Canon’s “Live Your Light” (commissioned film)
1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
I directed a fundraising video for Mark Ruffalo’s nonprofit organization, Water Defense, in late 2014. Otherwise, since graduating from undergrad film at NYU in 1995 I have been working as a DP, primarily on indie features and episodic, and also commercials, music videos and documentaries.
2) How did you get into directing?
Since I am a veteran DP, the directing opportunities that I have had so far have all fallen into my lap by people who knew me as a DP and believed in me as a director. Mark Ruffalo asked me to shoot a video for him because of my activism work, and the intention behind that video was that I was to go shoot an oil spill cleanup in Bangladesh for him, but we got bogged down by UN red tape and the trip didn’t happen. For Live Your Light, Canon knew me as a DP from Sundance and various trade shows, speaking engagements, and demo films I’ve done for other camera companies, so they called on me to shoot their new camera promo as a DP/director. I’ve also since been recommended by others who heard I was directing, and been invited to pitch on some branded content work.
3) What is your most recent project?
I just got back from shooting a science fiction virtual reality film in Detroit. It’s a super interesting and groundbreaking interactive transmedia project with elements of immersive theater called “When it All Changed.” Not only am I the DP, but my level of collaboration on this one is more extensive since the story and approach to the physicality that’s involved had to be developed along with the emerging medium and the particulars of the technology. Director Sultan Sharrief and I have been in development with this for close to a year and half. So I am kind of creative producer/VR producer/postproduction supervisor as well.
I’m also developing a VR dance film to direct, in collaboration with one of my dancers from Live Your Light.
4) What is the best part of being a director?
The best part is moving the audience. Directing is a tremendous opportunity to inspire others with your work. I also love the process itself: collaboration is so fun and rewarding. I’ve never been as passionate or fulfilled as when I’ve made something together with other talented artists. I cherish the opportunity to work with and meet such interesting and amazing people, and the places that we get to see by doing this work: whether its traveling all around the world, or shooting in incredible local spaces we’d never otherwise have access to. To me, the thing that is most fun when I direct, that I do not otherwise participate in when I am shooting, is costumes: using wardrobe as an outward expression of character.
5) What is the worst part of being a director?
Preparing pitches for branded content (spots are different because the boards already exist) is a huge amount of unpaid work that may or may not pay off. The amount of time, focus and creative energy you invest in an idea, just to prepare a good pitch, makes it really painful when you don’t get the gig. By the time you’ve put in that amount of effort, you’re so personally and creatively invested that you just want to fulfill on it.
6) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
Definitely commercials and branded content. Since cinematography is in my blood, I am drawn to visually oriented projects. I am excellent at lighting women (I was an electrician on Sex & the City) and love shooting beauty and fashion. The jobs I have been up for as director recently have all been beauty. Of course the kinds of jobs that lend themselves to director/DP are a good fit, including tabletop, which is a blast to shoot. I also have a knack for interviewing people and would do well with “real people” spots.
I’m super technical and have plenty of experience shooting VFX, so that is also a natural for me. I’ve done several Virtual Reality projects, and that medium really inspires me as a director.
7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
I have had several significant DP mentors. I was shooting a branded content piece for Lincoln in New Orleans many years ago when I befriended Claudio Miranda, ASC, who was shooting the broadcast spot that was part of the same campaign. He looked over my reel after getting to know me a bit, and said “I want to see more of YOU in your work.” That really resonated with me. My selected piece, Live Your Light, is the most “me” of anything I have ever done, since the creative was left up to me, and it was put together so fast that it was all from my gut. Also Rodrigo Prieto, ASC taught me how to be more vulnerable and emotional in my work.
8) Who is your favorite director and why?
I have diverse tastes, and don’t have a single favorite. The films and advertising I admire most have a socially progressive slant, inspiring viewers to open their minds or change their point of view about “fringe” or traditionally marginalized individuals or communities, such as director Todd Haynes and pretty much everything produced by Killer Films. I’m a big fan of quirky indie movies with a bold vision such as Wes Anderson and PT Anderson. I also get really excited by the visual and intellectual complexity of Christopher Nolan’s work. For advertising, I love DP Wally Pfister’s work as a director in commercials, as well as Roman Coppola, who I am excited to work with as 2nd Unit DP/B camera operator on Mozart in the Jungle.
9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
My favorite film is an art film called Baraka. In my opinion, it’s more than a movie: it’s a religious experience and one of the most important pieces of art in human history. I’ll sometimes fly to LA just to see it when it screens in 70mm, and it never loses its power.
My favorite fiction film is Lost in Translation. In terms of recent movies I really loved Arrival for how deep it is. For series, I love everything about Jessica Jones. Branded content wise, I am a sucker for the Dove Real Beauty campaign. I think long form advertising is more powerful than the traditional 30 second broadcast spot, in the way it gives more time for depth to connect with an audience.
10) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Rhode Island, and knew I wanted to be a filmmaker since I was a kid so I went to NYU undergrad film school, where I studied directing as well as cinematography. I’ve always worked freelance: primarily as a DP for over twenty years, and back when I still needed a side job I worked as a gaffer and electrician on lots of big movies and TV shows. Sometimes I work as a camera operator for TV series or as an underwater specialist. As DP, I’ve shot several features and dozens of short films, episodic TV and web series, documentaries, plenty of branded content, and about a dozen commercials. I love the creativity of shooting music videos, even when the budgets are dismal. I’ve shot past projects that were selected for NDS, a feature called TRI in 2016 and a short film, Open Air, in 2009.