Category Archives: Cinematographers

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.

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.”

 

Cinematographer Ernesto Pletsch travels to home country of Brazil for new show “Desterro”

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Dhruv Lapsia and Ernesto Pletsch on the set of Desterro

Ernesto Pletsch is one of the lucky few. Not only does he get to do what he loves every day, he is exceptionally good at it, and isn’t that the dream?

Originally from Porto Alegre, Brazil, Pletsch has seen success both domestically and abroad. Just last year, he worked on the pilot for the television series Desterro, a show in Florianópolis, Brazil. The series follows the investigations of two detectives in a witchery island located in southern Brazil.

Desterro is a thriller and crime story. My favorite genre to watch. I was very excited about the whole project and the ambition of it,” said Pletsch. “Looking back, I think that was my best experience as a cinematographer. I had a great team, working with people I already trust and felt confident with. In Brazil, I ended up meeting more awesome and talented people that were essential for this to work. Every day was a different challenge and learning to me, making Desterro a very special experience.”

Desterro was inspired in folkloric tales of the island Florianópolis. These folkloric tales were written, drawn and sculpted by a famous artist called Franklin Cascaes. A blend of witchery, mystery and gothic, creating great inspiration for Pletsch and the rest of the team.

“I loved shooting Desterro because everyone was putting their souls into the project. Everyone was doing their best. We had our moments of tension, but we also had those moments of euphoria, and when we called it a wrap and you could just see smiling faces around,” he said.

The pilot was shot during a five day time period in Santa Catarina. The people in the area had not had the opportunity to see a film production before, as the island is somewhat secluded. Pletsch and his team were viewed as true Hollywood guests, and the best treatment was offered.

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Mayanna Neiva, Chico Caprario, Dhruv Lapsia, and Ernesto Pletsch on the set of Desterro

“Shooting in Brazil, as expected, had completely different rules, as in no rules,” Pletsch joked. “We had the freedom to do whatever we wanted to, shoot anywhere at any time. This was very exciting.”

While shooting, Pletsch was presented with the challenge of overcoming an obstacle he had no control over: the weather. Certain scenes would be completely prepared, and when it came time to shoot, it would become windy and rainy. Low tides made it difficult to carry boats to desired locations. Equipment would have to be moved and plans would have to change, but for Pletsch, a seasoned cinematographer, he says that is all part of the experience.

“It will always feel frustrating and disappointing at the time because you have a certain idea in mind, but it happens. You move on, and sometimes it comes out better than you originally thought,” he said.

According to Pletsch, shooting Desterro was different than a usual television show, saying it was shot like a movie. They had four days for twenty pages of script, which gave them a reasonable time for each scene. They took our time and made it day by day.

“Usually television shows would require more efficiency from the crew. On a film, we record five to seven pages of the script a day. For a television episode, it tends to go over ten pages. This can get pretty hectic, and sometimes you prioritize delivery over creativity. That’s how usually goes. In any production, you have to pick at least two sides of the triangle: price, quality and time. If they want something delivered fast, they better have money to accelerate the process. If you don’t have money, you may take time to do something good. But if you don’t have either money or time, you’ll probably end up with something of poorer quality,” he advised.

Despite the great success he saw on the show as the Director of Photography, Pletsch was first signed into this project as a gaffer. When he first became aware of the project, there was already an American cinematographer on board. Wanting to work in his native country, he took on the role of lighting technician, and offered to help the cinematographer understand Brazilian practices and translate for the Brazilian crew. However, three weeks before they were scheduled to shoot, the director, Mariana Má Thomé, approached Pletsch to take on the role of cinematographer, as the previous cinematographer could no longer do the role for personal reasons. Having already worked with Má Thomé before, and getting to truly work as a cinematographer in his home country, it all felt like destiny.

“I always like working with Ernesto because we combine the best of our abilities to make the perfect visual for the film. We get together references and break them down in visual palettes, styles and movement.
On set, our work is smooth. Most of it was already planned ahead, and I know I can trust him with his work. Ernesto loves what he does, and this can clearly be seen on screen. He is always striving for the best, and will work with all department heads to achieve the best picture. His work with light is spectacular, and for me, as a director, is lovely to see your vision on screen,” said Má Thomé.

The pilot premiered at Florianópolis, Brazil, on September 11, 2016. From there, they had two more public screenings, and had a lot of success with rave reviews from both locals and critics. Desterro is currently being negotiated with Brazilian and international networks.

Cinematographer Jon Keng feels lucky to be doing what he loves every day

No matter how many awards he wins, festivals he attends, or film sets he works on, Jon Keng remains humble. For him, it isn’t about the recognition or the praise, for him, it is just about doing what he loves. He knows how fortunate he is. Keng is from Singapore, where people rarely get to pursue their true passions in life as they get forced to conform with societal norms. Despite all that he has accomplished, he just feels to be able to make a living out of being a cinematographer.

Keng started out wanting to be a photographer, but as he grew so did his dreams, and he turned to cinematography. His understanding of how to beautifully frame a still image greatly contributed to his talents as a cinematographer when he began, and now he has worked around the world on a variety of award-winning films and television shows. He previously worked on award-winning LGBT themed films Cocoon and The Stairs.  He recently shot the TV pilot Pineapple, which was selected for Sundance Film Festival 2017. His film Fata Morgana won a prestigious Golden Rooster Awards last year, China’s equivalent of the Academy Awards. There is no shortage of achievements for this cinematographer.

I enjoy my work a lot. Every film presents a different work environment, so I never get bored of what I do,” said Keng.

Working on the 2013 film Tadpoles, Keng began experiencing his enormous success. The film screened at over nine festivals, including the Vladivostok in Russia, Jogja-NETPAC in South East Asia, and the Singapore Short Cuts. He was also the first Singaporean to win the Jury Prize at Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland for his work on the film, the world’s longest running film festival, which is widely considered to be one of the top film festivals.

Tadpoles was, by far, the toughest film set I had ever worked on,” said Keng. “Being forced to tackle extreme challenges with a team of people is my favorite aspect of filmmaking. I feel that it really bonds the crew and gives us so many great memories to look back on.”

Keng was involved with the film right from the beginning of the screenwriting process, and was able to give his feedback to each new draft as it came along. He worked alongside his childhood friend Ivan Tan, the writer and director of the film. The two of them always had a shared interest in filmmaking, and became a compatible team.

“Jon is a great pillar of support on set. Even when things get stressful, he is always on point and calm with his decision making. This is very reassuring to the crew,” said Tan. “Jon never tries to impose a particular style onto a film. Instead, he digs deep into the core of the story and together, we find a unique look for every film we work on.”

Tadpoles follows two families who are forced to stay indoors and confront their fractured relationships as an unusual monsoon threatens to flood the eastern part of Singapore. There had been a series of floods in Singapore prior to the film, which became the inspiration.

“It feels great to be able to share this uniquely Singaporean story with the rest of the world,” said Keng.

After the triumph of Tadpoles, it became clear to not only Singapore, but the rest of the world, that Keng has extraordinary talent as a cinematographer. In 2015, he worked on the film Home, which became the first Chinese film to win at Best International Film at Raindance International Film Festival.

Home is a unique project because it started right from the ground up. We threw around some themes that we wanted to explore, being migrant stories in China, but we never really had a specific story in mind,” said Keng. “One day when we were on location scouts, we came across an abandoned hotel resort with a gigantic water lily pond. We spoke to the old caretaker of the resort, a migrant worker that had been left behind by the construction company many years ago after the construction had fallen through. inspired by this unique location and character, we decided to write an entire story around it.”

Home tells the story of Lao Tian, an elderly migrant caretaker of an abandoned construction site. On his last day of work, he encounters a five-year-old city girl who has run away from home. Bie Pu explores the concept of homelessness across the social classes of modern day Beijing.

“Shooting on real locations with real people cast in many of the acting roles was a great pleasure for me. It showed me that there is a multitude of stories out there in the real world left to be explored,” said Keng.  “I enjoy this organic style of working, to find a location first before writing the script. This brings a level of realism to the film, something that cannot be achieved with set builds. Once the location was found, the script was completed in less than a week and we were shooting within two weeks once the actors were cast.”

The film had its premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2015, an Oscar qualifying festival and one of the premier festivals in Los Angeles. It then went on to not only be screened at 13 international festivals, but win the HBO Films Competition Award at the Savannah Film Festival, and the Director’s Choice Award at the Miami Film Festival.

“Working with Jon Keng is the epitome of a professional working experience. Jon’s expertise in cinematography is only matched by his great demeanor and ability to remain calm under high pressure situations. Jon has made a name for himself as being the reliable artist and technician you want on set,” said the producer of Home, Edmond Yang. “J on is good at what he does because he approaches every job and every collaboration from a place of respect. His interactions with coworkers are based on a foundation of trust and professionalism surpassing any of his peers. He is able to keep focus on the overarching needs of a production while never forgetting the micro details which make up each successes. Jon illustrates why creativity fused with technical precision make an artist, but more importantly he reminds us why interpersonal communication is key to our discipline. This is why people want him on every set we have – because he is as talented as he is humble and that’s a combination we want to surround ourselves with in order to achieve our best on film sets.”

It seems that Keng does not work on a project that does not have outstanding results. His meticulous eye and passion for what he does justifies why he is such a celebrated cinematographer. With skills like his, there is no doubt his name will continue to appear on both the big and small screen.

From Still Shots To Moving Images, Irem Harnak is a Visual Genius

The world is full of people who take pretty pictures, so what is it about the work of certain photographers that sets them apart from the pack? What quality do they contain that others lack? The answer lies is their ability to make the observer feel something, to capture an emotion or a moment in time.

Irem Harnak, a photographer whose name is internationally recognized throughout the world of fashion and commercial photography, is one of those rare visionaries whose portraits flawlessly capture the personality and emotion of her subject in a way that transports viewers and makes them feel as if they know the person in the photograph.

Over the years Harnak has amassed an astonishingly impressive portfolio of work that places her among the upper echelon of today’s photographers. Marie Claire (China) featured her shots of designer Erin Kleinberg, who dresses Golden Globe winner Lena Dunham(“Girls), and her long list of fashion stories and editorials have been featured in other well-known print and online magazines such as The Ones 2 Watch, The Fashionisto, Fantastics, Bon Bon, the Uk’s Kenton, Boys by Girls and Pause, Germany’s Superior Magazine, and more.

Audiences will also recognize Harnak’s work from the plethora of lookbooks and campaigns she’s shot for recognizable fashion brands over the years, such as leading activewear brand Titika, women’s golf apparel company Birdy & Grace, swimwear company Zubaida Zang, top Canadian designer Joeffer Caoc and others.

Harnak was also hired by Baker Vandertuin Inc., an ad agency known for its creation of successful campaigns for major clients such as the Heart & Stroke Foundation, Canadian Touring Car Championship and Durabond Racing, to shoot famous jazz singer June Garber.

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Jazz singer June Garber shot by Irem Harnak

“She is an amazing jazz singer, great performer with so much charisma, elegance and energy. I find it hard to get that kind of energy from the 16 year old models I shoot,” admitted Harnak about shooting Garber.

With such a wide variety of subjects, the through line that connects all of Irem Harnak’s work is the eye-catching creativity she brings to the table and the way she manages to bring out the  unique personality of each of her subjects in every shot.

Although she has spent the last decade in Canada, Harnak was raised in Istanbul, Turkey, a thriving city that she described in an interview with Yes Supply Collective as: a crazy, beautiful city with layers upon layers of civilization and history. It’s a place where everything has a voice, everything talks, day and night. The waves of the sea, the ferries going east and west, the seagulls, the breeze, the cars honking, people rushing from one street to another simultaneously talking to each other, telling each other stories day and night.

Anyone who’s had the chance to check out some of Harnak’s breathtaking and emotive photography will immediately see how her early beginnings in a visual inspiring place such as Istanbul has impacted her work.

Irem Harnak
Jenna Earle shot by Irem Harnak for Kenton Magazine

While Harnak’s shots of famous models such as Carly Moore, Jenna Earle, Emma Génier and Robbie Beeser have put her work in the spotlight and made her a sought after fashion photographer, she’s also managed to successfully translate her skills as a photographer into the film world.

Harnak says, “I have always been inspired by cinema, that was one of the things that pushed me to become a photographer. Being a photographer one understands the lighting, the framing, how to execute a visual language in one or more frames. When you are a cinematographer, you need to do everything a photographer is doing to create a unique shot, but bear in mind that whatever you are framing is a continuous action not a moment frozen in time.”

As the cinematographer of the films “Personal Space,” “Living with Strangers” and “I Am You,” Harnak has proven her ability to move from shooting beautiful stills to creating moving imagery that effectively tells a narrative story.

The feature film “Personal Space” follows Sid, played by James McDougall (“The ABCs of Death 2”), a down in the dumps twenty-something guy trying to move past his recent breakup with Karri, played by Amelia Macisaac from the 2015 comedy “The Spirit of 39B.”

A self-proclaimed anti-love story, “Personal Space” is one of the few films out there that truthfully depicts what it’s like when the passion fades from a relationship, the uncomfortable phase that follows when two lovers have no choice other than to separate and the unglamourous depressive period that follows a break up. The way Harnak chose to capture the shots throughout the film create an authentic portrayal of real life, without all of the escapist fairytales that most films rely on.

About shooting “Personal Space,” Harnak explains, “I was working in really tight spaces, I was literally in the actors’ personal spaces, I had to light the space with little lights and rely on bounces, and reflectors. It depicted the feeling of loneliness and being lost that we were trying to get across.”

Just like real life, “Personal Space” is often awkward to watch, for example, the many times Sid tells Karri he wants to talk but has nothing to say. Overall the film gives viewers an accurate slice of live view into a real breakup, and Harnak’s cinematography nails the mark the whole way through.

While Harnak received praise for her cinematic work on “Personal Space” and “Living with Strangers,” her work on “I Am You” is what has really brought her unparalleled talent as a cinematographer into the spotlight.

“I Am You,” which debuted at Toronto’s Kaleidoscope interactive art crawl, is more than a movie, it’s an innovative step in using virtual reality technology to create a film. The film follows a young couple who discover a new VR app, which allows them to swap bodies and experience life as the other; and, as the viewers watch the film from the characters’ perspectives, it’s as if they too have been transported into the film.

About her work on “I Am You,” Harnak explains, “I shot the traditional part of the film. With the framing I set up, I was trying to describe the alienation, disconnectedness the couple was feeling towards each other. I placed the camera at a considerable distance and used a bit of an unconventional frame cropping to make the viewer feel unease.”

Produced by Cinehackers, “I Am You” has garnered an overwhelmingly positive response with Vice writing: Cinehackers had created a way to let virtual reality users feel like they were in a first-person perspective movie, kind of like Being John Malkovich… And Toronto Film Scene writing: ‘I Am You’ is an amazing piece of work in VR filmmaking. An intimacy enveloped me that I had never felt before while watching a film.

Although photographer Irem Harnak has clearly cut out an indelible mark for herself as a fashion photographer, her work as a cinematographer is definitely worth taking note off; and frankly, we can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

EYE DROPS – AVNER MAYER SHOWS A KINDER WORLD

When art is malevolent it is divisive, seeking to focus society on what “others” are doing to make your life worse. When it is mediocre, it serves little purpose at all. But, when art is at its best, it gathers all peoples in and draws their inherent goodness out of them. The creators of art are no different than every other segment of society in the fact that they must daily choose to use their abilities to draw us closer to each other or tear us apart. The WATER Project seeks to cultivate the former. Also known as the Israeli-Palestinian Cinematic Project, this endeavor saw ten Israeli and Palestinian directors embark on a journey to create films, fiction or documentary inspired by water. Under the belief that water symbolizes the source of possibilities at the primal core of all things, these filmmakers took part in joint meetings in Tel-Aviv presenting their ideas to one another. Produced with full creative freedom with mixed crews of Palestinians and Israelis, these films reflected the personal and courageous perspectives of both sides view of reality. The film Eye Drops was part of the WATER project which was screened at more than 20 Festivals around the world, receiving significant press attention. The project premiere was at the Prestigious Venice international film festival as the opening film of the “Critic week” program. The WATER project received an Amnesty award for its effort to bring Palestinian and Israelis closer. Eye Drops is a reaffirming vision of the ability of all people to see beyond their differences, particularly in a subject matter as provocative as this one. The film received global attention at festivals including the: Tertio Millennio Film Festival (Italy), Stockholm International Film Festival, Busan International Film Festival (South Korea), New Middle East Cinema film festival in Philadelphia, and many others. The look that Cinematographer (Israel born) Avner Mayer created depicts both the despair and hope of the people and this land. Overcoming the almost instinctual reaction of this land’s natives and the world’s view of it, Meyer’s imagery and design enables the audience to see the humanity underlying it all.

It’s easy to make assumptions about someone without getting to truly know them as an individual. That can be applied to the viewing audience of a news program, a film, or even a neighbor. In Eye Drops, Mohammad Bakri lives with his two sons (Saleh and Ziad) in a small flat in Tel Aviv. Their neighbor Sarah (played by Rona Zilberman) is a Holocaust survivor who asks them to assist her with her eye-drop medication. A unique and mysterious connection grows among them. The movie is about compassion and the ability to get along in spite of differences in religion and race. The filmmakers approach to the composition was to create a feeling of empathy. In order to convey this, the movie is almost always shot at the eye level of the characters. The hope for this was to allow viewers to see through the character’s eyes and souls. Many of the shots include the entire cast in order to create a feeling of unity. Exterior shots were designed to be cold and intimidating, almost as a mirror to the political climate in Israel at that point during the second Intifada (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Intifada). In contrast, the houses are portrayed as places of great warmth in hopes of showing the love and compassion hiding inside this political climate. All that is need is to go into someone’s home and talk with them in order to find real, warm human beings.

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It was Mayer’s task to create these emotional vignettes for Eye Drops. Mohammad Bakri (director/writer/actor) needed a highly skilled professional behind the camera who not only understood how to help him capture the story but to also understood the people and emotions that motivated them. Designing everything from the lighting to the framing of the shot necessitated a professional and emotional eye. Avner communicates, “As a DP I feel my work is always to translate the director’s vision into images. A lot of the preproduction process for me concentrates in creating the visual bible of the movie. When you work with new filmmakers, there are two main problems. First of all, their visual lexicon is not always clear; meaning you need to find a common language to talk about images. That’s always hard but it seems to be smoother with more experienced filmmakers. The second issue regards logistics and the amount of time needed to achieve some effects. It’s much easier to talk about shots than actually to perform them on set. It’s important that the director will realize what is possible to do and what’s not inside the budget and time constraints, prioritizing the important story beats. People don’t often realize that this is a lot of what my job entails. Mohammed is well known and respected in the Israel film community so it was a pleasure to work with him and it was much easier than working with a ‘new’ director…but there are always challenges. Mohammed wanted to shoot in the actual real locations. It was a blessing and a curse as a DP. The locations had a lot of charm and were very photogenic but the big minus was regarding space. This was mostly in regards to the house, which was a little too small. We were limited in our options with that space. In the end we found creative solutions and solved that issue.”

Eye Drops received voluminous praise and accolades from the community and critics. One of the most vocal fans of Mayer’s work on the film came from its creator. The fact that Mohammad was also the lead actor in the Eye Drops made Avner much more aware of the acting. Normally this cinematographer focuses on the visual side of the imagery; did the characters land in the right place? Is the lighting precise? Etc. Bakri praises Avner’s work and awareness declaring, “I honestly couldn’t have done this movie without Avner’s Support. It was my first narrative film, and coming into the movie there were a lot of elements I didn’t expect. Avner was my right hand, helping me in planning the scene blocking and shot selection. We were on a tight schedule and Avner got us there in time. I really think Avner is a real talent! He’s very committed to his work, he communicates well, and his visual perception and imagery is stunning! I’m never surprised to hear that he’s doing well in the industry, he deserves it!”

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The climax of the film is when Sarah’s eyes are finally well enough to make out the faces of her helpers. She sees that they are in fact the individuals who she would have avoided if she had seen with her vision rather than with her heart. Eye Drops makes a profound statement that will hopefully predict the future.