It was a great honor to sit down with the very talented DP Adam Kimmel. His career has spanned almost 30 years, starting out as a teenager being an apprentice for Cinematographer Michael Chapman.
His Cinematographer credits include: “The Ref”, “Beautiful Girls”, “Almost Heroes”, “Jesus’ Son”, “Capote”, “Lars and the Real Girl”, & “Never Let Me Go”.
Interview with Adam Kimmel:
Matthew Toffolo: One of your first jobs was as a Camera Apprentice on the film “RAGING BULL”. How was were your experiences working on the iconic film? Were you like a sponge at the time, taking in everything around you?
Adam Kimmel: I was 18 when I trained on Raging Bull and it was my second film in that capacity so my experience and perspective were still pretty limited. So yes, of course I knew the work of both Martin Scorsese and Robert Deniro at that point, but also of Cinematographer Michael Chapman who had shot the first film I trained on, The Wanderers. One of my strongest memories of that experience and learning process came from watching Michael Chapman collaborating with Scorsese after watching him for 4 months with Phillip Kaufman on The Wanderers. I was amazed that the same man was doing the same work and yet it seemed so different, and I had this moment of insight Into what it takes to be a Cinematographer – I saw that you need to be as adaptive and versatile as you are creative and technical, and that each collaboration will be different and draw on different strengths and experiences.
There was also a real coin drop moment for me when many months after the film finished shooting, I saw it in the theater and was just completely crushed by the power of that experience. I had been there for every day of it, watching every moment as it was crafted and yet seeing the finished film I felt completely unprepared. The power that film making can have and the complexity and vision it takes to put all those pieces together in a way that can cause people to feel so much, became even more exciting and mysterious to me.
MT: Out of all the projects you’ve worked on, what film are you most proud of?
AK: Well I guess it’s like your own children, you can’t pick favorites, but when I consider the films I’ve shot, Capote, Jesus’ Son and Never Let Me Go are the projects that I’m most likely to recommend to someone that wants to see my work.
MT: Generally, how do you get hired to work on a film. You seem to always choose films about the human condition. Is this done on purpose, or is this also something that producers and directors know you’re very good at?
AK: Thanks for noticing and I’d love to think I’m known for that. but the truth is that past choices do lead people to think of you for certain projects.
Of the scripts I’m sent, I think that first I respond to stories that I understand in an emotional way. I’ve read scripts that I admire and know will be good films but feel I may not be the best choice for, and for me, beyond that it’s always about the director and their vision of the script. When those things add up, it’s an obvious choice.
MT: The film CAPOTE (2005) is a wonderful film. What were your initial conversations with director Bennett Miller on the overall cinematic design of the film? There were not many camera movements in the film. And very intense/sad shadows throughout.
AK: Well, the process of spending time with a director and a story allows you to find the language that’s right for them. Bennett and I talked about the honesty and integrity of the image, about not getting in the way of the story or letting any of the choices draw attention to themselves, but I think we arrived at the style of the film with equal parts creativity and practicality.
It needed to be an efficient shoot that allowed as much time and concentration with the actors as possible and for me the way to accomplish that was to plan as carefully as possible where we wanted to watch that story unfold from, and then trust those choices and not steal from ourselves by betting against them.
PHOTO: Cinematography in CAPOTE. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman would go onto win the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Truman Capote:
MT: From CAPOTE, you moved onto DPing LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (2007). A completely different tone and feel, but similar themes. How was working on that film with director Craig Gillespie?
AK: Well Craig and I had been working together in commercials for a long time at that point and I loved the idea of making a film together, but I also saw the opportunity in telling that story with that cast. There was a purity and complexity in the script that I was really drawn to and since I knew I would never get to shoot a Hal Ashby film, I figured why not…?
PHOTO: Ryan Gosling in LARS AND THE REAL GIRL. Perhaps the most underrated film in the last 10 years. A film that will make you laugh and cry multiple times:
MT: You’ve worked on more than a few short films. What keeps enticing you to work on shorts? Do you like/love the medium?
AK: I think a good short film can be really powerful, I really haven’t done that many but I probably choose them the same way I do a full length film, but I do like having all the same elements concentrated into much less screen time. It’s a different challenge but it allows a lot of the same processes to take place. I shoot commercials for the same reason, it’s a different way to exercise creativity.
MT: What type of film would you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?
AK: I never know what’s going to spark my interest so I really don’t have a checklist, I just want to be involved with projects that allow a clear point of view to tell the story and add something to the experience of life.
MT: What does a DP look for in its director?
AK: I think Curiosity is a great quality, as is having trust in the people they hire, the ability to share their questions and ideas,
and a sense of humor helps.
MT: What does a director look for in its DP?
AK: I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that, but I think a lot of the same things as the previous answer.
MT: Where do you see the future of camera/lighting technology in film?
AK: There are so many new toys coming out all the time now it can be daunting, but I like to approach the choices I make from a place of having a vision for where we’re headed and never allowing the equipment or technique to lead that. I always welcome lighter, smaller and more versatile tools and the freedom they afford us as filmakers, but in a way it puts even more importance on knowing where you want to go before you start making those choices.
MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?
AK: I have to say I rarely watch films that I’ve shot, I bet most Cinematographers would say the same thing, by the time I finish a film I feel I know it really well, and then it becomes about other peoples experiences of it.
But other peoples films I can watch over and over, and I do.
Being There, The Thin Red Line, Beiutiful, The Godfather films, Children of Men, Midnight Cowboy, Straight time, The Conversation, The Great Beauty, The Master, The French Connection, A Clockwork Orange, Sophie’s Choice, The Deer Hunter. Days of Heaven, Before Night Falls, Fat City, Wings of Desire…