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.

Cinematography Interviews and Production Notes

Read the best of Director of Photography interviews and Cinematography notes from the to people working in the industry today: 

Interview with Cinematographer Chad Griepentrog (The Bachelor Reality TV Series)

Interview with Cinematographer Albert Arthur (Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad)


Photography in Film. The art of Cinematography

Interview with Harrison Norris, Director of the award winning film “A PEACEFUL MAN”

Interview with director James Hartley (TWISTED)

Interview with Cinematographer Albert Arthur (Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad)

What an honor it was to chat with the extremely talented Director of Photography Albert Arthur. A career spanning over 45 years, his brilliant cinematography can currently be seen on the hit AMC TV series “Better Call Saul”. 

arthur_albert.jpgMatthew Toffolo: You got the honor to DP the last episode of “Breaking Bad”. How did that come about? And how was the last day on set? It must have been very emotional.

Albert Arthur: Michael Slovis, the DP for most of the series, and who had been my gaffer many years ago, had been trying to get me to DP episodes he directed for a long time, but my schedule never worked. When it came time for him to direct his last episode, I had to say yes. Then the schedule for the finale got extended and he had a conflict. So I came back to shoot the finale. As you can imagine, the last day was very emotional for cast and crew. There were lots of tears and laughter. I felt honored to be a part of it.

Matthew: You then moved on to DP every single episode of the first season of its prequel “Better Call Saul”. Was it planned all along that you would move to the last episode of “Breaking Bad” and then start from the ground up with “Saul”? It’s like you passed the baton to yourself!

Albert: Michael had launched his career as a director, so they needed a replacement DP. Since I had already shot 3 episodes of Breaking Bad, and everyone was happy with the results, I was a natural choice.

PHOTO: Breaking Bad finale episode:


Matthew: When did you first come aboard “Saul” and break down the cinematic design of the series? It’s a little different than “Breaking” in terms of feel and tone. I’m sure there was a lot of discussion as how to make it similar but also very different than “Breaking Bad”?

Albert: I started prep three weeks before the first day of shooting. I asked Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould if the wanted to continue the style of Breaking Bad, and their answer was that they did not want a complete break, but they wanted it to be different as well. They stressed repeatedly that they felt TV shows were all starting to look the same, and that they wanted “Saul” to look like nothing else on television. They showed me stills from “The Conformist” and from Kubrick’s work. Our first day of shooting was in bright sunlight in a skate park. I kept looking for Jean-Louis Trintignant in a period tuxedo, but he was nowhere to be found.

One point of departure was that they didn’t want the handheld look that gave ”Breaking Bad” its’ nervous energy. In fact they did not want any camera movement that was unmotivated. This was quite a departure from my last few shows, where the producers would start twitching if the camera wasn’t moving at all times. It required retraining my operators to avoid movement unless absolutely necessary.

Vince kept pushing the look darker and darker, saying “we know who they are, we don’t need to see them all the time”, which is a departure from what is essentially a comedy.

PHOTO: Better Call Saul first episode:


Matthew: The opening series scenes in black & white in “Saul” is truly magnificent as it sets the tone of the entire series and hooks the audience. We know the ending, so we’re going to watch the series to see how Jimmy gets there. Can you let us in how those scenes were thought up and why you chose to do it in black and white?

Albert: I wish I could take credit for the decision to shoot the opening in black and white, but it entirely was Vince and Peter’s decision. I know they wanted Saul’s bleak present day situation in Omaha to contrast with the bright New Mexico colors of his earlier years.

Matthew: You DP’d an amazing 154 episodes of the landmark show “ER”. How many days did it take to shoot a typical episode? The show introduced the TV world the art of shooting 360 degree scenes, mostly with a Steadi-Cam. How did you bring in your own style from an already tried and true formula when you started working for the series in season 8?

Albert: ER had an established shooting style when I got there. My contribution was to rely much less on the overhead fluorescents, which were unflattering to the cast, and light the closeups individually where possible, and to bring more dramatic feature style lighting when we left the hospital.

Matthew: What’s the main thing you look for from your main crew members? Gaffer, Key Grip, Camera Operators etc…

Albert: I look for experience and social skills. We spend a lot of time together, a lot, so you want people that relate well and communicate well.

Matthew: The art of television is working fast, on schedule, and not compromising what is happening on the written page. I used to like to joke that the director on TV sets is the one who is the least experienced on set because most of the crew is there for the entire season and understands the show inside and out, while the director works at most 2-4 episodes a season. What are you mainly looking for in a director when he joins your TV crew set?

Albert: I find it ironic that I wouldn’t hire a gaffer with less than 15 features on this resume, yet directing is often an entry level position. Even experienced directors are often new to a show, so the producers look to the DP to provide a continuity of style.

I pray for directors who come prepared, collaborate well, and don’t act as if their episode is more important than the general well being of the cast and crew. I want them to prioritize their coverage so that the days can be kept to 12 hours or less. When you go past that, it takes a toll on everybody, the quality of work suffers, and people are endangered. The pros know that, and plan their days accordingly.

Matthew: Was being a Director of Photography something you always sought out to achieve in your life? Or did the job come to you?

Albert: It’s something that came naturally to me, that I have always enjoyed. I bought a 16mm camera when I graduated from college and would shoot movies for free or almost free, so I had shot 5 features by the time I was 25. Then I moved to Venezuela, where I shot 35mm features with reasonable schedules. I had to teach myself everything, but I’ve always believed in earning while I was learning. By the time I returned to the US in 1982, and shot my first Hollywood film, “Night of The Comet” I was a “new” DP with at least 10 feature credits.

PHOTO: Night of the Comet feature film:


I had originally set out to become a “filmmaker”, but I spent 2 years trying to earn enough money to get my first documentary out of the lab, so I decided to focus on making a living. Luckily, I still love what I do. When people ask me what I’m going to do when I retire, the answer is to make movies I care about with friends.That, and sip cava in Barcelona.

Matthew: Did/Do you have a Director of Photography mentor?

Albert: I assisted Jerry Cotts for a couple of years and he was very supportive and generous. When he had to leave a movie he was shooting, “Is There Sex After Death“, I took over.

Matthew: I just recently watched “Happy Gilmore”. Just a zany film that actually still holds up today. What were you thinking during production? Who’s this Sandler guy and why are we shooting this crazy scene with Bob Barker beating him up? The love interest didn’t do so bad either – Julie Bowen (Modern Family)

Albert: The script made no sense to me. I never guessed it would become a classic. Adam seemed to be learning to act on the job. The director, Dennis Dugan helped him a lot.

Bob Barker was a last minute replacement. I think they wanted Lee Trevino. No one knew what to expect as Bob Barker had never been in a movie. When we shot the first take, we knew we had struck gold. Julie clearly was going to have a career. But this Sandler guy?

PHOTO: Happy Gilmore movie. Bob Barker vs Adam Sandler:


Matthew: Have you mentored many people? Do you have examples of people on your crew, once upon a time, who have gone onto doing great things in the industry?

Albert: I would definitely count Michael Slovis, who I encouraged to shoot and steered him to a producer or two. He is now the producing/director on “Preacher”, Seth Rogen’s latest project. I have also moved a number of assistants up to operate (Tom Lohmann, and most recently, Jordan Slovin on “Saul”).

Matthew: What movie, besides the ones you worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

Albert: Apocalypse Now (director’s cut) and Touch Of Evil (director’s cut). All of Fellini.


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.




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
interruptionSEQUENCE 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


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.