My phone rings. I’m excited. It’s a call from a television director I admire but have never met.
TV Director (TVD): Hey Cybel. I’ve always wanted to work with a female cinematographer
Me: Great. I’ve always wanted to work with you
TVD: I wrote this little script. It’s a passion project
TVD: And I’d love to collaborate with you on it!
Me: Uh. Huh.
TVD: I can’t pay but it would be fun. I really love your eye…
Unfortunately, the words “passion project” and “collaborate”, when pitched to the Cinematographer (substitute music supervisor, wardrobe etc) are often synonymous with “work for free”. I don’t want you to cringe when you hear these words. Just pivot and process the opportunity differently. I recently recut my Cinematography reel and every film on it involved passion. Most jobs do. But the budget dictated the shape of the collaboration and my responsibilities that came with it. Here are three levels you are likely to experience as an independent film DP.
Let me create the scene for you. I was in Jamaica for a shoot. Traveling with me to the next location was another Black American, a Jamaican and a West African/Brit. The other American and I were snapping photos, enraptured. The color! The ebony black skin! Black people everywhere! Nature! Our two other traveling companions were unfazed. They hopped in the car. It was in this moment that the idea for this article began to germinate. There was nothing wrong with our enthusiasm but … was it an American enthusiasm? I’ve spoken passionately about the potential detriment of seeing foreign countries through a white male gaze. But what about the American gaze? (more…)
Welcome to the Wild Wild West. Virtual Reality is the playground where filmmakers, gamers, visual FX and tech geeks collide. It’s brand new, unruly and exhilarating to shoot.
I was the Director of Photography on a Virtual Reality (VR) shoot for G-Technology. Directed by Lexi Alexander and produced by Lucas Wilson from Supersphere Productions. Our main talent were Mixed Martial Arts and Muay Thai champions: Zoila Frausto, Alexis Davis, Gaston Bolanos and Kevin Ross. (more…)
Winter Is Bleak. But It Does Increase Production Value. Cybel DP’s Tips for Shooting in Cold Weather
I hate winter. But I adore how it looks on film. Dusting of snowflurries, dangling icicles, frosty breath are wonderfully cinematic. A field blanketed in snow can be mysterious, romantic, epic, portending death …or enlightenment. Film production (on the east coast) is very slow between November and March. Partially because of the holidays, award season and Sundance/Berlin Film Festivals. But also because it’s a pain to shoot in winter (from finding PAs who can drive on ice, to adequate well heated holding for cast/crew/extras, to keeping crew and equipment warm, comfortable and safe on set). (more…)
The above image is from an ad my Mom created for the organization, BOCA (The Black Owned Communications Alliance). It should give you some idea of how I was raised.
I’m aware of the importance of seeing positive images of yourself in film/tv/media. But as a filmmaker and lover of film, I also believe a film should reflect the director’s reality. Not mine. These two beliefs often come to blows when evaluating/enjoying a film. As was the case with “Whiplash”. (more…)
“Dear White People’s” use of Schubert’s Piano Trio in E Flat made me giddy. I’ve always associated that piece of music with Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” and loved it being reimagined for a modern tale of love, deceit and identity crisis.
Camera department gets a lot of attention but the sound for your film shouldn’t be an after-thought. It is the audio component (Texture of an actor’s voice. Ominous sound effects. Enchanting score) that solidifies the audience’s suspension of disbelief. David Lynch, a director who is always asking us to believe in the bizarre, said it perfectly: “sound is a great “pull” into a different world. And it has to work with the picture – but without it you’ve lost half the film.” (more…)
I just finished shooting the feature film, “Queen of Glory” directed, written and starring Nana Mensah. This was the first time I worked with a Director who was also the lead in our film. Not only was Nana the lead, she was in every scene.
If I have the opportunity to shoot for a Director/Lead Actor again, these are five tips I will definitely adhere to: (more…)
Congratulations. You’ve graduated from presenting your video footage as is or altering some colors and contrast in After Effects to hiring a professional Colorist/DI Specialist. Now your film can realize its full visual potential.
Here are my guidelines to getting optimal results at your color correct session.
Before I begin, I want to share my philosophy on cinematography. This is not the same for every DP. Perhaps because I “cut my teeth” shooting film, I prefer to commit to the look in camera. (Some DPs prefer a flat image that they alter in post.)
My philosophy is to create/dream in pre-production, commit in production and confirm and finesse in post. In prep, the director and I pour over films, photographs etc and have fun dreaming up our film’s visuals. In production, I use my lights, film emulsions/camera settings and lenses to commit about 90% to the final image. In post, I confirm our original intention for the cinematography and use the talents of my Colorist/DI Specialist to further enhance our creative choices. (more…)
Sarah Jones was kin. I never had the pleasure of meeting her, so let’s call her my distant cousin “on the camera department side”. I look at her photograph and immediately connect with her exuberance. Huge smile. Huge camera. Film production can really be that awesome. I’ve always likened film crews to a family. Dysfunctional. But still family. This family has a habit, passed on from generation to generation, of evading authority for the “greater art”.
Orson Welles was our Godfather of Rebellion. From “The Making of Citizen Kane”:
“To keep studio execs off his back, Orson Welles claimed the cast and crew were “in rehearsal” during the first few days of shooting, when in fact they were actually shooting the film. It took a number of days before the studio caught on.”
I’ve always loved that story but thought of it differently after Sarah’s death. How can I reconcile my love for renegade filmmakers with a genuine panic that below the line’s safety is an after thought?
When It Comes to Films & Travel Shows Shot Abroad, Who Else Should Be In Front of or Behind the Camera?
My friends know I’m happiest when traveling. Multiply that joy by ten if I get to travel and work. So I get a little miffed by two occurrences: how rare I see films about African Americans traveling. And how frequently I see white men as the only on-air talent, photographers, writers and film crew for a travel show or documentary. They may have been credited with “discovering” foreign lands centuries ago but couldn’t we all benefit from seeing diverse perspectives on international travel now? (more…)