoles: The Last Peyote Guardians” follows the Ramirez family trough their sacred pilgrimage to Wirikuta, the place where they connect with their gods and gather peyote in order to talk to them. The documentary portrays at the same time the cosmogony of the Huichol culture and their fight against foreign mining companies that are trying to create an open sky mining in their most sacred territory. This natural protected area known to them as Wirikuta is the most biodiverse desert in the world for cactus plants. The documentary tells the point of view of the Ramirez family and the Huichol culture but also presents the point of view of the mining companies and the mestizo population of that area, presenting a dialogue to all the parts that create the complex problem of mining in this region of Mexico. The members of the Ramirez family are introduced on camera as we learn about them, their history, culture, and this pilgrimage that is intrinsic to the relationship they have with their gods. We also see the inhabitants of the Wirikuta, a very poor region of Mexico in great need of the work resources that could be brought by the oil company. The documentary tries to balance both points of view, allowing the audience to make their own decision.

The journey of the Ramirez family and the documentary start in Laguna Seca, Jalisco and it finishes on the top of their most sacred mountain, the Cerro del Quemado (Mountain of the burned one). Jose created a visual language for the film based on his director’s desire to be very realistic but also communicate the aesthetic of the sojourn. The method which both director and DP agreed upon was the use of time lapse photography as a recurring resource for this language. Time lapse allowed for the portrayal of these amazing locations in an unconventional way. This technique allows the audience to witness with an altered perception of time and movement normally unseen by the human eye. Time lapse allowed for this film to show the stark contrast of natural terrain and topography versus machines and other manmade objects. Of course, it also magnifies the viewer’s understanding of the mysticism and magic the Huichol feel connected with.

Remote locations without electricity, the middle of the desert, tops of mountains, the depths of mines, etc., were some of the many challenging factors which Solorzano was confronted with in his work on this production. The absence of running water or a sewer system can be navigated but cameras without electricity cannot be dealt with the same way. Solar power mats, power inverters that ran off car batteries, and gear which utilized less power in general were all a part of the required package for the cameras. Extreme heat, cold, and pervasive dust exacerbated the complications of running even a small amount of production gear. Jose concedes that it was the Huichol themselves who enabled him to survive due to their knowledge of navigating this perilous journey. Professing the constitution of these people he recalls, “We had been shooting a ceremony in the bottom of a valley and we needed to carry all the gear down the mountain to this sacred place. They sacrificed a cow and had a ceremony. After shooting the ceremony we needed to walk back to their village on top of the mountain. There was a moment when my legs couldn’t go any further. I was literally crawling and couldn’t keep on going. Hernan was still going forward and while in pain he kept a good attitude on every step of this way up. Near the end some of the women in the family grabbed my back pack and tripod and helped me to finish the way back to the village.”

Jose Andres Solorzano went looking for change and he found it. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that he helped to make it.  “Huicoles: The Last Peyote Guardians.” had a premier tour that visited many different venues, two of which were a part of the Huichol nation territory. Thousands lined up outside the theater in Guadalajara to see the documentary under the rain in Mexico City, a strong indicator for any premier. This feature documentary garnered more than 11 different awards at international festivals. The effect on the Huichol and those who viewed their story is public, the lasting meaning on Solorzano has been much more private until now. He reveals, “For me, this documentary changed my life and how I live it. Before starting to work on this production I came from doing a lot of actions sports content for brands like Red Bull and Vans. This content was really fun to shoot but I was missing something. ‘Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians’ took me back to my interests of trying to shape a better society with my craft. It also helped me understand a unique culture that is still alive in my country, the Huichol nation. With the understanding of their cosmogony it also opened my eyes to my interest in learning more from my roots and the different native indigenous cultures that are still alive in Mexico. If I had to choose the most memorable part of this production for me, it would be all the knowledge I gained and the people I knew in the road. That is a really interesting difference between narrative and documentary film. In a narrative film you are trying to create a world in order to portray an idea or message. In a documentary film you are trying to grasp that knowledge from other people and circumstances and at the end of the movie, you have changed because of all of that you have learned. Documentary filmmaking changes the filmmakers and the audience. At least, that is what it should do in my estimation. I believe that after three years of going to the desert and the different Huichol communities, I became a completely different person. The old Jose Andres died in the desert in one of those adventures when I rolled from a mountain or maybe when the drug cartels stopped us. One thing is for certain, without this movie I wouldn’t be who I am today.”

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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.”