A Sense of An Ending
Collaboration from Every Corner of the World
Every year San Diego State University's film department funds one project to be produced by some of the most advanced students within the program. They had decided on a script written by Jiarui Bai, a Taiwanese grad student, which was to be directed by Krystal Dawkins, a grad student from Jamaica. To add to the international flavor, Nicole Souza, a Brazilian undergrad, was asked to be the production designer. Among such a talented team of individuals, I was completely stoked when Krystal brought me on as the cinematographer.
Words of Encouragement for Those Feeling "in-over-your-head"
As I navigate through my cinematography journey, more and more I realize that I've only scratched the surface of the craft. Before this project, I had never really shot anything inside a big dark studio, intensely collaborated with production designers to built a set, nor led such a large department of Camera/G&E folks. But rather than dwell on my lack of experience in some aspects of production, I decided to take the approach of finding a solution no matter what. If I didn't know something, I would find someone who did. If an idea seemed uncertain, I would go through trial&error testing until it was sound. I can't say that "faking it til you make it" is always the greatest route to take, but there's something to be said about positive pressure. It's easy to work on projects that are within your comfort zone, but sometimes it takes being pushed into the deep end to realize what you're capable of.
Side by side comparison of the storyboards I had created next to how we actually shot the scene.
A bird's eye view of the 3D space.
Construction from Scratch
Originally, I was pretty dang nervous about building the set from the ground up. Though it can allow nearly unlimited creativity for a cinematographer, it can also be difficult starting from a blank slate. I believe the late, great Orson Welles has a quote about project limitations enhancing an artist's work (or something like that). Production designer, Nicole Souza, came to my rescue. Before I had the chance to even conceptualize a foundation of how the set would look, Nicole had plans and ideas already drafted. We were then able to collaborate about where windows should be cut, the color palettes for rooms/furniture, which flats should be wild, and much more. Whatever was needed in the art department, Nicole was the first to roll up her sleeves to get it done. I am so grateful for all the knowledge she shared with me.
Above: Ms. Nicole Souza being the bad ass that she is.
Below (Left): An original paper sketch of the set's design during one of our first meetings.
Below (Right): Video while I was checking in on the set's construction.
Since I had never lit for a scene in a big studio like this, I was incredibly persistent about wanting to pre-light each scene before we shot it. For me, that time is invaluable. In a low stress environment, it allows me to find any potential issues we could run into while on set so that I can come up with a game plan ahead of time. After we would wrap shooting for the day, I often found myself alone in the studio turning lights on and testing out rigs for the next day. With that said, there were a few crew members that braved the late nights with me to help with the pre-lighting process. I've got an immense amount of love and appreciation for those fools who let their passion for their craft outweigh their need for sleep.
If the power output and space permits, I almost always try to book-light my subjects. It brings such a gorgeous wrap on the faces.
*Sound on* Catching up with an old friend while pre-lighting one night.
The bathroom scene is the most visually and emotionally intense part of the film. We ended up having one super soft source that was top lighting our characters in the bathtub. Then we added texture with the help of an army of mini Mole Richardson lamps raking down the walls. **Scroll down to the Frame Grabs to see the bathroom look**
Alexa Mini + Cooke Mini S4/i Lenses
From the beginning, I advocated for getting the Alexa Mini. I've loved my experiences with Arri cameras and felt the Cookes would perfectly compliment the vintage-period piece-y look we were going for. Since San Diego doesn't have very many rental houses nor ShareGrid vendors that carry proper camera packages, I had to make the trek up to LA from San Diego at 3 A.M. to get the camera package in time for our shoot. "The things we do to shoot on nice cameras..."
Alexa sittin' pretty.
Some of my favorite shots from the film.
KODAK Cinematography Award
I submitted this film in my application for the Kodak/UFVF International Cinematography Scholarship. After 3 months of waiting to hear back from the judging committee (including Robert Elswit A.S.C.), I received a letter from Kodak congratulating me for winning the 1st Place Student Cinematography Scholarship. My appreciation extends beyond belief to the school of Theatre, Television, and Film at San Diego State University for supplying me the opportunity and resources needed to shoot this project, to all the visual departments that spent countless (unpaid) hours collaborating with me, and to all the folks involved with making this scholarship happen. Without your support, I'd be nothing.