Category Archives: Cinematographers

Cinematographer Colin Akoon’s Creative Eye Makes Every Shot Stand Out

Colin Akoon
Cinematographer Colin Akoon at home behind the camera

 

In the fiercely competitive film industry, it takes a lot more than some camera know-how for a cinematographer to stand out. Many people are skilled in the technical process but lack the artistic vision required to create compelling cinema. Others possess vivid imaginations but are unable to meet (or unwilling to yield to) the expectations of the director. A person with all of these traits is a rare gem, an invaluable asset with the potential to outshine all those around them in the highly saturated industry. Colin Akoon is just such a man.

An award-winning director of photography, or DP, Akoon is responsible for a countless array of critically-acclaimed film and commercial productions. He has been fascinated with storytelling his entire life, and at a young age discovered the power cinema can have on an audience.

“I remember being six years old, watching a horror movie at a neighbor’s house, one I probably shouldn’t have been watching at that age… I still recall the fear that paralyzed me… That night I slept in my parents’ bed. I made them put the radio on to distract me from the bumps in the night,” Akoon recalled. “Good cinema gets a hold of every part of you and doesn’t let go.”

In 2014 he was critical to the wild success of the award-winning “Canadian Tire Ice Truck” ad campaign. The campaign’s name is quite literal, as Akoon explained. To promote their new cold-weather battery, Canadian Tire contracted Ice Culture to build a fully operational truck out of ice. Ice Culture is internationally-known for making everything – from ornate sculptures, to exotic lounges around the world, from Thailand to Dubai – out of ice. But this project was their most ambitious undertaking of all.

Canadian Tire
Still of Ice Truck built by Ice Culture for Canadian Tire shot by Colin Akoon

“They were having a truck built out of ice, one that would actually start and drive,” Akoon said. “It was important that we tell the story of Ice Culture – a small family-owned business – and also get a sense of the small town where they’re situated… We really wanted to get across the idea that this incredible record-breaking feat was accomplished by hard-working, everyday Canadians.”

In addition to being used in commercials for Canadian Tire, a documentary-style behind-the-scenes film was made to detail the exhaustive process of creating a working truck out of ice. Akoon was the DP on the making-of film, which played a large part in the campaign’s overwhelming popularity — particularly among the judges at a number of high-profile awards ceremonies.

“The resulting video really shows the detail of the hard work that went into the making of this ice truck,” Akoon said proudly. “The ‘Ice Truck’ campaign went off to be nominated and win more than a dozen awards…  and our making-of documentary was a big contributor to the overall success of the campaign.”

It was a brilliant stroke of marketing genius to complement the campaign with a making-of documentary. A fascinating glimpse into the creation of the eye-catching ice truck, Akoon’s work captured the attention of consumers and advertising critics alike. The campaign’s laundry list of accolades include the Best In Show Award and two Gold Medals (for “Best Brand Building Campaign” and “Most Innovative Idea or Concept”) at the 2014 PROMO! Awards, third prize at the 2014 world-renowned New York Festivals International Advertising Awards, and the honor of being on the shortlist of contenders for the 2014 Cannes Lions Award, often considered the most sought-after and prestigious award in the advertising industry.

As a cinematographer, Akoon has his fingers in a lot of pies and doesn’t restrict himself to any one type of project. His exceptional work in advertising is widely-recognized, but his creativity and visual mastery shine their brightest in his work on narrative film and television productions. One such example is director Mateo Guez’s 2014 film “Together Alone,” for which Akoon was the DP. The emotionally-charged film looks at the love and lust within a group of three star-crossed young lovers. However, “Together Alone” is much more than the story of an ill-fated love triangle.

“Mateo assembled a very small team to make “Together Alone” a feature film about two young men and one young woman as they struggle through friendship, sexual relations, and self-identity,” Akoon said. “Mateo desired to make a film that did not strictly adhere to any one script or blueprint, but rather would evolve through improvisation and experimentation. As a result, the filmmaking was a very intimately creative experience.”

Of the countless projects he has been involved in, Akoon describes Lorne Hiltser’s “The Incident(s) at Paradise Bay” as among his personal favorites. Gripping and heart-wrenching, “The Incident(s) at Paradise Bay” is based on the real-world Tranquility Bay reform school in Jamaica, which became the focus of global outrage in 2007 after allegations that the facility’s strict disciplinary methods were actually child abuse.

“The moral question of whether the procedures… were just or merely abusive was an interesting one, but mostly Lorne and I were fascinated with the poetic style by which the short script was written,” Akoon said, describing what drew him to the project. “There was an eerie dreamlike quality to the script that Lorne and I knew we wanted to explore visually.”

Akoon captured that eerily surreal sensation flawlessly. Every shot of every scene was painstakingly planned and calculated to maximize that dreamlike quality of the film. His use of zoom shots as a nostalgic beginning and ending of the film contrasts seamlessly with the close, tight shots used to introduce Marcus, the film’s protagonist.

“The sequence that shows Marcus in the ‘solution room’ cage was a very important one. This was our real introduction to the character and to the harsh treatment of the academy’s disciplinary attrition,” Akoon said. “We wanted the audience to feel they were Marcus in that cage. Depth of field for this sequence was kept to a minimum, visually suggesting the claustrophobic feeling of being caged.”

Throughout “The Incident(s) at Paradise Bay,” “Together Alone,” and all of Akoon’s countless other films, his talent and experience are unmissable. Akoon has a natural gift for capturing the exact aesthetic a project demands, a deliberate manner of planning and setting up each shot, and is unsurpassed in his aptitude for collaboration, constantly working closely with each project’s director to conceive and achieve a shared vision. In an industry with so much competition, nobody can hold a candle up to Colin Akoon.

Advertisements

Cinematographer Ross Radcliffe Captures Tough Shots for Film and Television

Last Alaskans - Dave Clawson
Cinematographer Ross Radcliffe on location of “The Last Alaskans” shot by Dave Clawson

 

After multiple life-threatening sports-related injuries suddenly derailed him from a future as a professional athlete, college student Ross Radcliffe turned to his interest entirely to his other love, cinematography.  Born and raised on Vancouver Island in Canada, Radcliffe became motivated by the idea of seeking out remote corners of the world and capturing them on film. Turning the hours he would have spent training into hours submerged in film making, the revolutionary cinematographer quickly became recognized as among the top of the field.

When asked what it was about cinematography that captured his interest, Radcliffe answered without hesitation. “To be a cinematographer is to be a visual storyteller,” he said.  “I get to craft images that effectively move the audience through a story, with all the twists and turns of emotions along the way.” And that he does.

Radcliffe began by shooting and editing his own projects, which quickly secured him a position with Susie Films, a full service, pitch to post production company.  At Susie Films, Radcliffe’s love for the industry flourished, and before long, his insurmountable talents were recognized by major reality TV networks. National Geographic quickly hired him as a freelance cinematographer, followed quickly thereafter by both Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel.

With work pouring in, Radcliffe admits that his physical stamina and limitless capabilities are invaluable to networks filming shows revolving around high paced, action packed adventure. “I think a big responsibility of mine, due to the type of projects I shoot, is to stay on top of my physical conditioning,” says Radcliffe. He continues, “when I film a subject, I want to make sure their are no barriers between the story and the audience, so I have to be a pro at following along, no matter the conditions or situations might be. In my field, a good cinematographer blends into the situation to let it play out as naturally as possible.”

It is because of this physical endurance and artistically trained eye that audiences have the incredible adventure-based reality shows we see today.  For example, Radcliffe worked as the Director of Photography on The Travel Channel’s Jackson Wild.  The series revolves around the  EJ Jackson, a 4-time world champion and adventure author and founder of Jackson Kayak, and his brave and fearless family. During this production, Radcliffe followed the family to Germany, Austria, South Africa, England and Zambia, where he faced what he calls a “crazy challenge” of keeping up with them physically. Radcliffe recalls of the experience, “I was able to capture mountain biking through Europe and waterfall jumping in Africa but, for the record, running around Africa with a 40 lb camera on your shoulder isn’t easy!”

Trekking through the freezing temperatures of an Alaskan winter was no easy task, either, though through his beautifully captured images used in National Geographic’s Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet, Radcliffe made it look graceful and effortless. As the Director of Photography, the tactful cinematographer followed Dr. Oakley day and night and captured irreplaceable footage of the veterinarian as she helped a weak cow deliver an over sized calf.  Radcliffe recalls the experience fondly, adding “while this project was extremely demanding physically and sometimes entailed stepping in stinky animal droppings or running from an angry muskox, I was honored to be part of such a small, hand selected team.”

No longer a stranger to Alaska by any means, Radcliffe was hired next for his technological brilliance and insurmountable endurance by The Animal Planet and Discovery Channel to shoot The Last Alaskans. Ranked second in the network’s most watched shows, the program is internationally acclaimed for its genre-busting take on the people and families who reside in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge, located just above the arctic circle.  Radcliffe’s contribution to the series gained recognition in The New York Times and The Washington Post, hooking viewers with depictions of unimaginably challenging living conditions, matched only in magnitude by the stunning beauty of the terrain.

To the great advantage of audiences worldwide, Radcliffe’s deep desire to put himself into other people’s shoes through the magic of cinematography will never fade. He admits, “being a cinematographer is the only job I have ever had that doesn’t feel like work.  Every day that I wake up on location, I truly cannot believe how lucky I am. I’m honored and humbled to be instrumental in telling stories about people and places that would have gone otherwise unnoticed.” With his rare and refined compounded talents in both technology and athleticism, Radcliffe is sure to bring us uniquely captivating and alluring images for years to come.

 

Director Michelle Castro Flexes His Cinematography Skills

Gloria Trevi
Director and cinematographer Michelle Castro shot by Alejandro Ibarra

 Audiences around the world will recognize Michelle Castro from the plethora of directorial accomplishments he’s made to date, which span the likes of music videos for renowned artists, award-winning narrative films and commercials.

Castro’s reputation as a highly skilled director became increasingly well-known throughout the Latin American entertainment industry after he directed the music video for Mexican pop star Gloria Trevi’s hit song ‘El Favor De La Soledad.” Trevi, who is often referred to as the “Mexican Madonna,” is also the subject of the biopic “Gloria,” which was released in February 2015.

Michelle Castro’s strength as a director has undoubtedly earned him international acclaim over the years, but his work as a cinematographer is another area of his genius that deserves notice.

As his film “When Negatives Collide,” which he both wrote and directed, was making waves as an international hit at festivals last year including being chosen as an Official Selection of the 2015 Cannes Court Metrage du Festival de Cannes, Castro was busy immersing himself as the cinematographer of several new film projects.

One such project, “The Destroyer,” a documentary film directed by Rupert Luis Sanchez (“Moktane”), follows MMA fighter Sean Loaffler as he prepares for a fight that could make or break the future of his career.

After spending 16 years as a strong competitor in the sport, Loaffler finally got his chance to make it big in 2012 when he was scheduled to fight in the UFC against Buddy Roberts; however, after suffering a massive ankle injury and being deemed unfit to fight, it was back to the drawing board for Loaffler. The film follows Loaffler after the accident up through his fight comeback, which if he wins, will give him another shot at the UFC.

Director Rupert Sanchez explains, “Michelle and I have been working together for years so when I started developing the idea for ‘The Destroyer’ he was a part of the process from day one. We both decided that being a documentary, in order for the film to stand out visually,  it needed to feel cinematic. He suggested to film at an extremely shallow depth of field and with a free flowing camera; it proved to be the most important decision for the over all look and feel of the film. His undeniable eye for the human moments and complete understanding of my intention for the film is felt in the cinematography.”

Castro’s creative vision for the shots within the film coupled with his expert versatility behind the camera was a huge asset to “The Destroyer,” as he was able to get up close and capture the action of the fight scenes and the deeply emotional struggle Loaffler experiences in this very real story.

“We shot this with DSLRs because of the mobility that they provide. Also when [Sean] was either training or fighting you are very close to the action and you really need to be able to move away if they are throwing punches at each other,” says Castro.

“The Destroyer,” which is currently in postproduction, will begin making its rounds on the festival circuit later this year.

For Michelle Castro the last few years have been incredibly busy, in fact, since 2013 he has lent his ingenious creative skill as a cinematographer to more than 15 films. From his most recent foray into the documentary film format with “The Destroyer” to dramatic narratives like Álvaro Ortega’s “Waltz” and Anish Dedhia’s “Chypre,” and the experimental mystery feature “Los Títeres de Belial,” Castro has revealed his remarkable ability to capture the visual story of each film, bringing each tale to life in a totally different way.

The film “Chypre,” which stars Svetla Georgieva (“Kantora Mitrani,” “A Punishment to Some, To Some a Gift”) and Christoff Lombard (“Waiting for the Miracle,” “Deguello”) takes audiences inside the cold relationship of one couple and examines how a young wife, who is sadly ignored by her husband, begins to desire a woman she encounters on the train. Castro sets the tone of the film with his visual approach in a way that, combined with the actor’s expressions and body language, allows the story to come across without relying heavily on dialogue.

The film, which had its world premier at the New York Indian Film Festival, earned the Best Film Award at the 2014 Los Angeles Thriller Film Festival, in addition to being chosen as an Official Selection of the India International Film Festival of Tampa Bay, the Third Eye Asian Film Festival, the Rainier Independent Film Festival and many more.

Castro admits, “‘Chypre’ is one of the projects that I hold close to my heart… From train stations to mock up trains this was an exciting film to shoot. Anish Dedhia, the director, is a good friend and did an amazing job writing the script. Another reason that I’m grateful for this project is because I got to work with Svetla Georgieva, which marked our third collaboration. I consider her to be one of the best actresses I’ve ever worked with.”

Prior to working as the cinematographer on “Chypre,” Castro directed actress Svetla Georgieva in his dramatic mystery film “Succubus,” which earned the Honorable Mention Award at the Los Angeles Movie Awards in 2014, as well as a nomination for Best Short Film at the Studio City Film Festival.

As for what’s on the horizon, Michelle Castro, who recently wrapped production as the cinematographer on the films “Charlie,” “Sleep,” “The Four Horseman,” “O1” and “The Delicious,” is slated to work as the cinematographer on three new film projects as well as direct an upcoming feature, with more information to be disclosed at a later date.

 

Cinematographer Johanna Coelho Pulls Us In with Powerful Imagery

Cinematographer Johanna Coelho
                 Cinematographer Johanna Coelho

French cinematographer Johanna Coelho is not only a phenomenal director of photography who has a background working with an array of different genres, but she is capable of shooting on any format, a feature that sets her apart from the masses.

“Film and digital have the same purpose: create images for telling a story. There’s a lot of discussion going on about what is best between shooting on film or digital. For me in a sense, it’s like having a discussion about which lense to use. It’s a decision that concerns one’s choice, taste and style,” explained Coelho.

With the global technological advancements we have experienced over the last two decades, the most noticeable shift when it comes to the film industry can be found in the format in which films are shot.

For instance, feature films that were once shot on 35mm filmstrips are now predominantly shot on digital, the reason being that digital technology is cheaper to reproduce, and easily transferrable.

The question of whether to shoot on digital or 35mm will always come down to the aim of the director and what the film’s director of photography (DP) feels is the most viable option for producing the director’s vision. However, for the DP to even consider taking one of these two routes they must first be capable of shooting on both formats, a skill Johanna Coelho can accomplish in her sleep.

“I think it’s amazing to want and know how to shoot both, because today we still have a choice, ” said Coelho. “I pick one over another depending on the project, story, shooting conditions, and visual style. There is a sharpness to digital that is really appreciated nowadays, and film will always give you this beautiful grainy image that gives a really cinematic aspect to your film. They do not look the same, and that’s the great thing about it.”

Coelho’s talent as a cinematographer and her ability to choose whether to shoot on film or digital depending on what will be the most compelling for the overall project, has allowed her to be far more creative than most in the craft.

The film Broken Leaves, which was directed by award-winning director Sasa Numic, follows two teenage best friends, Lana and Annie, as they go on a picnic with three boys in the woods. The film focuses on Lana’s jealousy over the attention Annie is receiving from the boys, a feeling that quickly turns to anger and leads her to do something that she immediately regrets.

Coelho worked her magic as the director of photography for the film, which was shot solely in the woods using 35mm film. Coelho’s use of the perfect filter and film, in addition to the way she captured the sunlight breaking through the trees creates a hazy, almost dreamlike feeling, one that visually supports the film’s storyline of Lana’s rash actions being grounded somewhere outside of reality.

Broken Leaves is a story that is supposed to feel like it was shot in the 70’s, so I felt shooting on film was appropriate in order to give a realistic and beautiful grain to the images,” explained Coelho.

“Also, there is a really nice warm look created with the filter I used in the camera throughout the whole film. This particular color created with the filter worked because of the type of film I chose to use, Kodak Vision 3 5213, 200T. So it wasn’t only about the grain, but also about the choice of emulsion. Colors on film can be truly amazing if you know how to use them.”

As the director of photography for the film The Black Room, which was also shot on 35mm film and follows a convicted woman who dances away the reality of her jail sentence by imagining she is a cabaret dancer, Johanna Coelho shows her finesse and versatility with the camera. Because The Black Room was based on the incredible camera tricks invented by French illusionists and cinema genius Georges Méliès, Ms. Coelho chose to shoot on film in order to remain authentic to Méliès’ discoveries.

Creating a mesmerizing sequence of imagery using double and triple exposures on film, Coelho draws audiences in with the way she captures the character’s movements to a place where they too forget that the woman they are watching is in jail.

Concerning the use of double and triple exposure, Coelho admits, “We can do that with digital now, but it’s not as challenging or as fun! Making all of your effects happen in the camera is an incredible experience that shows you the real power of shooting on film.”

While the up and coming generations will most likely switch to shooting solely digital, there are elements of 35mm that continue to be widely cherished throughout the film industry today, and Johanna Coelho’s films serve as a testament to the importance of cinematographers having the capacity to work with both.

“Film is the very first format of cinema, and I think there is something really special about that,” said Coelho.