Tag Archives: Cinematographers

Ismaël Lotz on the honor of working alongside his childhood idols

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Ismaël Lotz

When Ismaël Lotz looks back on his inspiration to pursue a career as a Director of Photography, Lotz recounts a unique combination of motivators. He recalls watching television and films with his father as a child. In fact, at the mere age of 7, Lotz saw E.T., and it was his first time seeing a film on the big screen. He was left in complete and utter awe, eager to see many more films just like it. After E.T., came films like Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. Eventually, he began experimenting with photographs and with shooting film on an 8mm camera. Even at a young age, he was confident that he could build a future out of his passion. His fascination with telling these gripping stories through different lighting techniques, filming methods, and sound styles opened an endless amount of possibilities and creative outlets for him to channel his artistry. He promised himself that one day, he would produce films that audiences would love the way he loved films like Back to the Future. Little did he know, he would one day work with the actors who crafted these stories before his eyes; however, today, instead of being his idols, these actors are also his equals.

Over the course of his career, Lotz has built himself into a highly sought-after Director of Photography in the arts and entertainment industry. His creative process typically begins when he assesses the story of a script and determines which style of film would best suit its inherent messages, moods, emotions, and atmospheres. Once he develops a vision for the script, he works tirelessly to ensure that he brings it to life in such a way that honors every element of the writer’s vision. Lotz distinguishes himself by his ability to capture every detail of a storyline, no matter how large or small. In his free time, he researches and experiments different filming techniques used by other directors of photography to master new techniques and broaden his range of abilities in order to enhance his skill set for the better of his future projects. In fact, in 2016, he had the unique opportunity to test his hand at filming a documentary called I Am Famous, featuring the life of Tom Wilson.

After he developed the idea of I Am Famous, Lotz was extremely excited about the opportunity to work with an actor that he had admired and idolized ever since he was a child. Wilson, who played the infamous role of Biff in Back to the Future, built an entertaining comedy reel out of his experiences after Back to the Future stormed the film industry. His role was so well known and vehemently disliked by audiences across the globe that he became accustomed to strangers approaching him and saying, “I hate you!” For I Am Famous, Lotz was not only the Director of Photography, but also the film’s sole director and editor. His personal approach to shooting the documentary allowed him to unveil Wilson’s true self. Being able to get to know one of the actors who inspired Lotz to become a Director of Photography was an opportunity unlike anything else he had ever encountered. He worked tirelessly to ensure that the final product of the project was nothing short of perfect.

“The way I create documentaries is very close and personal. I think the closer you can get to your subject, the more honest and real you can present them in your film. I like getting close to my subject on an intellectual level, but also with my camera. The result of I Am Famous was more than I could have ever dreamt. It turned out to be very successful,” told Lotz.

On the other side of the camera, Wilson was extremely humbled by the project. He doesn’t often allow for filmmakers to tap into his personal journeys; however, he felt that he could trust Lotz to portray him in an honest, organic light. He developed a confidence in Lotz that allowed him to feel at ease on camera and that allowed Lotz to challenge him to open himself up before his audience. When Wilson agreed to the project, he had no idea that he would be so moved by the final product and he felt that it was a distinct pleasure to be able to experience working with such a well-established Director of Photography.

“Working with Ismaël was a pleasure, as he is kind, easy to collaborate with, and keeps his humanity of the utmost importance – which is sometimes a rarity in filmmaking. His friendly demeanor makes a fine foundation for his skills as a cinematographer and director who gets things done. His knowledge of the technical demands that underlie the complex technologies of filmmaking are at the highest professional level and he has proven that with a long list of impressive professional work. In my almost forty years of filmmaking, I must say that Ismaël combines the essential ingredients for a successful filmmaker; a high level of technical skill, a deep commitment to the art of cinematography, and the personal character that makes for a solid and lasting success,” noted Wilson.

I Am Famous premiered in 2017 on ShortCutz Festival in Amsterdam. It went on to screen successfully at a number of subsequent film festivals such as the Miami Independent Film Festival, the Los Angeles Film Awards, New York Film Awards, Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards, and many more. Knowing the film has done this well so early on in its screening life is a testament to Lotz’ prowess as a Director of Photography. He is motivated to explore the possibility of creating a follow up film.

For anyone aspiring to follow in Lotz’ footsteps, he cautions them to remain honest to themselves and to their environment. He understands that in his field, it is imperative to create as much as possible. With that, will come mistakes and ultimately, learning opportunities. By watching the work of other cinematographers, you can learn new techniques and gain an appreciation for all of the different styles present in the industry. The learning never stops and maybe one day, up-and-coming cinematographers will get to work with their idols and perfect their craft as Lotz has done in his remarkable career.

Andre Chesini tackles Alzheimer’s in moving film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cinematographer Yan Rymsha

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

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

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

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

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

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Poster for the award-winning film “Plaything”

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

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

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

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

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

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Still from “Plaything”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Speaking Visually: Cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles

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Director Roberto Escamilla & Cinematographer Andrea Mereles Gonzalez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Poster for the film “Flesh & Blood”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea Gonzalez Mereles
Cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

Cinematographer Ross Radcliffe Captures Tough Shots for Film and Television

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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.

 

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.