Category Archives: Cinematographers

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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CINEMATOGRAPHER YASH KHANNA MAKES “OUIJA SUMMONING” FRIGHTENINGLY GOOD

When filmmakers create a film on a smaller budget that does huge numbers, Hollywood sits up quickly. That’s exactly what happened when Writer/Director Marwan Mokbel’s Ouija Summoning (produced by Egywood Pictures) became a hit horror film. Ouija Summoning was distributed by some of the biggest platforms in the U.S. and worldwide, including Amazon Prime, Walmart, Best Buy, Red Box, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and many more. Horror films are among the most commercially successful genres in the industry. When a film like this with tighter budgetary constraints is so well received, it’s proof that the story and the look of the film are exemplary and in perfect synergy. Horror productions rely heavily on the believability of the “look” as fans of the genre continually demand more realistic visuals for the unbelievable situations. Mokbel needed a consummate professional as his DP for Ouija Summoning and he found it in Yash Khanna. One of the main reasons for Khanna’s enthusiasm about being involved was Marwan’s encouragement that his DP be experimental. Creative people love the opportunity to do just that…be very creative. The scenario worked out well for Yash, Mokbel, and the film they have created. Marwan states, “I hired Yash because of his extensive history of bringing a unique visual style and stamp to each production he has worked on in the past. Yash was nothing short of impressive with his work on our film. His understanding of lighting, composition, and color, reveal his talent while the thoroughness of his preproduction preparedness gives proof of his staunch work ethic and commitment. The film one hundred percent succeeded thanks to the fantastic contributions of Yash.”

Khanna relents that being prepared is the most necessary part of his early contributions to any film. His eclectic resume (including films such as: Funny Man, How To Get Girls, Slipaway, Exit, and many others) displays his ability to be a valued Cinematographer on a production for any genre but, his work on Ouija Summoning allowed him to stretch his creative muscles in the appropriate manner for this horror production. Yash notes, “The reason for taking on a project like this, other than working with someone great like Marwan, is that I was afforded the chance to do different techniques. I learned some new things about the horror genre working on this film. I learned how it can be made gripping. I was able to try some lighting ideas which I had wanted to try for a long time. Usually we don’t get to play much with underexposure and contrast but I was able to explore many of these ideas while shooting Ouija Summoning. Marwan works at a very quick pace so shooting fast on multiple setups was a good experience for me as well.”

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From the very earliest stages of his preproduction planning, Khanna set down with the department heads to design the color palette for wardrobe and art design in order to achieve a gothic look for the film. Moving on to lighting and color, Yash wanted to execute soft lighting but with a lot of contrast. The reason behind this choice was to make the atmosphere appear grey and gloomy. Khanna and his team designed their lighting by first cutting and diffusing the daylight and then they began lighting the world of Ouija Summoning. They came up with the idea of using stained glass. This would allow them to introduce harsh colors in the frame. They then designed a rig that would keep the color temperature in sync with the sources, accommodating the many scenes with flashlights and candles. A prime example of the result is in the suspenseful first scene of Ouija Summoning. Yash explains, “The Opening scene was one of the toughest ones to film. We were filming in the basement of an old house. The scene was a long one shot with practical effects. We needed a very dim look as it was the first time we reveal paranormal elements in the film. Marwan had written the scene in a very gripping tone and we wanted to do justice to it. We rigged small units where the camera wouldn’t see them and rigged just the right amount of practical [lighting] where we would feel silhouettes moving.

It was really tight quarters and I had to operate the camera through the stairs walking down and following though narrow corridors. It was a long take. A lot of fans comment that this is a ‘jump out of your seat moment for them…which makes me very happy.”

In a film of the horror genre, it’s a modern day requirement to use VFX, fans expect it and almost demand it. In Ouija Summoning, a beautiful woman is haunted by an evil spirit after an innocent game of Ouija board goes horribly wrong. Sara (the woman) had a perfect life until an evil spirit was summoned from a Ouija board. This spirit had once killed its own son and cannot put the past behind it. Sara is tormented by this spirit, who will stop at nothing until it destroys Sara and everyone else in her life. Making good use of his prior experience working on projects which involve VFX, Khanna planned his lighting, color, and camera choices with the VFX team to make this work to the film’s advantage. Sometimes however, VFX is not enough. Only the authenticity that comes from witnessing real events works in a storyline. In the climactic ending scenes of Ouija Summoning, Sara flees from the spirit and the viewers witness a harrowing chase. For Yash’s role as DP, it was one of the most dangerous and important scenes. He confirms, “The car chase scene, towards the later end of the film, is where the character is driving away from the paranormal spirit. This scene required the car to appear fast and out of control along curvy desert trails. Our stunt man had to skid the car along the turns and do a 180 spin and flip the car in one single motion; after which the car explodes. This was filmed during a one-night shoot. Time constraints were strict, the risk of danger was high, and we could obviously not do take after take of exploding cars. I had multiple camera units running to maximize the footage. We lit a huge area of the desert because we were shooting from far away. The shot came out perfect and was one of the highlights of the movie, a real testament to the planning we did and the amazing execution of our crew!”

Because of the stir Ouija Summoning created, Yash is now fielding a host of offers. The best advertisement is doing great work. The public took great interest in Ouija Summoning and the look which Khanna created, now Hollywood is taking great interest in him. Smiling he declares, “The success of Ouija Summoning has been a great boost for my career. This was my first horror film. I have been offered many horror scripts as a result of it. I’m reading them and waiting for something unique to interest me. I am excited about what’s next.”

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Sergey Savchenko talks working on Russian hit “Liberation of Europe”

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Sergey Savchenko has always known film was his passion.

Growing up in the heart of Siberia, Sergey Savchenko was not like other children. While many passed the time with toys, Savchenko turned to movies. Film slowly transitioned from his childhood pastime to his life’s ambition. He would sit and watch the same film over and over again, enjoying it more with each viewing. He would study it, and try to understand how each scene was put together. Upon stepping onto a film set for the first time, his dream was realized.

“On that day, I realized that I’m not alone with dreams and hobbies. It’s like a family, not everyone can understand your worries and complex thoughts so clearly,” he said.

Now, Savchenko is a successful director of photography, working around the world doing what he loves. This year, viewers in Russia had the pleasure of seeing Savchenko’s artistry on 1TV’s Liberation of Europe, a five-episode documentary series highlighting the difficult decisions made in the headquarters of different countries during the second world war. Actor Victor Verzhbitsky, the main narrator of this movie, goes through the events of the World War II, still frozen in time.

“It was a long journey, like a short life. In the process, I visited a lot of European countries, met a lot of very interesting people, gained priceless experience in large reconstructions staging. We worked a lot with actors in emotional scenes, and as a DP it was very interesting to me to set the lighting and searching for needed emotions in a frame,” described Savchenko. “The range of emotions in the film varies, going from bravery and courage, to treachery and intrigue. It was very interesting to work with such a script.”

The difficult format of filming included shooting real characters and events, working with the actors, staging feature scenes, and the cinematic language of the series. The team needed an experienced Director of Photography to be able to handle the complexity of the task, and the director Pavel Elkin chose Savchenko.

“Working with Sergey, to me as a director, was much easier than with any other DPs, due to the fact that his understanding of the process of making the film is much deeper than of many others. He doesn’t need to be explained the principles of shooting for future postproduction or graphics, he is fluent in the technical side of the issue. In addition, the director of photography is essentially the eyes of the director. It is important that `the head` and `the eyes` work together and understand each other well. In creative matters Sergey is simply brilliant,” said Elkin.

While working on Liberation of Europe, the team needed to split the crew to create a second unit, which happened several times. Savchenko ended up taking over for the duties of the director on the second unit.

“I must say, it was done very well. The color of all the featured episodes was also the accomplishment of Sergey. He’s really good at his job and another two or three dozen related tasks,” said Elkin.

The job did not come without its challenges. There were many large-scale reconstructions required, with many people working on them, which made the staging complex, as well as many interviews from people all over the world. But for Savchenko, it was teamwork that made all of the challenges that were presented seem minimal at most.

“Thanks to precise work of the crew, we managed to shoot everything we needed,” he said. “And you know, I can talk with Pavel easily. We understand each other perfectly. He has a vision of a product in general, and clearly understands what he wants and can explain what he needs. has a great shooting experience all around the world, including Europe, it’s brought up in Paul a great sense of taste. He knows all specifics of filming and post-production, so we successfully managed to avoid a lot of problems while shooting. Even in difficult conditions we reached the right results, working quickly like a clockwork mechanism.”

The right results were definitely achieved. The series, which premiered in May, received extremely high ratings in Russia, and had led to a collaboration with companies such as Panera Films, Reality Production, as well as projects advertising for Avon and Siemens. It also inspired the documentary The Great Che.

“Watching it, I was filled with a sense like finishing a book. In my memory, there were much more events and emotions than what had been shown in this project. You just can’t experience this feeling in ordinary life, this feeling of finishing something great, something you have a very warm feeling to,” he concluded. “It is impossible to describe; it can be only experienced.”

HOW CINEMATOGRAPHER SIMU FENG TRANSPORTED AUDIENCES INTO THE HUMAN PSYCHE FOR “BREATHE.”

Cinematographer Simu Feng and Director Paul Kowalski have worked together on a number of films. Although they both possess many impressive attributes, perhaps the strongest reason for their successful working relationship is that they are both classic over-planners. Both of these men subscribe to the idea that you should check every production aspect a number of times and have a back-up to your back-up. The security with which this empowers the entire production team allows the artists they work with to create outstanding films that are critically and publicly praised. As proof, consider that their latest collaboration, Breathe, which received more than thirty recognitions and awards from all across the globe including; Cannes Short Film Corner (France), Visioni Corte Film Festival (Italy) (Finalist – Best International Short Film), Southampton International Film Festival (UK) (Official Selection) (Nominated: Best Short Film, Short Screenplay, Leading Actor in a Short, Cinematography, & Score), Beverly Hills Film Festival (Best Short – Audience Choice Award), Aesthetica Short Film Festival (UK) (BAFTA Qualifying) (Nominated – Best Drama), and numerous others. The exemplary work that this duo creates together gives credence to the idea that great art is great art, regardless of your background or history. These two filmmakers come from drastically different backgrounds. Born in London to nomadic Poles, Paul Kowalski grew up in the Middle East Africa and across America. The only child of a civil servant and a nurse, Feng grew up in Shenyang, China and then moved to Beijing to study Geophysics in college. In an abrupt turn, he was accepted to the Beijing Film Academy graduate school and never looked back. While both of these filmmakers pursue the passion of their art, Kowalski notes that it is Simu’s calm nature and demeanor under the stress of production and filming schedules that aids in the director’s ability to remain calm while working together. The cinematographer is Kowalski’s barometer and governor at the same time; a great bonus to the heart of any successful working relationship.

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Psychological thrillers have become Paul Kowalski’s calling card. He is adept at making films of this genre and he knows it. Simu Feng has worked with this director multiple times due to his creative and discerning eye for imagery in these films. Concerning Feng’s proficiency, Kowalski declares, ““Simu was integral in bringing my wildest imaginations for Breathe to the screen. Whether it was devising shots in our pool sequence where we had to closely follow our protagonist swimming, or in an operating room watching him perform neurosurgery, Simu was always able to offer practical, creative, and unique solutions to bring the story to life visually. A truly great professional brings more than this to the table though. Working with Simu was a total pleasure. His calm and reassuring presence on set complemented my own directorial intensity and was often a rock amid the chaos of production. The camaraderie he promoted among his camera team made on-set execution a breeze and helped us get over production hurdles when they arose, with great ease.”

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Breathe depicts a neurosurgeon’s psychological battle with reality in coming to terms with his wife’s death. The tragedy has propelled the main character into a place in which discerning reality from the images that haunt him is a constant struggle. As he descends into a surreal state, one gripping scene shows him descending into a pool; he struggles for his own life in the same way he struggles to accept the reality of his situation. Feng comments, “For the night pool scenes, we wanted the space to represent his sub conscious. We wanted the pool to be dark, scary, & moody, regardless of what a public pool should look like. I lit the scene mainly using the reflection of the water, creating a constant flowing light all around the area, adding to his unstable status of mind. I cared a lot about the eye light in the scene. I wanted to enable the audience to see into the character and feel his emotions. For this scene, we really wanted to be with the character…to jump into the pool with him and swim with him while feeling his pain through all the action. To do this, I did some research. I measured the size of the pool and came up with a plan that we could afford. We set up a 21’ ft. crane on the track along one side of the pool and swung the camera into the pool area just above water. For some shots, I had my camera operator walk into the water, holding the crane head and following the actor swimming. The shots turned out really well.” Kowalski expounds, “We needed highly-charged, stylized images to help represent our protagonist neurosurgeon’s growing derailed state of mind. The ALEXA was the solution. In our night pool photography, this camera was able to vividly capture flickers of reflected light, rendering them in crystal clear, ethereal blues. In our operating room scenes, the camera allowed us to keep skin tones vibrant while maintaining the low-lit, psychological (over naturalistic) feel we were after. The quality and flexibility of the ALEXA greatly contributed to the mood and style of the film.”

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Simu enjoyed creating and designing ways to “trick” the audience when it came to guessing what was real and what was imagined in Breathe. He relates, “Since our plot is not one with a lot of twist and turns, a great deal of the plot point is in the subtext. We really need to figure out a way to keep the audience with the character all the time, immersing them into the world of this film. We took a lot of time designing the shots, making sure we covered all the beats and delivering the emotion for each moment. For me, the great enjoyment in being a cinematographer is that you get to create a story and touch the audience with your images. I enjoy turning the words in the script into something tangible and delivering the emotion of the story through imagery. I get the most sense of accomplishment when a scene is cut together and works the way it should; plus, it’s so much fun working with lighting and playing with all the cameras. It is such a creative job. It forces you to keep coming up with new ideas.  I love to do a job that isn’t routine and repetition.”

As a fan of the US film industry, Simu has aspirations to make it his professional home. He admits to watching both films from his native China as well as US productions in his formative and adult years but makes note of his admiration for the infrastructure and lineage of American film. He states, “I think the US film industry is a fully developed industry in every aspect. There are rules to follow and paths to pursue; a design to getting things done. For example, you make a short, go to festivals, get noticed, and develop an independent feature. Then you go to festivals and get noticed by big studios. Whereas in places with developing film industries, filmmakers need to find their own ways to develop their career. The US has created a proven system that is admired across the whole world. I’m excited about being a part of that established model.”

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Mariano De Luca learns and inspires while making award-winning film Nazi Gold in Argentina

For many artists, the first real piece they ever finished stays with them. It defines them, shapes their future, and inspires them to keep going. Mariano De Luca, a director of photography from Argentina, knows this. He worked on his first film over ten years ago, and it still remains one of the most powerful projects in his career.

The documentary feature Nazi Gold in Argentina reveals a lot of hidden information about the lost gold in Germany after the second world war, and the connections between the Nazi leaders and the Argentine Government of that time.

“Having worked in this film was pretty important for me. It was my first feature film. I was working with so much talented people. It was a great experience full of passion and talent. And besides all that, it was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the history of my country and the government at the time,” said De Luca.

The idea was to give the documentary a feeling like an espionage movie with agents spying on other agents. Hundreds of Nazis came to Argentina after the war due to a policy from Juan Domingo Peron, the president at that time. But the connections between Nazis and elite politics prevailed after Peron. The film was directed by the late Rolo Pereyra, a reknown director/writer/producer, and was first Argentine nominated to receive an Emmy. Pereyra taught De Luca in school, and knew his style was necessary to make Nazi Gold in Argentina a success. Due to a heart condition, Pereyra passed away before the theatrical release and did not get to see the success that his film received.

“Working on this film was such a great experience. I learned so much. It was different from the other projects I have worked on, because it was full of information and historic content from my own country. The story is based on real facts and those facts really happened, so you learn about the past and discover a whole new meaning for a lot of things that maybe you already know, but you now know in a different light. You find yourself being part of the investigation, like another one of the investigators.”

The film premiered at the Gaumont, a reknowned theatre in Buenos Aires. It went on to win the Silver Condor for Best Documentary at the Argentinean Critics Award, and was nominated for Best Screenplay/Documentary at the same awards.

“Sometimes, we were only five or six people on the crew, and Mariano made that to work perfectly. He tried to made everything possible. Simplifying things, finding the best way to tell the story and not being limited by the small crew,” said Daniel Botti, the producer. “His collaboration on this project was vital to recreate the look that the director and production designer wanted. The film got the look and feel they wanted, and that shows on the screen.”

De Luca describes working with the people he did on this project was important to his experience. He was working with veterans when he was newer to the industry, which shaped his career.

“Oscar Carballo, the production designer, was a really inspiration to me. Hearing him talking about art and film craft was a blessing. And Daniel really shared all his experience on this film, he was ‘the’ man when we had to overcome the troubles on our Europe trip.”

They travelled around the world to shoot in the film. They went from Buenos Aires, Bariloche, Puerto Madryn and Cordoba City in Argentina to Madrid, Rome, Zurich, Geneva, Berlin, Hamburg and Laboe.

De Luca was in charge of prepping and making the equipment list for the whole feature film. He started with only interviews and some b-roll before it became a feature film. De Luca also worked with a change in technology. At the time, the industry was transferring to HD cameras, and he was shooting with first HD cameras available in the country at that time. The feature film added action and drama sequences to the documentary/interview footage, so he also had to shoot stunts and effects shots for the feature.

“It was an incredible experience working on Nazi Gold in Argentina. I was the youngest, and being able to share the shooting with such experience and talented people was a blessing,” he concluded. “I had the opportunity to work with friends and that made the shoot a lot easier. Lots of laughs and good moments.”

 

THE REUNION SHOWS MANY DIFFERENT VIEWS, COURTESY OF JUSTIN IVAN HONG

Storytelling has taken many forms. The original orators had to be skilled in manipulating their voices and contorting their bodies in ways that helped those around the campfire to “see” all the characters and places being presented. Authors used their literary abilities to “paint” all manner of odyssey in the mind’s eye. Theater began to pull the great works into manifestation with the aid of thespians, lighting, music, and props. Modern films began as a visual marvel that eventually succeeded in allowing us to literally see things that had previously only been imagined. The miracle of modern cinema is that it allows us, as viewers, to experience scenarios we will likely never actually be in and sometimes…even view the same situation from different emotional perspectives. This idea perfectly explains the premise of The Reunion as well as the experience of watching the film. Director/writer/producer Carmen Elly Wilkerson’s 2015 production has received immense attention in the past year and Justin Ivan Hong is the cinematographer whom she worked with to design the look of the film. It’s a tall order for a film which mostly takes place in a single room with the four female characters discussing their personal view of the conflict in the film. At the Cannes Film Festival, Kodak named Wilkerson one of 16 Filmmakers to watch. The Reunion received great praise and numerous achievements including: the Charlotte Black Film Festival – Audience Award, HollyShorts Film Festival – Audience Award, nominations at both the Pan African Film Festival (Best Short) and the Burbank International Film Festival (Best Short & Best Actress). The Reunion was also an Official Selection at the following festivals: Miami Short Film Festival, Black Harvest Film Festival, Urbanworld Film Festival, Reel Sisters of Diaspora Film Festival, San Francisco Black Film Festival, Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, and the Gary International Film Festival. For a film with such a simple scenario (or maybe not so simple) as four women in a room discussing a pivotal moment in their lives, the film definitely garnered a lot of attention. The film that Wilkerson created is provocative and has the audience guessing as to what actually happened, all the while being enabled to do so by the believability of the world she created with Hong.reunion1-copy

Justin was highly recommended by the American Film Institute’s head of cinematography, so Carmen had no trepidation when she contacted him about working with her on The Reunion. She quickly realized why Hong had received such glowing accolades. Wilkerson comments, “Justin and I immediately starting working to pre-produce the film even as he was on location in another city. He helped craft the look of the film and collaborated well. He was so thorough in his approach and extremely detail orientated. As a filmmaker, he understands performances and story, helping to elevate the script’s potential. Justin even stepped in and helped me edit a

few sequences that weren’t yet working. He’s one of those artists who adds to the mix and makes the director’s job easier. Justin is a very bright collaborator and cinematographer.” It would seem that the biggest challenge on this film production was the deceptively simple scenario; four girls holed up in their room, hiding from the outside world. From the beginning of pre-production, the discussion between the director and Hong centered around finding a way to sustain visual interest due to the fact that it was basically four characters talking inside a room for twenty minutes. Justin recalls, “We identified all the dramatic beats and worked out a plan of movement and blocking that flowed with the emotional flow of the film. In order to fully work within the tight confines of a bedroom, we planned out the different camera positions within the room in such a way that the blocking complimented the actresses’ movements and that in turn added a sense of fluidity and immediacy that fit the story very well.”

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One of the things which cinema can achieve quite proficiently is to sometimes “deceive” the viewer with different perspectives. Everyone has the ability to color their memory with an emotional slant. Numerous psychological studies and experiments have been conducted in order to prove the effect of emotion on memory. Filmmakers often make use of this tool as well. The same holds true for the way the action of film can translate a mood based on the cinematography. Justin concedes, “Another aspect of the film was the ulterior motives of each character and the relationships they have, as it relates to the collective secret that they are hiding. I used subtle framing choices to visually portray this volatile dynamic between these friends. This also worked in conjunction with the blocking. When the four characters were feeling united and close to each other, I used wider lenses and included all of them in the composition. When they start to fragment, we had them walk away to different parts of the room and I used slightly tighter lenses and framed them alone, adding to the feeling of distance from each other.”

The Reunion is a compelling film which explores the varied ways that individuals can perceive the same circumstance. Presenting the same situation, colored through the lens of the different characters, and culminating in unique perspectives is a superior achievement which the film’s creator, Carmen Elly Wilkerson, the cinematographer, Justin Ivan Hong, and indeed the entire cast and crew can be proud of, as proven by the critical and public acclaim the film has received.

 

Cinematographer Guillermo Garza’s work on Alguien Mas hits Netflix

Guillermo Garza is no stranger to success. In both his native country of Mexico as well as internationally, he has been recognized as an extraordinary cinematographer.

In 2013, Garza shot the television program Alguien Mas, which premiered on Canal Once TV and has now made its way to Netflix Latin America. Viewers now can see the character of Arturo Meyer, a young architect who is dumped by his girlfriend Irene Cardenas, while both were studying in London. This destroyed his life and turned it upside-down. Upon returning to Mexico, Arturo not only decides to avoid any formal relationship but gradually discovers that he no longer fits in anywhere. His friends have formed their own families. His work begins to seem boring, routine and uninspiring, with no opportunity to express his true desires. Above all, getting over Irene is not so easy, especially when she returns to his life remorseful and determined not to lose him again.

“This was a very interesting project to work on because it meant taking over the cinematography of three episodes in an independent television series, which is a very new format for TV in Mexico,” said Garza. “I had to give it a cinematic aesthetic with very limited resources.”

The series was produced by Canana production company owned by Mexican actors Diego Luna and Gael Garcia who were executive producers on the show and whose recognition allowed for the series to have an independent and original feel even though it was released for mainstream TV.

“I liked the challenge of working within the constraints of a pre-established cinematographic style. You’re working on a story that has already had other cinematographers and respecting the original vision of the series, but actually giving it my own voice and finding new and creative ways to give life to the scenes,” explained Garza. “Collaboration and a good working relationship with the director are a vital part of the positive result of a production. Being able to maintain a high quality cinematography in a project with limited time and resources is something that requires a great deal of experience.”

He definitely has the experience. Garza previously was the cinematographer on the film Flores Para El Soldado, which won the Mexican Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature a few years before. It premiered at the 2010 Monterrey International Film Festival winning best regional feature film.

Flores Para el Soldado tells the story of a young man´s search for information regarding the tomb of Edmond William Quear Jr., a World War II American Veteran who died mysteriously on June 3, 1946 in Monterrey, Mexico.  A family tradition was started by the young man´s mother twenty years before, consisting of laying flowers at the unknown soldier´s lonely grave every week as she visited her own mother’s tomb, which was beside the American’s in the Mexican cemetery. After a Google search of the soldier’s name, the young man finds some of the relatives of the soldier and begins a journey across different countries retracing the steps of the soldier to uncover why this American man´s tomb lay abandoned in a Mexican cemetery next to his own grandmother. He finds a heart- warming story of honor, tradition, cultural approaches towards death, love and loss.

“Working on Flores was a very interesting experience because this was a documentary film and we were figuring out where the story was going as we were shooting it,” said Garza. “We would follow storylines that would take us to very interesting and personal places.”

Garza worked with Daniel Galo, who was a co-director and producer on the project, and Ivan Garcia H., the other co-director, who believes the film would not have achieved the success it did without Garza.

“It was a pleasure to witness Guillermo´s creative process. The way in which he sees and understands light and knows the perfect frame in which to shoot each sequence, his skillful use of natural light to capture the very essence of the characters involved in the interviews, he has a superb problem solving skills that proved very useful in moments of haste and always maintaining the planned visual aesthetics,” said Garcia H. I can tell you first hand that his style, creativity, experience and all he has to offer take any project he is involved in to a great level. Besides being a great professional, Guillermo is an excellent person, mentor and friend.”

The film was Garza’s first feature out of film school, and was a new experience for him at the time, especially never having worked on a documentary.

“I learned to be quick to be able to capture fleeting moments with the camera because sometimes you never get the chance to shoot something twice,” he said. “But mostly, I learned that the most important thing is the story, and that you have to be aware of the subtleties of character that are revealed in the environments where people live.”