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

10-cloverfield-lane-image-1.jpg

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

orphan2009.jpg

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 www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.
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LENSES & FILTERS. How to get the best shots in filmmaking

LENSES & FILTERS
FILMMAKING NOTES

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

CINEMATOGRAPHY – SHOTS AND CAMERA ANGLES

QUESTIONS TO ASK:
-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
interruption

SEQUENCE A series of scenes or shots complete in itself.

TYPES OF CAMERA ANGLES
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.

FIVE BASIC ANGLES

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
IMAGE THAT SLANTS TO THE RIGHT – Acting forceful
IMAGE THAT SLANTS TO THE LEFT – Weak, static

ASK YOURSELF
-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

SIX BASIC SHOTS

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

CLOSEUPS
-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

FRAMES
-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.
THREE VISUAL PLACES – MIDGROUND, FOREGROUND, BACKGROUND

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

ACTOR CAN BE PHOTOGRAPHED IN FIVE BASIC POSITIONS
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.

TIGHTLY FRAMED SHOTS – Confined

LOOSLY FRAMED SHOTS – Freedom

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.

ANALYSIS OF ANY GIVEN SHOT – TWELVE ELEMENTS

1) SHOT AND CAMERA PROXEMICS
-What type of shot is it? How far away from the action is the camera?

2) ANGLE
-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?

4) LIGHTING STYLE
-High or low key lighting? High contrast? Some combination of these?

5) DOMINANT
-Where is our eye attracted first?

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

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

8) FORM
-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?

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

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

11) STAGING PROBLEMS
-Which way do the characters look from the camera?

12) CHARACTER PROXEMICS
-How much space is there between the characters?

MOVEMENT IS NOT SIMPLY A MATTER OF WHAT HAPPENS, BUT HOW THINGS HAPPEN.

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

THE VALUE OF A SHOT ALWAYS DEPENDS ON A NARRATIVE.

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

THE PRINCIPLES OF PERSPECTIVE

-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

CRANE SHOT
-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

TRACKING SHOT
-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

TRIPOD SHOTS
-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

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

****

Submit your Film, Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem anytime to the festival today: http://www.wildsound.ca

Watch recent Writing Festival Videos. At least 15 winning videos a month:http://www.wildsoundfestival.com

__

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 www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Photography in Film. The art of Cinematography

FILM PHOTOGRAPHY
FILMMAKING NOTES

Cinematography is the art of manipulating light and shadow, and capturing it as a moving image. We’ll be posting articles and insights – maybe a bit of inspiration too! Whether you’re a pro or have hardly picked up a camera except to point and shoot at a birthday party, we hope you’ll find some useful information below.

CINEMATOGRAPHY – SHOTS AND CAMERA ANGLES

QUESTIONS TO ASK:
-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 interruption
SEQUENCE A series of scenes or shots complete in itself.

TYPES OF CAMERA ANGLES
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.

FIVE BASIC ANGLES

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
IMAGE THAT SLANTS TO THE RIGHT Acting forceful
IMAGE THAT SLANTS TO THE LEFT Weak, static
ASK YOURSELF
-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.

Cinematography

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

SIX BASIC SHOTS

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

CLOSEUPS
-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

FRAMES
-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.THREE VISUAL PLACES MIDGROUND, FOREGROUND, BACKGROUND

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

ACTOR CAN BE PHOTOGRAPHED IN FIVE BASIC POSITIONS
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.

TIGHTLY FRAMED SHOTS Confined

LOOSLY FRAMED SHOTS Freedom

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.

ANALYSIS OF ANY GIVEN SHOT – TWELVE ELEMENTS

1) SHOT AND CAMERA PROXEMICS
-What type of shot is it? How far away from the action is the camera?

2) ANGLE
-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?
4) LIGHTING STYLE
-High or low key lighting? High contrast? Some combination of these?

5) DOMINANT
-Where is our eye attracted first?

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

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

8) FORM
-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?

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

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

11) STAGING PROBLEMS
-Which way do the characters look from the camera?

12) CHARACTER PROXEMICS
-How much space is there between the characters?

MOVEMENT IS NOT SIMPLY A MATTER OF WHAT HAPPENS, BUT HOW THINGS HAPPEN.

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

THE VALUE OF A SHOT ALWAYS DEPENDS ON A NARRATIVE.

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

THE PRINCIPLES OF PERSPECTIVE

-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

CRANE SHOT
-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

TRACKING SHOT
-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

TRIPOD SHOTS
-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

HANDHELD SHOTS
-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 Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to http://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.