Interview with Cinematographer Checco Varese (The 33, Miracles From Heaven)

Chatting with Cinematographer Checco Varese on the phone for almost an hour inspired me. He brought so much passion to the way he talked about cinematography and creativity in general. He’s a man that obviously loves what he does.

To learn more about Checco, go to his website:

checco_varese.jpgInterview with Checco Varese:

Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about “Miracles in Heaven”? How were your experiences working on the film?

Checco Varese: It’s a very beautiful movie. It’s more than a faith based movie. It’s really a spirituaul film. It was shot in Atlanta, Georgia – a fantastic experience.

MT: This is your 2nd film in a row that’s based on a true story. You want to tell a cinematic story of course, but I’m assuming you also want to keep the real experiences as accurate as possible. What is the process of making this type of movie?

CV: With true life experience movies, you’re always walking on this imaginary line that you never want to cross. You want to make it entertaining but also make sure it’s real. You have to pick your battles and make the most insightful film possible, but you also have to support what really happened and translate the real story. These are real people and you have respect that. That said, you still have to engage the audience and make it a movie experience. These are tough films but also very rewarding to do.

MT: “The 33” is a stunning film based on the true story of the miners trapped underground for 69 days. How did you come up with the cinematic design of showing the effects of the entrapment underground and making if feel real? How was your working relationship with director Patricia Riggen?

CV: This is my favorite movie. It’s a work of love. When someone asks me what my favorite film I’ve worked on was, I always say my last film. But I can’t say this anymore – “The 33” was the best experience. It was a physically, emotionally, and mentally hard movie to do.

We shot it in a real mine. The whole crew had to drive two and half miles to the set everyday. We were there 12 to 15 hours a day. It was brutal. The rules for a miner is that they can’t work in the mines for longer than 8 hours a day. We were practicially doubling that daily. Every single scene in that film was shot in a real mine.

The look is very specific. When I first read the script, Patricia (the director) told me that you have to find the language that reflects the movie. When preparing for a movie I always ask what painter or photographer best reflects this story.

PHOTO: Behind the Scenes on the film “The 33”:


I looked at the Italian painter “Caravaggio” for inspiration. If you look at his work they are paintings of men suffering, and there is always a bay of light coming in from the distance. He makes things look beautiful, but also dramatic and spiritual.

We used the lights on the miners helmets to light the scenes and the actors. One Sunday before filming I went by myself and brought a few lights and did some measuring. I had 4 lights: a little light, a bigger light, a flashlight, and a miner light helmet. I did my work: testing, measuring distance etc… and decided to do one last thing.

I’ve never been in a mine before and I needed to understand the setting. So I turned off all of the lights and decided to sit alone in the dark for 45 minutes. After 10 minutes, I got very scared and ran out. But that’s when I realized what the minors were going through when they were trapped. Alone, underground, in the dark. It’s a frightening thing to experience and that’s when I found the language of the film.

MT: Your wife is director Patricia Riggen, the same director of “The 33”, and “Miracles from Heaven”. You have also worked with her on “Girl in Progress”, “Lemonade Mouth”, and “Under the Same Moon”. When does the husband/wife relationship start and stop, and when does the DP/Director relationship begin and end?

CV: We met working on set. The respect and then love started there. We do separate our relationship. That said, we do talk about work at home. I have to say, our personal relationship really helps our working relationship.

There are very few, almost none actually, director and cinematographer married couples, so we had nothing to compare it to. But we really make it work.

It works for me as a cinematographer because I’m aware of the film long before most DPs are. Most cinematographers join the film 6 weeks before filming begins. I am fortunate enough to know about the film months, and sometimes years beforehand. So I’m already preparing mentally for the film. That’s a big advantage I have.

That is gwhat happens in many famous creative relationships. You are working on a project for a long time. It’s a marriage of convenience on a creative level. It’s very rare, but amazing.

You do have to separate things at home and not talk about the work. It’s broken sometimes, usually by me, but when one of us doesn’t want to talk about it anymore, we just say stop and move on.

PHOTO: Checco and Patricia work together on set on “The 33”:


MT: What is a Cinematographer looking for in their Director?

CV: The main thing you like to have is a director with a strong opinion on their vision for the film. We are the painters and they are the storytellers.

If they have a vision, then there is a good collaboration. They also need to let the DP do their job. If they don’t, then it becomes a difficult shoot.

MT: You were the Director of Photographer: b camera on Pacific Rim? What does that mean being the “b camera” DP?

CV: I was the 2nd Unit DP, but the director Guillermo del Toro also was the 2nd Unit director. Union rules don’t allow the main director to also be the 2nd Unit director, so I was called the b camera DP. Guillermo has a strong vision so he wanted to direct even the 2nd Unit sequences.

He was working on both units simultaneously. His energy is unparalleled. I don’t know anybody who’s like him. A bundle of emotion. We would have two sets going on the same day and he would jump from set to set and direct the scenes. He would work through lunch and 15-18 hour days.

MT: You’ve started as a camera assistant as for a news program, what brought you to working on films?

CV: I began as a camera war correspondant. We would shoot in some very dangerous situations. I never really wanted this world and was lucky to get out of it. I took a steadicam course and that became my profession. I got lucky landing a job after someone else backed out. The rest is history.

MT: What makes a great steadicam operator? When was the last time you performed the steadicam?

CV: The camera should not move, unless it’s necessary for the story. One of the most difficult things about being a steadicam operator is that it’s the beginning of a shot or scene. It’s difficult to start a shot and end a shot, anyone can start in the middle of a scene.

It’s like riding a bike. I haven’t done it in years. I surround myself with great steadicam operators, so I don’t have to do it anymore.

When it comes to hand-held shots, I always take those shots. I was a camera operator for the news, so I’ve done these shots thousands of times.

MT: Where do you see the future of cinematography in film heading from an artistic and practical standpoint?

CV: This is a two part question. We’re still trying to define the movie language of the 21st century. We don’t know what it is yet. It will probably take about 10-15 years to figure that out. And then another 10-15 to define it.

In our craft, yes, things have developed….a lot. None of this change has been the choice of the painter. The change is based on what the movie industry wants. So you have to go with it.

The worst thing a cinematographer can do is get caught up in the technology. It’s not about the tools – it’s about what story you’re trying to tell.

Initially pianos were only made for specific people, then eventually pianos became accessible to everybody. Just like cameras etc.. were only used by a specific amount of people, and now everyone has one. In today’s world, eventually a Mozart will emerge, and that is amazing. A 12-13 year old kid who makes a masterpiece of a movie. 3% of YouTube videos are fascinating. 97% is unwatchable. That’s the process.

People have a tendancy to talk about technology too much. They try to overwhelm you with tech-gargle. You can’t get caught up in this. It’s all about the result.

It’s easier to worry about the tools. It’s hard to really talk about your skills and talent. What you are capable of. The tools will only take you so far. Technology will always have its limits.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

CV: Lawrence of Arabia. Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Battle of Algiers. Die Hard. I like to watch those 1980s action flicks.

MT: So, if I’m reading between the lines, it seems like you want to DP an action movie some day?

CV: Of course. Action movies are armies. 17 cameras and 17 camera crews on a single day on set. DPing an action movie is broad strokes. Large canvasses. It’s like being a foreman on a construction site. All kinds of tools and machines to make a great building. And a lot of skilled people who are good at performing those tools and machines.


Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Cinematographer Jeff Cutter (10 Cloverfield Lane)

Chatting with Jeff Cutter about Cinematography and his career could have lasted all day. I generally like to limit the questions to about 10-15 when I do these film interviews because these are very busy people and generally less is more. With Jeff, I literally could have asked him 100s of questions as we were just scratching the surface. This is one of my favorite interviews to date. A must read for anyone working or wanting to work in the industry.

Jeff’s cinematography credits include “Gridiron Gang”, “Catch .44”, “Yellow”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Playing It Cool”, and “10 Cloverfield Lane”

Matthew Toffolo: “10 Cloverfield Lane” is set to hit the theatres this week. Can you give us a sneak peak as to what to expect? How was your experience working on the film?

Jeff Cutter: Expect a taut, tense psychological thriller with 1 or 2 big surprises. I had a great time working on the film as we had a wonderful director in Dan Trachtenberg and an extremely supportive production company in Bad Robot. It was a relatively small budget, and had challenges as a result, but since it is mostly a very contained script we could maximize the resources we had.

Matthew: Do you have a favorite experience in your work as a Director of Photography? What film are you most proud of?

Jeff: I am most proud of my latest film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, because the photography is very close to what I had hoped we could achieve, and in some scenes, better than I hoped. My favorite experience was receiving an email from JJ Abrams about 2 weeks into principal photography, telling me how great he thought everything looked.

PHOTO: Still Shot from 10 Cloverfield Lane.  Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.. Director: Dan Trachtenberg


Matthew: You have DP’d many music videos. Is this something that you’ll continue to do? Do music videos give you a lot more creative freedom to explore being it’s generally an experimental type of story being told?

Jeff: I haven’t shot a music video for almost 10 years now, which makes me feel very old! Budgets have shrunk dramatically from the heyday of music videos when I started. Back in the late 90’s and early 00’s, music videos gave you so much freedom to explore, but also the funds with which to do it. So almost any crazy idea a director came up with, you could go and do. Traditional narrative tools, like lighting continuity, or realistic lighting sources, get thrown out the window. But creative freedom doesn’t always lead to good work.

Experimenting will inevitably also lead to some very bad work as well!

Matthew: What is the key difference when working on a horror film (Orphan, Nightmare/Elm Street) in comparison to doing a straight up drama (Yellow)?

Jeff: When working on a horror film, it needs to be, first and foremost, scary. So much of the camera work and lighting is dedicated to creating/enhancing the suspense and scares. When filming a drama, you use the camera and lighting to support the narrative story.

Matthew: “Orphan” is an amazingly photographed film. It really sets the mood, tone, and themes of this film and is truly a masterful job from a cinematic level. It executes and then heightens the story to a new level. How was your collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra?

Jeff: Jaume was an extremely well planned and thoughtful director. For him, setting the overall mood was the number one priority of the camera and lighting. We watched many classic thriller and horror films, as well as less conventional ones, and discussed the feeling that Jaume was looking for in the movie. Then we mapped out the shots and techniques that would help create this feeling.

PHOTO: Still Shot from Orphan. Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra


Matthew: What type of film would you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet? Is there a shot/set-up that you’ve thought of already that you love to do in a film if it fits the story?

Jeff: I am prepping a comedy right now, and it’s my first one. It’s not that I necessarily love comedies or was dying to shoot one, but I do like the challenge of trying a new genre. If you don’t constantly challenge yourself, I believe your creative juices will stop flowing and you become complacent, and no good work comes from complacency. Whenever I shoot a film, regardless of genre, my goal is to create a film that looks different from what people expect it to. I’m not looking to do the typical, predictable thing. Of course, sometimes this results in failure, but nothing great comes from playing it safe.

Matthew: What does a DP look for in its director?

Jeff: I first and foremost look to the director for a vision of the film. When I first read a script, certain broad ideas come into my head, and then when you meet with the director, you hope those basic premises line up with what the director had in mind. Then a good director will guide you into the more specific direction he wants the film to go in terms of lighting, mood and camera work. A good director will challenge you to not settle for less than great work. A good director will pull you back when you’ve gone too far and push you when you’re being too safe. A good director will also listen to you when you know you are absolutely right and they’ve gotten something wrong! These are all the things I look for in a director.

Matthew: Do you have a Director of Photography mentor?

Jeff: I don’t have a DP mentor as such, but I do have many cinematographers who’s work I admire and reference, and whom I hope someday to be half as good as if I am lucky. Working greats like Roger Deakins, Emanuel Lubezki and Bob Richardson along with geniuses no longer with us like Conrad Hall, Jordan Croneweth and Harris Savides.

Matthew: What do you look for when hiring your main team? Gaffer. Key Grip. Camera Operator. Etc…

Jeff: I look for guys who are confident in their abilities, unfazed by last minute changes and complications, willing to contribute ideas but not be upset when they are shot down, and last but not least, pleasant to be around. When you spend 6 and 7 days a week with someone for three or four months it’s much easier when you like them!

Matthew: Where do you see the future of camera/lighting technology in film?

Jeff: In the future cameras will continue to get smaller while packing an even larger punch. And LEDs are the future for lighting. Eventually everything will be based around LEDs as they are fully dimmable, there is access to the entire color spectrum, they are light weight, can be customized into any configuration you want, and are extremely energy efficient.

Matthew: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

Jeff: There are a handful of films that I have watched multiple times because the film making is of the highest order, and they are for me examples of perfect photography. These include “Apocolypse Now”, “Angel Heart”, “Jacob’s Ladder”, “Blade Runner” and “Seven” to name a few.

Matthew: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?

Jeff: My suggestions to students interested in getting into cinematography: Watch and re-watch as many great-looking movies as you can, and any movies by the great cinematographers. Find what you like, then go out and shoot as much as you can as often as you can, and start experimenting. Make friends with as many people as you can and start building a reel.

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Cinematographer Natasha Braier (The Neon Demon, The Rover)

Natasha Braier is a Director of Photography on the rise. Her list of credits is already impressive, but 2016 could be her banner year. She is set to film “American Express”, directed by Nash Edgerton and starring Charlize Theron. Her film, “The Neon Demon”, will be coming out later this year. It stars Keanu Reeves & Elle Fanning, and is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Bronson).

For more information, go to:

It was an honor to sit down with the Cinematographer:

Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about THE NEON DEMON. What should we expect to see? Nicolas is a very visual filmmaker – shows more than tells. How was your working relationship with the director?

Natasha Braier: I think working with Nicolas Winding Refn is a gift for any cinematographer, because he is interested in visual story telling, in poetry, in suggesting rather than narrating. He doesn’t care about the conventional established representational mode of film story telling, he goes beyond, and for me thats what always been exiting in film making. I always tend to look for directors that are working in this direction, but Nic is probably the most extreme of them, and that’s what I love about him. He pushes me to get the bravest part of myself, to jump the abyss, he doesn’t care if we fall and crash while trying, he would rather try and fail than to stay in a safe territory. So, I love jumping with him, and most of the time, we don’t fall but we fly.

PHOTO: Elle Fanning in “The Neon Demon”


Matthew: You are set to DP the feature film AMERICAN EXPRESS, directed by Nash Edgerton. We showed Nash’s last short film at our festival last year. Lots of camera movement while showcasing the production design to give multiple feels and emotions to the viewer. How is your experiences in prep been so far?

Natasha: We are having a great time in prep, we start shooting tomorrow. Its very interesting that you mention about his camera movement because I love how Nash moves the camera and that’s one of the things that attract me of his work. Together with his sense of humor and his sensibility.

Matthew: After a string of successful short films, you jumped to features in 2005. How did you obtain your first feature film job? What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned as a DP in the last 11 years?

Natasha: My first film GLUE was directed by my then husband, Alexis Dos Santos.

He won a 30K development grant in Rotterdam and we shot the movie with that money plus another 15 I made on a car commercial. Glue won in Rotterdam and showed in more than 20 film festivals, Lucia Puenzo called me to do XXY after seeing Glue, so did Claudia Llosa for The Milk of Sorrow. So, that’s how it all got started.

Matthew: You still like to DP short films from time to time. What keeps inticing you to work on shorts? Do you like/love the medium?

Natasha: I shot a few in the last few years, Loxoro for my friend Claudia Llosa who I shot “Milk of Sorrow” with. I shot “Swimmer” as I admired director Lynne Ramsay who after that collaboration because a great friend. And a short film for Zegna with director Park (Chan Wook) another big hero of mine, whom I had never dreamed I would have the chance to work with. If these amazing directors are doing shorts, sure, I love shooting shorts with them. Also, short films are a format that allow for more experimentation, more poetry and freedom.

Matthew: What type of film would you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

Natasha: I would love to work with Leos Carax. And I would love to do science fiction. I guess it would be dark, arty science fiction ha .

Matthew: What does a DP look for in its director?

Natasha: Someone you respect as an artist and as a human. Someone who has something to say that I relate to and I feel I wanna help express with the tools of cinematography.

Matthew: What does a director for for in its DP?

Natasha: I guess that depends on the director.

Matthew: What do you look for when hiring your main team? Gaffer. Key Grip. Camera Operator. Etc…

Natasha: I look for the best technical expertise, an artistic eye and sensibility that resonates with mine, a passionate love for film making, and personalities I would like to have around for months.

You are creating a family that will support you not only technically but also emotionally, so the human aspect is as important as the technical one.

Matthew: Where do you see the future of camera/lighting technology in film?

Natasha: I’m very sad to see film disappearing and I feel is our responsibility to keep fighting to keep it alive and to have the option to choose what’s the best format for each project.

PHOTO: Natasha on Set of the film “The Rover”:


Matthew: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

Natasha: Mauvais Sang, Leos Carax. I’ve seen it so many times I can probably draw it frame by frame.

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Cinematographer Mitesh Mirchandani (NEERJA)

Mitesh Mirchandani is a rising cinematographer in the industry who is currently based in based in Mumbai. Only 26, he DP’d the feature film Neerja, which could be the sleeper hit movie of 2016. From here on out, his future is bright.

Interview with Mitesh Mirchandani:

Matthew Toffolo:  How is the film scene in India? What do North American audiences need to know about the films your country produces?

Mitesh Mirchandani: There are lots of films being made on a regular basis. Various different genre’s. Lots of interesting and original content coming your way. Indian cinema its not about song and dance anymore. Lots of the films being made in our country tap into the human emotion. So there’s an instant connect.

Matthew:   Out of all the projects you’ve worked on, what film are you most proud of?

 Mitesh: The film currently in cinemas titled “NEERJA”.

Matthew:   Generally, how do you get hired to work on a film? You have worked on many different types of films, from light comedy to intense thrillers. Your range is wide and long.

Mitesh: We have a very few agents here in India. So we get direct calls from production houses asking about our availability. Yes I particularly don’t want to stick to a similar kind of film. I feel to explore all genres

Matthew:   The film NEEJA (2016) is a wonderful film that is just coming out in North America and I hope many people get to see it. What were you initial conversations with director Ram Madhvani on the overall cinematic design of the film? The film feels so real.

Mitesh: I must insist people go watch it, it’s really an amazing film not because I’m a part of it but its truly something you shouldn’t miss. A lot of the approach came from the director: No lights. No marks for the actors. 360 degree shooting. All handheld. Just capturing the moment rather than staging it. Long takes following the actors. We call this the “Indian Eye”. With a lot of clutter and ciaos visual cacophony.

We didn’t want to light the film and wanted it to be very natural. I did not use any lights and even the aircraft has only the existing lights – bulbs and tubelights. I lit the plane like a normal plane is lit. I spent a lot of time with the production designer figuring out where and how we could add practical lights everywhere.

PHOTO: Still shot from the film NEERJA:


Matthew:  You’ve worked on a lot of short films. What keeps inticing you to work on shorts? Do you like/love the medium?

Mitesh: Honestly any medium to tell a story. Be it a commercial a short of a feature. I enjoy all of it.

Matthew: What type of film would you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

Mitesh: I think I’d love to shoot a si-fi, and maybe a drama/crime Mystery.

Matthew:   What does a DP look for in its director?

 Mitesh: A collaborator, someone with a vision. Someone they can get along with.

Matthew: What does a director for for in its DP?

Mitesh: I think someone who understands their vision and can add something of their own to the project. Enhancing the director’s vision in a positive way.

Matthew: Where do you see the future of camera/lighting technology in film?

Mitesh: I think smaller and faster cameras. Similarly with lighting smaller more compact setups as the sensitivity of the cameras is increasing.

Matthew: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

Shawshank redemption.

In recent times – Rush.

Both of cinematographers I completely look up to.

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

LENSES & FILTERS. How to get the best shots in filmmaking


Cinematography is the art of manipulating light and shadow, and capturing it as a moving image.


-What is the best viewpoint for filming this position of the event?
-How much area should be included in this shot?

SCENE defines the place or setting where the action is laid
SHOT defines a continuous view filmed by one camera without

SEQUENCE A series of scenes or shots complete in itself.

OBJECTIVE – The audience point of view
SUBJECTIVE – The camera acts as the viewers eyes-movement
POINT OF VIEW – What the character is seeing

CAMERA ANGLES – Are the most important factor in producing illusion of scenic depth. Which angle the object is photographed.


EYE LEVEL SHOTS – Provide frames or reference. Audiences sees the event as if in the scene. Most scenes in movies are photographed from eye level. 5 to 6 feet off the ground. Capturing the clearest view of an object.
-Treating your characters as equals. Discourages viewers at judging them and permits audience to make up their own minds.

BIRDS EYE VIEW – Photographing a scene from DIRECTLY OVERHEAD. Hovers from above like all powerful gods. Idea of fate.

HIGH ANGLED SHOTS – Camera is tilted downward. Movement is slowed down. A person seems harmless and insignificant photographed from above.
– The higher the angle, the more it tends to imply fatality

-Heightens the importance of a subject. Scenes depicting heroism

OBLIQUE ANGLE – Lateral tilt of the camera. As though the object is about to fall to one side. POINT OF VIEW SHOTS.
-Suggests tensions, transitions, impending movement

-How much should be included in this shot?
-Where should the camera be positioned to view this particular part of the action?
A shot should be held no longer than required to make its point.

Approach each sequence with a fresh attitude and strive to treat the action in an individual matter.

A definite change in camera angles will assure a smoother flow of images.

“And later I thought, I can’t think how anyone can become a director without learning the craft of cinematography.”
– Nicolas Roeg


1) Extreme Long Shot – Taken at a great distance. Almost always an exterior shot and shows much of the locale. Establishing shots usually
2) Long Shot – The distance between the audience and the stage in the live theater
3) Full Shot – Barely including the whole body
4) Medium Shot – Knees to waste up. Useful for exposition scenes, carrying movement and for dialogue
5) Close-Up – Concentrates on a relatively small object. HUMAN FACE
6) Extreme Close-Up – Might just show eyes or mouth

-Are among the most powerful storytelling devices available to the filmmaker
-Allows removal of tedious or repetitious action
-Can be used to provide a time lapse
-Bring that dramatic punch

-Area near the top of the frame can suggest ideas dealing with power, authority and aspiration
-Left and right edges of the frame can suggest insignificance

DOMINANT CONTRAST – Area that immediately attracts our attention because of a conspicuous and compelling contrast

SUBSIDARY CONTRAST – Structured image so that specific images are followed in sequence. Whatever character or object that is most dramatically important will assume dominance.

The HUMAN EYE scans pictures from left to right

HORIZONTAL LINES – Move from left to right
VERTICAL LINES – Move from top to bottom
DIAGONAL OR OBLIQUE LINES tend to sweep upward
TERRITORIAL SPACE – movie images must tell a story in time. A story that involves human beings and their problems.

SPACE is one of the principal mediums of communication in film

Dominant characters are almost always given more space to occupy than others are.

You can define, adjust and redefine human relationships by exploiting spatial conventions

1) Full Front – Facing the camera
2) Quarter turn
3) PROFILE – looking off frame, left to right
4) Three quarter turn
5) Back to Camera

FULL FRONT – Most intimate, vulnerabilities exposed-Audience agrees to become their chosen confidante.

QUARTER TURN – Involves a high degree of intimacy but with less emotional involvements

PROFILE – More remote.
-Character lost in their own thoughts.

THREE QUARTER TURN – More anonymous. Rejecting audiences

BACK TO CAMERA – Characters alienation from the world. Sense of concealment, mystery.



PROXEMIC PATTERNS – Climax, noise level and the degree of light all tend to alter the space between individuals

1) INTIMATE – Eighteen inches away. Distance of LOVE, COMFORT, TENDERNESS between individuals

2) PERSONAL – Eighteen inches to about four feet away. Reserved for friends and acquaintances

3) SOCIAL – Four feet to about twelve feet away. Business and casual social gatherings

4) PUBLIC – Twelve to about twenty feet away.


-What type of shot is it? How far away from the action is the camera?

-Are we looking up or down on the subject, or is the camera neutral?

3) LENS and/or FILTER
-How do these distort or comment on the photographed materials?

-High or low key lighting? High contrast? Some combination of these?

-Where is our eye attracted first?

-Where does our eye travel after taking in the dominant?

-How is the two-dimensional space segmented and organized? What is the underlying design?

-Open or closed? Does the image suggest a window that arbitrarily isolates a fragment of the scene? How are the visual elements carefully arranged and held in balance?

-Tight or loose? Do the characters have room to move around in, or can they move freely?

-On how many planes is the image composed? What do we see in the background?

-Which way do the characters look from the camera?

-How much space is there between the characters?


The OBSERVER has to be the CAMERA and it needs to know where it s going.


” You make the movie through the cinematography – it sounds quite a simple idea, but it was like a huge revelation to me.”
– Nicolas Roeg


-Finding the right points of the sequence and getting to tell the best narrative story

AESTHETIC DISTANCE – Phrase used to describe the degree to which a work or art manipulates the viewer

FIRST PERSON POINT OF VIEW – Sees events through the eyes of the character

THIRD PERSON POINT OF VIEW – Presents action as seen by an ideal observer

OMNISCIENT POINT OF VIEW – Having to know what the character is thinking. Requires a type of narration, voice-over or graphics

PAN SHOT, Used to:
-Include space greater than can be viewed through a fixed frame
-Follow action as it moves
-Connect two or more points of interest graphically
-Connect of imply a logical connection between two or more subjects

“Cinematography is infinite in its possibilities… much more so than music or language.
– Conrad Hall

-Inherently majestic and holds our interest regardless of the subject because of the sheer physical pleasure of the move
-Permits us to feel the dimensions of the world by penetrating space, further endorsing its reality through the illusion of depth
-Eats up time on the set
-Careful planning and preparation is vital

-Used to follow a subject or explore space
-A dolly moves towards a subjects face can be used to emphasize a character’s moment of realization. A dolly always tends to isolate the subject as well

-Usually is used only in stable and relatively predictable shooting situations
-Makes very controlled transitions from subject to subject possible
-Makes very controlled image transitions possible
-Makes stable close-ups possible at the telephoto end of the zoom lens
-Conveys the cool, assured view

-Can react to events, much as we do in life
-Implies a spontaneous event driven quest
-Conveys a subjective, even vulnerable point of view


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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Director/Production Designer David Hackl (SAW Franchise)

David Hackl was the production designer and second unit director for Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV, as well as for Repo! The Genetic Opera. He then went on to direct Saw V to critical and financial success. Recently, he directed multiple episodes of the TV series “Real Detective”.

I was fortunate to sit down with David to talk about his career and what’s next:

Matthew Toffolo: You have worked in the Art Department and Directed over 25 films, is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

David Hackl: I’m very proud of the Saw franchise and feel grateful to have had the opportunity to work on it. It a piece of cinema history now. I also have a real fondness for Outlander as it was one of the most epic projects that I’ve done. I had to research it like crazy and learn everything about viking architecture, culture, weaponry etc. We had to build everything, weaponry and huge sets that included a viking village with 22 buildings and an 80 foot Viking ship that was fully practical. The craftsmanship from the whole crew was outstanding in every department. I’ve always loved viking stories and would love to direct a viking feature now.

PHOTO: Still shot from the film OUTLANDER (2008):


MT: Tell us about your first Production Designer assignment in “Jerry and Tom”. Kind of an underrated film with a lot of camera movements and set/scene transitions. Some very inventive cinematic designs too. How did you get that assignment? Would you agree that this film really jump-started your career?

DH: “Jerry and Tom” was a fantastic first experience as a Production Designer. I had been designing and directing commercials for 10 years by then but I wanted to get into long format. I’m good friends with Saul Rubinek and we were location scouting another film when he told me about Jerry and Tom and I said “that should be your first film”. The story was written by Rick Cleveland (West Wing, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, House of Cards) and it sounded so great. The film we were on fell apart but then Saul called and said the Jerry and Tom was green lit.

We wanted to create a visual signature for the film and Saul brought up the idea of transitioning between scenes seamlessly rather then cutting. I loved what they did in Red Rock West and I took the idea and ran with it. The crazier an idea was the more Saul wanted to do it. So I wasn’t going hold back. I was thrilled to work with suck a stellar cast (Charles Durning, Ted Danson, William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell, Joe Montegna) and I think I wanted to show off a bit. It’s definitely an underrated film, though when I look at it now it seems so dated.

PHOTO: Still shot from JERRY AND TOM  (1998):


MT: What is the biggest difference when Production Designing a TV series in comparison to a feature film?

DH: When you’re production designing a TV series everything tends to move a lot faster and on a shorter timeline then features. I love the pace of TV and the fact that you plough through so much work. I’m very comfortable with working fast and I’ve always been lucky to have great teams to support me. Features, on the other hand, give you the chance to develop ideas more,not because you have so much more time but because you generally start with a more solid script and singular focus. But both features and television are starting to feel similar on all aspects.

I love the more cinematic quality of television we’re seeing where the bar is getting raised constantly.

MT: How would you describe your SAW experience in one sentence?

DH: Wow that’s tough, one sentence? Working on the SAW franchise was fantastic creative challenge.

MT: What was the biggest thing you learned when you directed your first film SAW V?

DH: I learned how frigging hard it is to direct a feature. As a production designer you often have people lined up at your door to ask hundreds of questions a day. But as a director it’s more like a thousand questions. Designing is a good place to prepare yourself for directing and my directing now informs my PD work better as well.

PHOTO: Meagan Good in the film SAW V:


MT: From an outside perspective, the SAW franchise seemed to work like a corporation. Someone creates an idea, then as you grow people at the top move onwards while the key production heads move up the ladder of responsibility. Gaffer to DP. Art Director to Production Designer. Production Designer to Director (YOU). They really helped the growth of a lot of careers. Is this a true assessment?

DH: It’s true SAW gave a lot of people wonderful opportunities but I don’t know if that was a strong intention as much as a next natural progression. I think the producers felt more comfortable about keeping it in the family and it was certainly a nice gesture of gratitude. We all had such a great shorthand that it seemed to make sense to keep it in the family.

MT: Some argue that SAW V is the best of the franchise. Is there a reason why you didn’t direct SAW VI?

DH: I was originally in talks to direct Saw IV but the very day they called to make me and offer I had just found out my wife had cancer. (She’s clear and great now) But the producers suggested that I direct Saw V and VI instead. But after Saw V Kevin Greutert was keen to direct one and rightfully so. He had edited every one of the Saw films from the beginning. Few people knew the franchise better then Kevin. At the same time the producers decided to do a 3D Saw film and asked me to direct it. They asked me to stay on for the whole year and learn everything there was about 3D filmmaking and how we could best use it on a Saw film. Unfortunately 3 days before we shot SAW 3D the producers exercised my pay or play deal bumping me off the picture and exercised their 2nd picture option with Kevin Greutert forcing him off Paranormal Activity 2 when it was announced that it was going to open the same day as Saw 3D.

Welcome to directing!!

MT: What are you currently working on?

DH: I’m busy building a slate of films for my company with a few optioned novels and scripts for both TV and features. I’m writing a lot and working with writers, which I love. I’m also pushing hard to move into television directing.

MT: What film, besides the ones you worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

DH: That’s easy. Apocalypse Now and Bladerunner. My two favourites films

MT: What is the future of the horror franchise?

DH: If you’re asking about SAW 8: Legacy it’s coming. Writers were just announced. I’m excited see what they’ll do next.

In more general terms horror franchises are all about an idea that has legs and I’m certain there’s going to be a new one any minute. I have a couple myself. (…he says with a smile!)


Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Storyboard Artist Stephen Forrest-Smith (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight)

A storyboard artist, or story artist, creates storyboards for film productions.

I had a blast sitting down with the very talented storyboard artist Stephen Forrest-Smith. Stephen has worked on some of the most popular films in the last 15 years, including “The Dark Knight,” the last three “Harry Potter” films, and last year’s “Star Wars” film.

His candor in the following interview is educational and very entertaining. Enjoy:

Matthew Toffolo: When coming aboard a project on a Hollywood film, how does the process generally work? Do you start with a preliminary chat with the director about themes etc..? How early do you arrive before production? When do you generally exit the job?

Stephen Forrest-Smith: There really is no normal to my job anymore. Every project seems to be different now and asks for a different approach. A film project could call on a storyboard artist at any stage from pre-pre production, ( when the film is trying to get funding) right the way through to post production for VFX, (after principal photography has been completed). The bulk of my work tends to be early in the pre-production taking the first pass at sequences to get the ball rolling on them. Usually I’d start with a chat with a Director, though it could be VFX supervisor or production designer and then work on from there. I used to expect to finish when filming starts but now I might stay almost to the end of shooting then be called back for reshoots and post production.

Matthew: How was your recent experience working on the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast with director Bill Condon?

Stephen: Beauty and the Beast is shaping up to be a really beautiful and wonderful production of the fairytale. I didn’t work directly with Bill Condon but instead was briefed by Tobias A. Schliessler, the director of photography. This doesn’t happen very often but I like working with the DOP as I get to see more of the technical side to the filmmaking process. The film also has many amazing musical routines that were carefully choreographed which needed storyboards added to them. This was fun as I never work on a musical before. I think this is my favourite part of the job – getting to work with and learn from such a variety of very talented people across all the departments.

Matthew: World War Z is such a visual film. How many boards did you do for that film?

Stephen: World War Z was a very troubled production, which stumbled to the finish somehow! I think that film chewed up 5 storyboard artists over its run. I had two spells on that job. The first spell I worked on the escape from Malta sequence. I returned to work with the second unit director the battle for Moscow part which was cut from the movie.

Matthew: When you watch the final product, like Star Wars for examples, and you see your visual designs on screen in live-action, how does that feel? It must be a goose-bump experience.

Stephen: It’s always a strange feeling watching the films that I’ve worked on. Its quite a long time between finishing on them and seeing them in the cinema. I might have worked on two or three films in-between seeing the finished movie. This means I tend to sit there trying to remember what i drew for which part of the movie and if anything made it! Sometimes a sequence will run out just as it was storyboarded then you get a feeling of “deja vu”. Other times its nice to sit back and watch the response of the audience to see if a moment works or not.

Matthew: You’ve been credited as being a “Conceptual Artist” in films like Speilberg’s War Horse. What does that job detail?

Stephen: Conceptual Artist is a cover all title for film illustrators / 3d artists / designers who are involved in the initial visualising of the designs of the film. It can also include producing images on the sets as they are being designed to communicate them to the director and producer.


Matthew: What’s your ideal working experience with a director?

Stephen: For me the most satisfying part of the job is seeing the boards being used on set and being shot from. Making movies rapidly becomes an insanely complicated endeavor and a good set of storyboards is the best way of communicating to all the crew what they are all trying to achieve. A director who’s invested in the boards and wants them to be used, and sent out to the crew is my ideal.

Matthew: You also worked on The Dark Knight, which ended up being an iconic film. Did you expect it to be so popular? What part of the film did you do boards for?

Stephen: I was very excited to work on The Dark Knight, Chris Nolan was my favourite director at the time. It was clear from reading the script that he had a great take on the Joker that Heath Ledger went onto realise. My friend Jim Cornish got me the job. Jim was booked to go onto Harry Potter and the Half blood Prince so he recommended me to come and finish off for him. He had done the bulk of the work when I started so I had amendments to make on his sequences. I then drew the Jokers attack on Bruce Wayne’s apartment and Batman and Two Face’s stand off at the end of the film. Yes I did expect it to be popular as Batman Begins and had been a big hit already.

Matthew: When is does the “I’m now allowed to talk about it” statue of limitations with Star Wars end? When are you allowed to talk about your experiences working on the film and put the storyboards that you worked on for the film in your portfolio?

Stephen: I think this is the most onerous part of the job now. We have to sign NDA’s for every project and they last forever. So I shouldn’t talk to you at all!

Matthew: Do you have a storyboard mentor?

Stephen: The person who not only gave me my break but was the best mentor ever was Stephen Sommers of “The Mummy” fame – His best advice was ‘ don’t give me hundreds of angles but show how few shots I need to shoot the sequence”. I’ve kept that as my philosophy since and i love the rigour of working in this way.

Matthew: What film have you seen the most in your life?

Stephen: The Directors I return to again and again are Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. So probably “North by Northwest”, “Seven Samurai” and “Fistfull of Dollars”. Not a moment is wasted in their movies – they are true cinema for me.

Matthew: Do you worked on over 30 productions in the last 17 years. Do you have a favorite working experience?

Stephen: I’m sure I’ve worked on more than that!!! My jobs can vary from a days world to years so I’ve done a lot now. “The Mummy” is still by far my favourite ever film experience as every moment was exciting and new. I’d also taken a big gamble changing my career from architecture to film and the Mummy was my first chance to make the gamble work out. I started with a two week trial then worked on for 9 months storyboarding the whole film on my own. I got to travel to Marakesh and the red sahara. Got to swim in a swimming pool with Kate Winslet and rode on camels in the Sahara. Not bad for a first job.


Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.