Category Archives: Cinematographers

Cinematographer Kristin Fieldhouse’s Perfect Mix of Art and Science

With any feature film, audience interest always centers on the starring actors, but the fine art of cinema succeeds or fails due to the efforts of three key contributors—director, writer, and, perhaps most critically, the cinematographer. Whether photographing in lush color or stark black & white, the overall look of a movie sets the tone and provides invaluable context for its storyline, and one of the field’s fast-rising practitioners is the skilled British-born cinematographer Kristin Fieldhouse.

Hers is an exacting occupation, part science, part art, that requires both acute aesthetic sensibilities and precise technical acumen— qualities that Fieldhouse been cultivating since she was a pre-teen shutterbug. “My love of photography began when I was twelve,” Fieldhouse said. ”I attended a local independent school that had an incredible darkroom and photography teacher, and was lucky enough to spend many hours taking pictures and developing prints, and exploring art galleries on weekends.”

It also became a very personal part of her life and identity. “Photography gave me the opportunity to find my voice through imagery and a means to express myself as an artist,” Fieldhouse said. “Having gone through some childhood trauma—losing my father and sister—photography was a healing process and gave me the opportunity to connect with people through an artistic medium. And that, in turn, led me to cinematography.”

Even before completing her education, Fieldhouse began racking up some significant camera department credits, contributing to such high-profile Hollywood projects as The Incredible Hulk, Total Recall, music documentary Neil Young Journeys along with numerous television and short film credits. Upon graduating, with an MFA, from the American Film Institute, her professional life as a cinematographer began to blossom.

With a solid roster of short film credits, Fieldhouse moved into feature film, shooting Michael Seater’s Sadie’s Last Days on Earth, Jenée LaMarque’s The Feels and veteran actor Amy Jo Johnson’s directorial debut The Space Between, an offbeat comedy about a man who learns his new born son was sired by another and embarks on an odyssey to find the biological father. Her experience shooting the film encapsulates Fieldhouse’s comprehensive grasp of the demanding craft.

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“Amy Jo Johnson and [producer] Jessica Adams were building a team of artists and technicians that understood their vision—within the confines of an ambitious script, a micro-budget and a short shooting schedule,’ Fieldhouse said. “This was to become an epic road movie, with lots of locations, limited time, large cast, babies and a travelling limousine. They reached out and brought me on for a lengthy prep—which was essential for the project. I developed a language and symbiosis with Amy, and was also able to help organize and put in place the various cinemagraphic elements required under challenging circumstances.”

In short order, the company was off and running. “The challenges of the film were numerous,” Fieldhouse said. “16 days of shooting, always on the move, many locations, and lots of road and car work. We managed it using smart scheduling and techniques that kept crew and gear light and streamlined and by working together to overcome the obstacles that came up with locations, weather and schedule.”

It’s not all logistics—the conscientious cinematographer must also contend with myriad, far more subtle issues. “I tried to approach the film as a fly on the wall,” Fieldhouse said. “I attempted to let the themes of the film play out unobstructed, working to enable authentic comedy and to allow for improvisation. It was also important for me to use framing and lighting to bring connection to our characters and support personal and nuanced scenes that required a delicate touch. I wanted the camera to be close and personal for some scenes, and then to stand back for others giving breath and a more objective point of view.”

Fieldhouse’s sensitivity—a singular, artful empathy for story and characters—is a quality that not only characterizes her approach to the camera, it also directly affects the production itself.

“I found Kristin to be a true artist,” Johnson said. “Her ability to work with the cast and make them feel comfortable and free to experiment contributed significantly to our great performances. She and I fully collaborated on every shot and created the look and feel of the film together. She was also an incredible leader who had her crew inspired and motivated the entire shoot. We had a very demanding schedule but Kristin exceeded all my expectations and delivered exceptional image quality. I’m excited to see where Kristin’s career takes her. I believe she’ll be one of the great ones”.

That kind of intuitive, on-the-spot collaborative creativity is rare, and is certain to push Fieldhouse’s burgeoning professional reputation even higher throughout the international film community. For Fieldhouse, the prospects are limitless, but at her core, it’s all about genuine artistic expression and the impact it can make.

“I see film as a medium that connects and enlightens,” Fieldhouse said. “It has an incredible capacity to give space to voices and experiences. If I can continue to tell honest stories that inspire and challenge the status quo—that would be a true gift.”

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Andre Chesini tackles Alzheimer’s in moving film

Andre Chesini measuring light on Chocolate
Andre Chesini behind the scenes for “Chocolate”

Ask any cinematographer what they love about film and you’re likely to get a different answer. For some, it’s about having an outlet; a way to channel the vast array of emotions, thoughts, and experiences that life has to offer. For others, it’s a platform to showcase an artist’s creativity and to entertain audiences of all sizes. It is both gruelling and competitive; however, most cinematographers will tell you that above all else, it’s about the indescribable feeling of getting to see your work come to life on screen. Filmmaking is an ever-evolving art form and over time, it has broken barriers, tested limits, and motivated human beings to see the world in different lights. For award-winning cinematographer, Andre Chesini, it is about all of this and more.

“Cinematography is a dynamic process, borrowing from different art forms to create an art form of its own. It drives me to evolve not only as an artist, but as a human being and it has helped me to learn so much about the world that we live in. It is an endless process of discovery and it has given me the opportunity to travel to new places and meet new people. It’s in those places that ideas flourish and new projects come to life,” says Chesini.

At a young age, Chesini began to work with 3D CAD modelling at a SolidWorks reseller. It was here that he earned himself various positions working for prominent companies like Alston and Embraer Suppliers as a 3D modelling designer, using mechanics to help pre-visualize ideas and concepts. In those days, Chesini thought he might eventually work toward becoming an engineer; however, he was always hungry for more. His unrelenting desire and creative insight, paired with his technical skills, drew him toward cinematography and from there, he has never looked back.

As he continued to pursue his dreams, Chesini moved to the south of Brazil to lend his talents toward projects like the award-winning, A Fábrica; a film which won over 60 awards and went on to secure a nomination at the 85th annual Oscars Awards. Another of his works was a viral music video called Oração. If not for Chesini, it is unlikely that the video would have reached three-million views in less than three days. Achieving such success so early on in one’s career can often have a negative impact on his or her ego; however, this was never the case for Chesini. He is simply grateful for the recognition and motivated to continue to produce even greater work.

With a decorated career like Chesini’s, it comes as no surprise that director Thiago Dadalt was determined to work with him. Dadalt’s familiarity with Chesini’s work on A Fábrica solidified this desire. The two worked together for the first time on the wildly hilarious television series, Life on a Leash. When Chesini was approached about the possibility of working with Dadalt again for the film Chocolate, he found himself instantly intrigued. The film portrays the beautiful tale about the power of family and hope when a suburban housewife and mother finds herself homeless in Skid Row, Los Angeles as a result of her Alzheimer’s Disease.

“I feel a strong impulse to jump on board with projects grounded in a social issue. For Chocolate, we had the opportunity to portray the life of a house-wife who finds herself homeless as a result of her early-onset Alzheimer’s, a disease that degenerates the mind. I was born in Brazil, where homelessness is a prevalent social issue and I really wanted to portray it as close to reality as we could,” tells Chesini.

The reality that often goes unseen with cinematography, however, are the challenges that filmmakers must overcome to produce high-quality content for their viewers. By the time the ensemble hits the screen, a cinematographer’s work typically appears seamless. In the case of Chocolate, Chesini, Dadalt and their entire team encountered several obstacles along the way. It is in situations like these, however, where Chesini’s natural affinity for filmmaking comes to light.

Chocolate had its production challenges. We were going to shoot in the midst of a hot summer in Los Angeles and our ideas involved several locations, as well as various moving parts. I decided to choose handheld and steadicam given our locations and hard placements to set tracks and cranes. I felt that it created a more intimate connection with the characters since the camera position was closer to the action. I also recognized that it was an emotional film for the actors, so Thiago and I decided we would use longer shots to help the actors delve deeper into their characters. Even with all of our production challenges, Thiago managed to pull a 29-minute cut. He didn’t need to re-shoot any of the material or film additional shots. The result was a consistent film that draws the audience into a tale of survival and love in the midst of the devastating reality of forgetting and losing yourself,” states Chesini.

Prior to completing the film in November 2016, Chocolate was already nominated for the London International Film Festival where it received the award for Best Supporting Actress. Following this early success, the film went on to be an Official Selection for the Hollywood and Hollyshorts Film Festivals in 2017. It later won Best Drama and Actress at the Firstglance Film Festival Los Angeles and Marché du Film at Le Festival de Cannes 2017 and continued to win awards thereafter.

So, what makes a short-film like Chocolate so successful? Naturally, it comes down to talent like Chesini. When asked about working with the cinematographer, Dadalt comments that “Andre is an outstanding professional that I feel extremely fortunate to have come across. We’re both Brazilian, so we share a mutual understanding of the unique challenge that it brings to establishing a career in Los Angeles. He is a very talented cinematographer with a keen eye for capturing the perfect moment. His input and his work ethic are a delight when filming.”

With a cinematographer like Chesini on the scene, one can only imagine the calibre of content that he will continue to bring to the industry.

Check out some behind-the-scenes footage of Chocolate here.

Cinematographer Yan Rymsha’s Skills Shine Bright in a Diverse Range of Films

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Cinematographer Yan Rymsha

It takes a uniquely talented artist to take a film’s scripted story off the page and translate it into the shot by shot visual language that moves viewers. Many will try, but only a small portion will ever truly succeed.

Over the past seven years cinematographer Yan Rymsha has proven himself to be one of those rare and diversely talented visionaries who’s able to authentically capture a script’s story and paint it visually on the screen through his camera lens. No matter how opposite the previous project is from the next, Rymsha’s keen understanding of film, vast skill as a cinematographer and his ability to connect and communicate with those he works with have ensured that he nail the director’s vision every time.

Last year Rymsha earned the prestigious Artistic Vision Award for Best Cinematography from the Santa Monica Film Festival for his mesmerizing work on Ibrahim Nada’s film “Zaar,” a dramatic thriller that did exceptionally well on the film festival circuit taking home several awards from the Cleveland International Film Festival and San Antonio Film Festival as well.  

For Rymsha, who hails from Saint Petersburg, Russia, the past two years have been riddled with accolade after accolade leading his name to become more and more well-known across the United States. In 2016 Rymsha was nominated for the Indie Gathering Award for Best Cinematography from the Indie Gathering International Film Festival for his work as the cinematographer on Vasily Chuprina’s dramatic crime film “The Rat,” yet another one of Rymsha’s projects that was highlighted by film festivals across the states.

“The Rat” director Vasily Chuprina, who’s earned countless awards including the Platinum Award from WorldFest Houston for the film “The Boy By The Sea,” explains, “Some directors don’t get too involved with the cinematography process and prefer to focus on the story and performance– I’m that type of director… and that is why I work with Yan Rymsha… because I trust his vision and I know that he understands my vision.”

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Poster for the award-winning film “Plaything”

Last year Rymsha was the cinematographer on the film “Plaything,” a dramatic musical directed by Yufei Qiao (“The Sadness Shop”), which earned the four awards from the 2017 California Women’s Film Festival, as well as the Award of Merit from The IndieFest Film Awards.

As a musical, the film was starkly different from anything Rymsha had worked on prior, yet his visual skill behind the lens shone through clearly and his work proved to be tantamount to the overall success of the film. The integral nature of Rymsha’s work on “Plaything” was singled out and praised within the industry earlier this year when he was awarded the Master of the Craft Award for Best Cinematography from the Southern Shorts Awards for his work.

Starring Marianne Bourg (“Awkward,” “Sketchy”), Gabriel Burrafato (“RoboCop,” “Street Legal”) and Samantha Sutliff (“The Leslie”) “Plaything” tells a story of a woman trapped in a dangerous polygamous relationship. Desperate to fight for her love, she engages in the ancient Chinese game known as Mahjong with the other women serving as her opponents, but when she finds out what’s really hidden behind the game, the truth may be too painful to face.

“From the first moment I fell in love with this project. It was period piece, it was challenging and it had an awesome storyline,” recalls Rymsha. “For this project I paid more attention to lighting. Me and my gaffer spent quite a lot of time deciding on the lighting style. Since it was a period piece, Yufei wanted to have an antique, vintage feeling.”

Influenced by the work of master painters such as Jan Vermeer and Hans Holbein Younger, Rymsha designed the lighting to reflect a visual warmth that both softened the skin tones of the actors and helped transport viewers into a world set in the distant past.

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Still from “Plaything”

 While Rymsha’s versatility behind the camera and his unparalleled knowledge of how to use certain angles to create a desired feeling within the audience have been a powerful tool in his work, his use of lighting has been equally as important to each and every film he’s shot to date.

Earlier on in his career Rymsha was the cinematographer on the dramatic sci-fi film “Sandbox” from Latvian director Gleb Kiselov (“Dollar for a Thought”), which earned Gleb a Best Director Award nomination at the Largo Film Awards and was also chosen as an Official Selection of the Short Stop International Film Festival. Starring Andre McQueen (“It’s Temporary,” “LaLa Land Sketch”), Al Gerschutz (“Nightcomer,” “Dirty South”) and Masha Malinina (“The Labyrinth,” “Fresh Off the Boat”), the film follows Jack (McQueen) a man who wakes up in the middle of nowhere with complete amnesia. As he sets off scouting the mysterious place, he encounters Judas (Gerschutz) who triggers Jack’s memory sending him back to a specific day in his life when he nearly lost his daughter.   

For the film Rymsha was essentially tasked with creating two worlds, that of Jack’s present experience and the one where his past memory unfolds. In order to represent the strangeness of the present world Jack wakes up in, Rymsha chose to use neutral density filters, which created an infrared appearance that drives the feeling of being stuck in purgatory and the hopelessness Jack experiences. When it came to the world of Jack’s memories however, all the scenes were shot with vibrant color, which perfectly represented the nature of his past being full of life on a visual level.

His strategic choices as the cinematographer of the film were invaluable in painting the film’s story visually. Once again, Rymsha nailed the visual mark,

It’s easy to see from the montage of his work below why he has earned such staggering acclaim for his work internationally. He is a proverbial genius when it comes to crafting the perfect lighting, and knowing precisely what angles and camera movements will best support the story.

With nearly 30 films already under his belt, including the upcoming film “Battle Fields” from CineRockom International Film Festival Platinum Award winner Anouar H. Smaine, several prestigious awards and an unparalleled capacity for taking on diverse projects, Yan Rymsha is one cinematographer audiences across the states will assuredly being seeing a whole lot more from for years to come.

 

XING-MAI DENG VISUALIZES THE FEELINGS OF A NEW WAY OF WAR

Artists often bring up ideas that we may or may not agree with but it is important to see things from differing viewpoints. The artistic mindset is about the freedom to express ideas; they might be truth or they might just be opinion but in a well-balanced society it’s important to have all ideas heard and then weighed out. Whatever your opinion is on any particular subject, there is someone who disagrees with you, and that person should be important to you. By presenting an argument that challenges your belief, you either become more committed or you reassess; either way, this person has done you a favor. Artists of many different mediums have challenged our thinking for eons. Filmmakers like Xing-Mai Deng are simply the newest manifestation of this. As a cinematographer, Deng is the modern day painter with film and digital images as his canvas. The way the visuals appear in the Drama/Thriller “Drone” (2015) affects the viewers’ attitude towards one of the most modern approaches in warfare in an almost imperceptible manner, but achieves the desired emotional impact. It was for this very reason that producer Abi Corbin sought out Xing-Mai and persuaded him to take on the project.

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“Drone” appears at first to be a film about the military when in fact, it is about humanity. It was his own personal experience with these two factors that actually convinced Deng that he wanted to be a part of this film. He explains, “Before working on the project, I happened to know a few people who were working on developing treatments for veterans with PTSD. Among them, the air force veterans were the majority and most of them were military drone pilots. Through my friends, I learned that even though the drone pilots did not see their enemies and the actual battles, they had a higher chance on incidence of PTSD because of their working schedule and the suppression of sleep. I knew what the pilots were going through. I invited my friends to the screening of the completed film and they all felt that the film was a realistic portrait of a drone pilot’s life.”

“Drone” is a story about a rookie air force drone pilot who finds himself increasingly attached to a target as he watches from halfway around the world. As a newly minted drone pilot, Matt (played by Daniel Sharman) enthusiastically flies his first stalk and kill mission, unconcerned that he knows nothing about the enemy target in his crosshairs. As the hours of surveillance turn into days, then a week, he finds it increasingly difficult to see the target as a mere white dot on the screen. When the strike order finally arrives, Matt must face the very real person behind the pixelated image.

Making any film is not as simple as displaying the actions of the characters onscreen. A story that concentrates so intensely on the emotional inner conflict of the main character requires a great deal of planning and expertise on the part of a DOP to properly convey this emotional turmoil. The subtlest of changes can achieve substantial returns in eliciting the proper response from a viewer. Deng prepared his concept in terms of the tone and the look before meeting with “Drone” writer Tony Rettenmaier to present these two different worlds he had created. Lighting in particular was key for this film as Xing explains, “When Matt is alone, his life is not fulfilling to him. To achieve the lonely feeling for the audience, we made sure the lighting on him is half a stop darker. It appears as if his life is always one shade darker than the rest of the world. And when Matt was doubting his world, we used a lot of close-up shots with a wide-angle lens on Matt to bring out the emotion. We placed the actor very close to the lens so he got distorted by the wide-angle lens, while other actions are happening in the background. After the strike, Matt was crushed by what he did. We placed him further away from the camera, using a longer telephoto lens to compress the background just to show how small he is compared to the world he is doubting.” He continues, “Most of the scenes were in the cockpit. We did research on what a real drone cockpit looked like. It was actually very different from what we imagined. In reality, the pilots were operating the drones flying on the other side of the planet, so they usually work during the night. In order to keep the pilots awake, the cockpit was usually lit with bright fluorescent lights. It is very bright and flat. We wanted the scenes to look interesting so we decided to use minimal lighting fixture to achieve the dark and dramatic look. The production built this on a stage so I had total control of the lighting. Most of the lighting was motivated from the monitors in the rack in front of the two pilots with cold colors. That was a very planned out cinematographic choice.”

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The manner in which the characters and their surroundings are framed is exceptional in communicating what they are feeling. Whether it be of a claustrophobic nature or the insignificance of being miniscule in an open space, the viewer feels the impact of this perspective. The short, cutty, and lock-off shots of the main character early in the film contrast with later long moving shots to show the internal struggle of the character and the tension of the situation when Matt must decide to pull the trigger during the strike. We immediately understand the tunnel vision and comprehend that time is slowing down for this drone pilot. During the final sequence of the film as Hunter (played by Michael Trucco) tells Matt about his own story, the extreme-wide shot inside the drone hanger with a military drone in the foreground and the rusty roof on top depicts how small they are compared to the world of drone warfare. The metaphor relates that this kind of story happens every day.

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One added benefit for Deng working on this film was an association with the famed Industrial Light and Magic who had allowed the production to use their drone model in conjunction with green screen shots. The investment was obviously well placed as Deng and his crew achieved a nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography (2015 First Film Festival) as numerous awards from others such as the DisOrient Asian American Film Festival, Phoenix Film Festival and numerous others. While these accolades were appreciated by Xing, he reiterates that his connection to the veterans who have been in these situations and the positive response which he received that “Drone” accurately and honestly portrays the experience of these men and women means that his highest goal was achieved.

Speaking Visually: Cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles

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Director Roberto Escamilla & Cinematographer Andrea Mereles Gonzalez

For the past five years cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles has been using her unparalleled skill behind the lens to create captivating visual stories for a plethora of films and television series.

Originally from Mexico City, Mereles has made a name for herself both at home, as well as in the U.S., due to her powerful work as the cinematographer behind films such as Roberto Escamilla’s (The One Who Couldn’t Love, Passion and Power) 2016 drama Changes, Bo-You Niou’s (Manners of Dying) drama The 12th Stare starring Christine Kellogg-Darrin (Shameless, The Neighbours) and many more.

Mereles recently wrapped production on Camilo Collazos’ riveting 2017 drama Flesh & Blood starring multi-award winning actor Jorge A. Jimenez (Hermoso Silencio, Machete Kills), L.J. Batinas (Hawaii Five-O, Black Jesus) and Mariana Novak (Rose Colored, The Moleskin Diary).

Flesh & Blood revolves largely around the life of Rodrigo, played by Jimenez, an inmate who makes a deal to testify against a dangerous prisoner named Luis in exchange for early release via deportation.

While the deal includes an offer of witness protection for Rodrigo’s estranged daughter Laura, as she would most likely be targeted after Luis and his men on the outside find out what her father’s done, she’s far from a willing participant. Her reluctance puts Rodrigo in a tricky situation where he must try to convince a daughter he barely knows to give up her normal life in order to save them both before Luis finds out the extent of Rodrigo’s betrayal.

As the cinematographer of the film, Mereles’ brilliant use of lighting,  camera placement and methodical lens choices were tantamount to drawing audiences into the film and driving home the emotional aspects of Rodrigo’s story.

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Poster for the film “Flesh & Blood”

“We decided that we wanted the film to feel very personal and close to Rodrigo. This was his story and we were determined to capture this in the numerous visual aspects,” explains Mereles.

“Given that this was Rodrigo’s story I wanted the spectator to feel he was seeing the world through his eyes. This required a careful planning around camera placement, deliberated camera movement motivated by the main character’s internal and external motion and the use of anamorphic lenses.”

Through her lighting choices alone it’s easy to see that Mereles is an incredibly skilled cinematographer who knows exactly how to create a visual story that touches viewers on multiple levels and heightens the impact of the narrative unfolding on the screen. Using darker lighting to portray the gloomy nature of Rodrigo’s life in prison, and then using natural sunlight to brighten up the scenes and visually express the hope Rodrigo feels where his daughter Laura appears, Mereles juxtaposition of light and dark within the film emphasizes the dichotomy between Rodrigo’s current experience and the possibility of a brighter future.

“[Andrea’s] acute sensibilities with the film medium facilitate the understanding of the point of view and solidify the lives of the characters by enhancing the atmosphere around their universe or emphasizing their intentions,” explains Flesh & Blood director Camilo Collazos.

“She is a DP who is always prepared and is very accurate when reading the intentions of the voice guiding the storytelling. Her vision carries a charismatic, distinctive signature that allows the viewer to be in with the story and its world.”

The film, which premiered at the Mexican Embassy in Los Angeles as part of the Mexican Filmmakers Showcase on July 20th, 2017, was shot primarily at the Sybil Brand Institute in Los Angeles, the same location used for other hits films such as Blow, 21 Grams, Legally Blonde and Malcolm X.

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Cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles

Mereles, whose name was already well-known back home in Mexico by the time she moved to the U.S., has made extraordinary strides in Hollywood over the last few years thanks to her inimitable skill behind the lens and her unique creative vision. While she knew early on in life that she would go on to work in the film industry, what sparked her career as a cinematographer was when she was on set for the first time working as a camera assistant.

“I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. My intention was to become a director and a screenwriter, but the first time I was on a movie set I realized that what I wanted to tell a story visually,” explains Mereles.

“For me cinematography means telling stories as a whole but also with every image. I’m passionate about constructing stories through lighting, composition and movement and creating emotions within the spectator. Cinematography is a journey I started a long time ago. It is a journey to tell stories but it’s also a journey to find answers; trying to understand what it means to be human.”

After the firm realization that cinematography was the one field that would fulfill her creative passions and utilize her wide range of talents, Mereles went to work honing her skills in the artform at some of the world’s most prestigious schools. Shortly after completing Maine Media Workshops’ cinematography residency, Mereles went on to complete her master’s degree in cinematography at the American Film Institute, a highly competitive conservatory program that boasts an impressive alumni list including filmmakers such as three-time Oscar nominee John Cassavetes, four-time Golden Globe Award nominee David Lynch, Oscar nominee Darren Aronofsky and many more household names. In 2014 Mereles was selected as a Fullbright Scholar, an international merit-based scholarship program that gives a limited number of individuals the opportunity to study abroad.

While Mereles’ training definitely boosted her technical skill as a cinematographer, it’s her innate creative vision that has led her to become a sought after figure in her field internationally.

Another one of Mereles notable film works as a cinematographer in 2017 was multi-award winning director Christopher de las Alas’ (For Ofelia, Coffee Run) adventure film Great Again, which premiered during the LA Film Festival’s Project Involve Showcase. Starring Jonah Aimz (Awaken, Instacurity), Tasha Dixon (NCIS, Guiding Light) and Jeff Hoffmaster (True Blood, I’m With the Band), Great Again follows Frank (Jeff Hoffmaster), a homeless main on a mission for vengeance against a group of people who, immersed in their own selfish problems, refuse to buy him a bottle of mouthwash at a local convenience store. After being mocked and pushed to the brink, Frank decides to play a little prank on those who snuffed him by announcing that he won the lottery and is ready to share his winning with them; but when they find out he’s lying, they don’t take it lightly.

Through her use of specific angles, shot pacing and lighting, Mereles once again nailed the mark with her seasoned skill as the cinematographer of the film to draw viewers into the emotional aspects of the main character’s journey.

She explains, “My main goal was to visually represent the hecticness that Frank undergoes after lying about winning the lottery.  The director wanted to visually make a difference between the before and after of the winning of the lottery. To achieve this, the moment when Frank wins the lottery was shot using a zolly, which is a dolly in combination with a zoom. The before was characterized by a static camera and the after with hectic zooms ins, pans and handheld camera.”

As a cinematographer, Andrea Gonzalez Mereles has carved out a prominent position for herself internationally as an artist behind the lens whose creative capacity and keen vision have given way to both the commercial success and emotional impact of a wide range of films. Up next for Mereles is the thriller film Plain Fiction directed by Cyrus Duff, which is due out in 2018.

SHAHZAD: AN UNFAMILIAR HOME EXPOSED BY CHRIS LEW

People talk about the problems in the world. Politicians make policies that either aid or harm those in peril. Artists tell the stories of these individuals in a way that can allow all of us to personalize and connect with those facing life’s extreme difficulties. Chris Lew is just one such artist who used his skill and talent as a cinematographer in the film “Shahzad.” The entire world seems aware of the crisis of immigrants and refugees; it’s a global circumstance. The BravoFact short film “Shahzad” tells the story in a very real and intense manner. The filmmakers went to great extents to portray the story of two immigrants who move to Canada in hopes of living a better life. It’s a story that is difficult at times to watch but important to do so if we are to have empathy for our fellow man. While Lew has served as DP on a number of varied productions from films to music videos, he counts “Shahzad” as one of the most important and rewarding experiences of his illustrious career. Without heart, talent fails to resonate with any gravitas in any artistic endeavour; “Shahzad” rings out like a loud drum, full of emotion and soul in its conviction. To say that “Shahzad” is full of surprizes is a gross understatement. A gripping film which keeps you on the edge and full of astonishment, “Shahzad” is modern storytelling within a realistic framework.

Director/writer Haya Waseem and Chris have had a close relationship in and out of work for a number of years now. As passionate filmmakers, they often discuss potential projects. When Waseem wanted to make a film commenting on the disassociation one can feel on a societal and personal level, it was a given that Lew understood her perspective and would be the ideal cinematographer to help manifest the tone and look to communicate the film’s message. With Producer Prionnsias James Murphy overseeing the project, director and cinematographer were able to focus on the storytelling. Murphy comments, “The film’s subject is as relevant to today’s society more than ever. Chris’s immense skills as the cinematographer allowed this story to breathe an authentic life into the frames that captured it throughout the course of the filming. His incredible understanding of form and function, both character and character arc, as well as the protagonist’s relationship to the surrounding world is what made Chris the perfect individual to work with throughout this film. His expert use of lighting and camera placement captured a character throughout scenes of uncertainty and conflicted identities. Even if you have a great story, you must create heartfelt and intriguing imagery to portray it. Chris Lew is without a doubt an expert in this field.”

  Audiophiles have been espousing the merits of vinyl in the past decade and have actually steered a portion of the recording industry back to this century old method. They are adamant that the sonic benefits are massive. In a similar way, Lew persuaded the production of “Shahzad” to use actual film rather than digital to capture the imagery for this story. This was not due to any disdain for digital but rather that he felt the quality of 35mm Fuji Film stock was ideally suited to match the story. He explains, “We wanted to shoot on film for a couple reasons. For one, all of the narrative work which Haya and I have done has been shot on film. It’s special to us and we believe in the format enough to fight for it. We also felt the look was appropriate to this story. There are software and effects to help mimic the look but it never looks exactly the same. No matter what you apply to the digital file in post, the sensor isn’t capturing the same color, producing the same grain that’s reacting to the light, and maintaining the same dynamic range that film has. The reason for our decision was artistic but it’s worth noting that there is a misconception that film is radically more expensive than digital…when in fact it isn’t. Because there aren’t as many film projects anymore, equipment is cheaper to rent as a lot of it isn’t being used. On top of that, labs are willing to cut deals because they want to encourage filmmakers to shoot on film. If you’re concise and know what you need on set, film can be the same cost or even cheaper than digital. I acquired the film through a UK company called frame24. They had a batch of 35mm Fuji film that we purchased and had shipped to Toronto.”

The inspiration for this was a product of Chris’s research for the film. In his work pouring over old photographs from the 70’s shot in Pakistan, the colors of the images conveyed a strong emotion. The photos were shot on Kodak using their Kodachrome stock. This Kodachrome stock was full of contrast with grainy and blue tones that really stood out. The images made Lew feel the texture and dust of Pakistan. Kodak has since refined their stock to be some of the cleanest film imaginable but Chris found that Fuji was very similar and even added a “dirtier” look that he admired.

The film revolves around the boy Shahzad and the culture shock he goes through and the internal turmoil that it creates for him. Without giving away the major twist of the film, Shahzad begins to find his personal home life as confusing as his social life in this new city and school. Lew’s affinity for handheld camera work allowed him to communicate the boy’s emotional and mental state. As always, empathy enabled Chris to create touching and provocative imagery. He describes, “He’s a shy boy who’s been placed in a new world so he’s both nervous and curious. Knowing this and reflecting on my own experiences being that age and going to a new school, I translated those feelings into the movement of the camera. This then resulted in choosing to shoot the early school scene and dinner scenes static and the later scenes at the school handheld. When I was younger I was the quiet boy in class. I was always nervous at the beginning of every school year and wasn’t very good at socializing. However, I also knew how great it was when you did manage to connect with people who would eventually become your friends.”

Conflict is part of life and a big part of what Shahzad is dealing with in this film. It’s an aspect which is present in all of our lives no matter what our age or position in the world. Lew admits that there was pressure put on himself and Waseem to shoot in digital because of its prevalence in the industry. Just as the character in the film, the filmmaking duo stuck to what they knew was right for their vision because some things in life are worth giving your best.

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EVA YE IS CALM, COOL, AND COLLECTED FOR WARM SMOOTH MEAN

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Conflict is a deeply embedded part of our lives; no question. It’s ironic that in an attempt to escape the day to day difficulties which we experience, we often find escape by watching the problems of fictional characters in films. Most of us are oblivious to the fact that the filmmakers who grant us this means of solace experience an ample amount of conflict themselves in their endeavors. Cinematographer Eva Ye experiences conflict constantly with her involvement in films. It might be hazardous conditions, inclement weather, differing opinions on set, and others factors. The main difference is that when Eva deals with these factors, budgets and artistic expression hang in the balance. Ye has a reputation for keeping a cool head while getting the desired shot. For anyone who has even been on set during a production, that’s much easier said than done. Whether she is the DP on a TV production, music video, film, or any manner of creative filmmaking, Eva’s small size holds big ideas and large talent. Come to think of it, she’s a bit of a contradiction herself with so much talent inside a small container.

Ye’s work on the film Warm Smooth Mean (Official Selection of First Look Film Festival) has received great praise. This film with its surprising reveal near the end is full of mystery and tension. Warm Smooth Mean follows Hunter Nelson, a young man troubled by the suicide of his father River Nelson. River was the singer of a legendary country duo named Silent Station. When Hunter receives a royalty check from his father’s work, he travels to a small town to give the check back to his father’s former bandmate Jerry Lee McCoy…and to search for the answers behind River’s untimely passing years ago.

Jess Maldaner (director of Warm Smooth Mean) and Eva worked extensively in preproduction to make their plan for the film. Past experience had taught them that having the film specifically and painstakingly planned out would benefit them later. While the industry has been around long enough to make it difficult to create a truly “original” premise, the look and stylized quality of a film can often set it apart. The first part of the film takes place in Oklahoma and the lighting appears soft, mellow, and yet somewhat cold as Hunter begins his journey. As the film goes on, the secret reveals, the fight ensues, and the filmmakers begin to use more harsh and warm light to construct the scene, which heightens the stakes.

Ye’s work is center stage in perhaps the most climactic scene of the entire film. She describes, “Because of my dance background, my strong ability to operate a handheld camera is something that makes a lot of sense to me. I’m not a strong person. I’m actually quite petite compared to a lot of operators, standing at 5’4” and 110 lbs. To be able to move a camera with my hand quite intuitively is something I’ve learned through years of dancing. The rehearsing was definitely crucial in achieving this shot. We spent almost the whole night shooting this scene. There were at least 10-15 times of me moving with the actors without the camera to test out camera positions. When it came to the actual shooting, I knew exactly where I needed to go. There were people spotting me from behind in case I ran into something when I was backing up. I backed up with the actor coming towards me and stopped when he stopped. I pushed in when he got a hit in the face and fell backwards. It all worked out really naturally. Planning and rehearsing was the core of getting the scene right.” Director Jess Maldaner augments this description stating, “Eva’s handheld camera operation in this crucial fight scene was flawless! Her creative instincts allowed her to deliver the perfect amount of camera movement in the shots to create a high level of tension for the viewing audience. Eva’s work was paramount to the final look and emotional effectiveness of Warm Smooth Mean. Her technical skills coupled with her understanding of how to convey an emotional experience visually was a huge asset to the final film. She is a master of camera movement. She is also that rare exceptionally talented artist who is completely free of ego. ”

Sometimes your talent is welcomed, other times it requires some convincing when opinions differ. While filming one of the opening scenes which required some very smooth and stable camera work, the production found themselves without a car mount for the camera. While Maldaner was convinced of the need for green screen to achieve the look for the shot (taking place on a bumpy stretch of highway in Palmdale), Eva was convinced that the quickly disappearing sunlight would not accommodate this. Arbitration was in process and Ye held to the fact that her abilities and ideas would get the desired effect with greater expediency…which it did. The finished scene shows a steady shot with the blurred flat desert outside the window. Conflict averted, artistic vision intact.

Part psychosexual thriller, part art-house film, Shen is a unique portrait of desire and domination in their most cerebral and bodily manifestations. Conflict abounds in the storyline and the imagery Eva produced for this film propels it. Shen’s life is irreversibly altered when she discovers an anonymous artist has drawn her in an erotic position. After a series of strange occurrences, Shen realizes this man is drawing her future. Though her obsession with him begins as a mere daydream, his continual re-appearance starts to make her question what is real and what is hallucination. Meanwhile, her relationship with her fiancé takes a turn for the worse as he suspects she is fantasizing about someone else. His desire to control her reaches a fever pitch after he invades her journal and uncovers her disturbing secrets.

Writers Jace Casey (also the director of Shen) and Abigail Flowers understood that they needed an exceptional DP to create the mood and look which the storyline evoked. Ye’s reel had suspense, romance, thrillers, drama, & music videos. The style of shots and feeling delivered in Eva’s camera language clicked with theirs. While Casey had a plethora of experience in theater and as an actor, having an accomplished cinematographer like Ye greatly aided his process for this film. Eva recalls one scene in particular in which she was able to use her abilities to aid her director recalling, “On set, we maintained communication and respect for each other constantly. There was one occasion when we needed to take a shot of the downstairs swimming pool through the point of view of the actor standing at the 30th floor apartment window. In Jace’s mind, he knew that’s what he wanted but he was unsure if the focal length of the lens, the height of the camera, and the tilt-down angle of the lens barrel were appropriate to convey the action. He was on the verge of eliminating the shot. My experience and knowledge of such shooting situation helped Jace to understand how we could achieve this particular shot, which turned out just the way he wanted if not better. I think it is the understanding of the fine line between a creative collaborator and a loyal supporter of his original vision that made us work so well together.”

The fruit of that cooperation among the two resulted in a film whose achievements include: Harlem International Film Festival “Top Short” (2016), Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival “Best Escapism Film” (2016), and Official selection of Studio City Film Festival, Laughlin International Film Festival, & Monarch Film Festival (2016).

While there are so many talented filmmakers in the industry these days, ability alone is not the deciding factor in regards to who other professionals choose to work with. Many times it is the proper combination of expertise, artistic vison, and temperament that win out. Eva agrees, “My ability to always find the right angle makes me incredibly versatile, yet I am also very strong and firm with my suggestions. I know what I want, yet am willing to consider alternative options. That is a courtesy I always offer to my fellow filmmakers as well. The willingness to listen to others while believing in yourself is an asset. I’d like to think that my calm presence on set helps create a balanced, mindful atmosphere for shooting. Even when things may not be going right, you should always find a way to stay focused, remain positive, and strategize.”