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Shooting Stars, Part II (The Women)

Shooting Stars, Part II (The Women)

Articles - Cover Story

MARK MY WORDS: there will come a time
in Hollywood, and it won’t be long,  when the whole "gender
thing’ is history. Female DPs will soon be stumbling all over their
Academy Award acceptances speeches just as female costume designers.
make-up artists, sound technicians. screenwriters, producers and,
of course. actresses, have been doing for years.

Need proof? Industry pros will tell you that camera
departments as Old Boys’ Clubs are becoming hazy memories; role
models for hotshot girl film school grads are all the rage. and
as for those gender-obsessed studio execs who still refuse to cough
up money unless a woman is displaying her assets in front of the
camera instead of behind? They’re selling timeshare just outside
Vegas. To paraphrase Jackie Robinson (who knew a thing or two about
smashing barriers): any fool can whine about how screwed up the
system is But it takes an awful lot of guts to really change things.

With that spirit in mind. MM quizzed a sampling
of the of the industry’s top female cinematographers; women who
nave pretty much Ignored "gender question" and just shot
great movies. Not every women using a camera in Hollywood is on
this list, obviously. But all who are have a few things in common:
absolute respect from their peers, a killer visual aesthetic, and
tight collaborations with directors who wanted to make movies with
the best people available. irrespective of how many chromosomes
that meant in camera department. As we’ve previously written in
these pages, the need for gender-based lists in this industry will
soon be as rare as vinyl disks. Meanwhile, here are seven terrific,
gutsy moviemakers who gave us all a head start.

NANCY SCHREIBER, ASC

With an art dealer for a mother and a degree
in psychology, in retrospect a career in the camera department
was a brave but logical career choice for this Detroit native.
One of the true pioneers, Nancy Schreiber worked her way up as
a gaffer on New York based features, learning her way around
a set long before she ever framed a shot. With more than 16 features
to her credit, (Your Friends and Neighbors, Celluloid
Closet
, and the upcoming Shadow Magic, shot in China)
along with dozens of shorts, dots and music videos to her credit,
she’s a savvy veteran who commands instant respect behind the
lens. Of course, those camera, lighting, or grip department guys
who remain unconvinced might do well to notice the initials ASC
after Schreiber’s name: she’s one of only a select group of lensers,
women or men, to have made that club.

MovieMaker (MM): You had already broken
a lot of ground working electric before you ever began shooting.
What made you go into camera?

Nancy Schreiber (NS): I was doing very well
as a gaffer. And I remember it was on a Bob Fosse commercial, this
big musical number we did, where I had an epiphany, I guess you’d
call it. The shoot used all my lighting schemes, but the DP got
all the credit! I pretty much decided on the spot to get into features
doing his job.

MM: We’re talking early ’80s now.
Did you have any idea how tough it was going to be as a woman
DP?

NS: I had no idea. Sandi Sissel, Judy
Irola and Joan Churchill were a few women who were making strides,
but they were in network news or documentaries. Brianne Murphy,
on the West Coast, had shot a film called Fatso, which
may have been the first Hollywood feature ever shot by a woman,
I’m not sure. But there were no women in NYC shooting features,
other than art films or pornography!

MM: That obviously didn’t faze you.

Shallow Magic (1999)

NS: I think if I had been on the West Coast
it would have been harder. But New York is a more independent scene.
Plus, I had earned respect working electric on some big movies-many
prominent DPs knew my work was solid. It sounds old-fashioned now,
producers being afraid to hire women. But at that time, it was
difficult.

MM: How much has the environment
changed?

NS: Enormously. Women are not doing
as many huge studio movies as men are. But in the independent world,
which is where the quality, story-driven films are being made,
women are kicking butt. Even a lot of the guys shooting big features
have told me they’d rather be doing the independent stuff. They
never get to tell stories anymore!

MM: What qualities do you think
have helped you to become, for lack of a better word, a pioneer?

NS: (laughs) Patience! And a nose for politics
on and off the set. But also I think my gut instinct for lighting
has always been strong. I guess what surprised me when I first
started out was how technically adept I was. Women aren’t exactly
encouraged to explore that side when you’re a kid.

MM: Did you ever have to confront
hostility from guys on your crews? Either in camera or electric?

NS: Quite honestly, I’ve never had
a problem (with male crews) on any of my sets. Camera, in particular,
is one area of a movie set where people can’t fake it-you know
very quickly whether the person can deliver or not. In my mind,
the respect comes directly from the work. It’s always been that
way for me.

LISA RINZLER

If DPS are like athletes, obliter­ating goals
that weren’t supposed to be broken, then Lisa Rinzler is film
land’s answer to Mark McGwire. Women just don’t shoot movies
like Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, or Gun
Crazy
. Glocks, drugs, violence, poverty-these are the places
that male moviemakers visit, right? Of course, for every riveting
shot of mayhem in a Hughes Brothers’ flick, Rinzler can now answer
back with a gently engaging moment from her ’99 Sundance Cinematography
Award-winner, Three Seasons. But don’t take my word for
it. Ask Oscar-nominated actor Ed Harris why he picked Rinzler
to shoot his directorial debut, Pollock. "Passion
and heart, baby." Just Like Big Mac.

MM: You studied painting at Pratt
before going to NYU for film. Years later you’re shooting a movie
about one of New York’s most famous painters, Jackson Pollock.
Can the past affect the present in a DP’s work?

Lisa Rinzler (LR): You know, there’s a nice
quote from the film where Pollock says that modern artists have,
by necessity, had to find new ways of expressing the world around
them. They can’t use the tools of a past culture to express what’s
going on in their lives.

MM: And you can identify with that?

LR: Definitely. I was trained as a painter,
yet now I’m working in a digital age, with com­puterized realities.
And, to answer your question: I’m always referencing the past in
my work. But it’s like an under-layer, a foundation for a house.
What’s being built on top of all these experiences is a sorting
out of your world as it’s changing around you. And as far as movies
and visual expression go, things are changing pretty fast.

Three Seasons (1999)

MM: No doubt. As a screenwriter
myself, I’d find it hard to visualize my job on-screen. How did
you tackle the problem f showing a painter’s life in
Pollock?

LR: Well, Pollock was not like a Carvaggio
or a Francis Bacon (two other movies about painters) in that he
didn’t paint people: his work is all surface, texture, abstract
energies.

MM: So, you don’t spend a lot of
time on the actual painting part of his life?

LR: No, we do! Pollock was not a verbal guy.
He was very physical and inwardly directed. His paintings, like
his life, were these slow implosions of energy. We reach the man,
his character per se, by visualizing this artistic implosion on
screen.

MM: You mentioned before about how swiftly
things are changing. You’ve taken some hefty turns in your own
career.

LR: You’re talking about Three Seasons?

MM: Yes, versus your earlier work
with the Hughes brothers, or even with Wim Wenders’
Lisbon
Story. Three Seasons is like a tone poem…

LR: I think `lyrical’ is a good way to describe
that film.

MM: Yes! It was a very beautiful
film. Did
Three Seasons reflect its director’s personality,
as much as, say,
Menace II Society?

LR: Absolutely. Good films are always a reflection
of the director’s personal vision of ` the world.

MM: I agree. So, then, hour does
Lisa Rinzler get herself into those movies? Or is it all about
reflecting the director’s personality?

LR: (laughs) Am I a sewing machine operator?
Cutting out someone else’s designs? Is that what you’re asking,
David?

MM: (laughs) In so many words. How
much does individual DP’s unique way of looking at things ultimately
influence the film?

LR: (long beat) A DP’s job is to represent,
embellish, and enhance the director’s vision. But you never want
to remove yourself, and all your experiences, from the equation.
That’s why syncing up with the director, finding a chemistry, is
critical. In a way, it goes back to your first question about drawing
from the past.

The Love Letter (1999)

MM: How so?

LR: Well, Three Seasons, for example,
was an enormously difficult, yet gratifying film. We were the first
American feature to shoot in Vietnam, and they don’t have the support
system like we do here. Plans had to be scrapped or changed; the
equipment was not what we’re accustomed to. But even if a movie
experiences some form of chaos, and that’s practically every independent
film (laughs), you still have a foundation to draw on. You have
your creative belief system, coupled with the preparation you and
your crew have worked so hard on, and they all come through for
you.

MM: Even when chaos is barking at
the door?

LR: Especially so. When time is short and
every decision seems hurried, the combination of preparation and
experience will get you through the storm. And I’m not talking
about just getting the shot. I’m talking about doing beautiful,
challenging work that everyone on the film can be proud of.

TAMI REIKER

What’s one sure way to measure talent on
a movie set? When your DP can deliver an acclaimed indie success
story like High Art for roughly the same budget she’s
given to shoot a David Bowie video. Reiker’s very first feature, The
Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls In Love
, broke thematic
ground back when a budget of 50 grand didn’t mean hard drives
filled with digital video dailies. Her most recent jump up in
budget class-from roughly 600K for High Art to $10 million for The
Love Letter,
indicates this Connecticut-born shooter is as
graceful on big canvases as she is on small.

MM: Your films show a terrific eye
for set and pro­duction design. What were your influences before
you made it to NYU?

Tami Reiker (TR): Still photography.
I was really into hand-tinting my photos back when Saturday
Night Live
was popular. Also, I loved fashion photos. I would
set up my own Vogue covers and do the whole glamour thing.
Fake fashion shoots, I called them.

MM: Your issues/35/images had a lot of style
even when you were a teenager?

TR: Definitely. I love playing with color
and design in my work.

MM: Color was certainly a big part
of what made
High Art so visually striking. Do you think
your still photo days influenced that?

TR: I don’t think they directly influenced
that film. My work in videos and commercials was probably more
of a help. For example, we flashed the film (briefly exposing it
to light to mute the color) on High Art, which is a common
music video technique. And Lisa (Cholodenko, director) and I worked
pretty hard on the film’s overall visual layering. We had a color
book which detailed each char­acter’s color scheme and how it changed
over the course of the film.

MM: Was your next film, The
Love Letter, more intimidating because of the big budget jump?

TR: Not at all. Remember, I’ve been doing
music videos and commercials for a while now. I’ve used techno-cranes,
arc lights, and multiple filmstocks on shoots that cost a million
dollars for 30 seconds of screen time. This David Bowie video I
just did, we shot 25,000 feet of film in two days! But whether
you have $610 million or 10,000, you still have to tell the story
in a visually compelling way. So, no, more money doesn’t scare
me at all.

MM: I get the feeling from talking
to you that there’s not too much on a film set that would scare
you.

TR: (laughs) Oh, I don’t know about that.
I had a great crew assisting me on High Art, but they were
very young. We’re talking very early 20’s.

MM: Fairly inexperienced?

High Art (1998)

TR: I’d say so. But don’t get me wrong, they
did a fantastic job. It’s just that I knew my guidance and control
was important on that movie. Virtually every frame of the movie
was done hand-held or with a jib­arm, which turned out to be the
perfect tool because I was the dolly grip and the operator rolled
into one. Looking through the eyepiece, booming up and down, searching
right and left-I could do a lot of stuff myself.

MM: As a DP who’s worked a lot in
videos, do you think the whole style thing in indie fea­tures-
Run,
Lola Run, Twin Falls, Idaho, Blair Witch-has
been pushed too far?

TR: Well, as 1 said, I really believe my job
begins with the director and the produc­tion designer. Together,
we have to find the visual tone of the story. When movies like
the ones you mentioned work, it’s genius. But if the visuals overpower
the story, then we’ve gone too far and it’s time to re-think what
an indie film is about.

AMY VINCENT

Part of the new guard, Amy Vincent has, no
doubt, benefited greatly from the doors opened by veterans like
Sandi Sissel, Nancy Schreiber, and Ellen Kuras. But opportunity
doesn’t mean much without the game to back it up, and this former
theatrical lighting designer has talent to bum. From the sleepy
swamps of Louisiana (Eve’s Bayou), to the scorching deserts
of Africa (Kin), Vincent has exhibited zero fear with her film
choices. A passionate believer in the director-DP partnership,
Vincent will soon be reunited with Eve’s Bayou helmer
Kasi Lemmons in yet another challenging visual environment-a
cave in the heart of New York City-the dwelling place of a homeless
Samuel L. Jackson.

MM: OK, your agent told me you don’t
want to talk about the whole “gender thing."

AV: I don’t want to talk about it only in
so much as I don’t think it’s all that relevant to my career. Don’t
get me wrong, I’m honored to be on this list. I’ve worked with
amazing directors; I’ve shot in incredible locations all over the
world. And that’s all because I’ve had some good fortune and great
crews behind me, not because I’m a woman.

MM: Fair enough. But you’re part
of a very select group of women who gets to pick and choose films
they want to shoot. How do you account for that?

AV: A lot of hard work. I came up in a very
old school way-interning in the camera department, loading, assisting,
and operating with people like John Lindley, Bob Richardson, Bill
Pope. I didn’t even realize how much I learned from those guys
until I finally got to shoot a film myself. It was a revelation.

MM: When did the big break come?

Happiness (1998)

AV: No question it was on Eve’s Bayou.
Working with Kasi Lemmons has been the single most important event
in my career thus far. We met when I shot her short film, which
was used as a showcase to attract backers for Eve. Kasi
and I became connected to such a degree that Cotty Chubb, the film’s
producer, actually had me tied into the Eve’s Bayou deal.
It was both of us or nothing.

MM: Is it fair to say the director
is the key element that attracts you to a film, even more than
the script or the location?

AV: No, I think it’s everything. Photographing
elephants and living out of tents in Namibia (on Kin)
was not an experience I wanted to pass up, but if it had conflicted
with Kasi’s new movie, I would have had to bail. Working with Elaine
[Proctor, the director] was great, though. And I have to say I
really don’t think it’s because I’m a woman that I’ve connected
with these people. I think its more because they’re all writer-directors.
They have a vision of their film that is really deep and measured.
I suppose some DPs can just show up, knock off their shots, and
grab their checks. But I need to be locked in creatively with the
filmmaker.

MM: Which is why you’ve done so
well with writer-directors. Your latest film (
Freedom Song)
is with Phil Alder Robinson for TNT.

AV: Yes, I was actually slapping slates for
Phil back on Sneakers. And now I get to recreate this time
(the Civil Rights era) which is so intense and dynamic. Working
with Phil, Elaine and Kasi is just so challenging to me. It’s the
best way to push my perceptions of what movies can be and where
my own career is headed.

MARYSE ALBERTI

Just about everyone who saw Todd Solondz’s Happiness last
year was blown away by the hilari­ously acute writing and directing.
Yet not nearly enough props were given to the film’s photography,
perfectly modulated by Maryse Alberti, to color Solondis story
of suburban Jerseyites gone adrift. Most of this French-born
DP’s career has been spent in the service of strong stylists
like Solondz,Todd Haynes, and Michael Apted. But don’t let the
Euro­cool fool you. Alberti is a master American artisan, capable
of giving poignancy to the bland hallways of a New Jersey apartment,
or the strobing glamour of a 1970s-era Manhattan dance club (Velvet
Goldmine
) with a light-handed grace.

MM: You’re the only European in,
this group. Is there a different approach to shooting a movie
in France, compared to the States?

Maryse Alberti (MA): I’ve never made a movie
in France! I’ve never even worked with a European director.

MM: But, didn’t you shoot in Europe
for…

MA: Velvet Goldmine was shot in England with
a British crew.

MM: That’s the one.

MA: But that’s my only experience with a non-American
crew. I suppose, coming from the New York independent world, the
main difference to me seemed a bit less passion over there. The
British crew was technically great and very professional. But it’s
more of a job that they let go of at the end of the day which,
by the way, is an approach I very much respect. It’s not like an
indie film here, where everybody on the crew has a script in their
pocket they’re fighting to get trade. (laughs)

MM: No kidding. When did you leave
France for the States?

MA: When I was 19. I came to New York and
worked as an au pair for three months. My English was not great
so I spent a lot of time watching late night movies on the TV in
my bedroom. Having a TV in your room where I grew up [on a farm
in France] was unheard of.

MM: You must have overdosed on moving
pictures when you got here.

MA: It was fantastic. I couldn’t get enough of movies.
They were so new to me. So different. In fact, I only saw two movies
in my entire childhood in France: Duel, in a theater in Bordeaux.
And, the week before 1 left for America I saw Harold and Maude
with a cousin I was visiting in Paris.

MM: How did you turn that newfound
love of films into a career?

MA: (laughs) Well, my very
first job was as a still photographer on the set of a porn movie.

MM: Get out of here.

MA: That’s the truth. A friend of mine
in NY was working as an electrician on the film and he got me
the job. It was my very first time on a movie set. I thought,
what is this weird new world I’m getting into.

MM: (laughs) Hey, filmmaking’s all
about passion, right!

MA: (laughs) Absolutely.

MM: You know; I may be off base
with this observation, but it seems like Maryse Alberti shoots
all these cutting-edge, amazing movies, yet many American indies
don’t know anything about you. At least compared to some of the
other women on this list.

MA: How can you say that! The New York
Times
did a whole piece on me, and I was the first woman
ever on the cover of American Cinematographer! But I do
know what you’re talking about. I don’t do the parties or the
festivals and I’ve become extremely picky in the films I choose.
I have a 5-year-old girl and she is the focus of my life. It’s
OK to let the younger DP’s grab all the glory. I just want to
choose my projects.

MM: You’ve obviously chosen well-Poison, Velvet
Goldmine, Happiness, Crumb. Do you prefer documentaries
to features, or vice versa?

MA: I love going back and forth. The documentaries
teach you to react quickly and work simply. Why use a truck full
of gear if one light bulb will convey what you need to get across?
Of course, after shooting with a two-person crew in the street,
you look forward to using all the trucks and toys on a feature.
You can learn a lot from both formats and each can help strengthen
the other.

JOEY FORSYTE

Like her pal, Lisa Rinzler, with whom Forsyte
attended NYU, this Chicago native has been quietly busting down
doors for more than two decades. Since her early days working
as renegade director Robert Altman’s "best boy," to
her most recent low-budget indie feature, Preston Tylk, [see "Coming
Attractions," pg. 28­ed.] Forsyte’s work is marked by a
warm, personal touch, reflective of the woman herself. A lifelong
backer of female camera crews (Forsyte has had women in her department
for much of her career), she is long overdue for a breakout indie
feature, much like Rinzler had this year on Three Seasons.

MM: You didn’t waste time with any rookie
direc­tors on your first film. You jumped right in. with a guy
who’d been a protégé of Orson Welles.

Joey Forsyte (JF): Yes, it was a
real Hollywood story. I have a wonderful friend named Rosilyn Heller,
who was probably the first female studio exec in Hollywood. We
were having dinner in New York one night, and Rosilyn saw Henry
Jaglom eating across the room. She literally dragged me over to
Henry’s table and insisted that he hire me for his next film. Henry
had always wanted to work with a female DP, so I lucked out.

MM: Was it was anything like what you
expected?

JF: Well, it was a fascinating experience
for me. There was no script. Every scene was improvised, as was
the camerawork.You had no idea what you were shooting until five
minutes before you rolled. It’s not my best­looking movie, but
I did pretty well considering it was a six-day shoot!

MM: Tell me about The Dark Backward.
It’s one of your most stylistically unique films.

JF: One of the things that’s so
difficult about being a DP is finding words to describe issues/35/images.
That film was difficult to articulate a vision for, because it
was such a unique script. Adam Pifkin, the director, couldn’t verbalize
what the movie should look like, so, he showed me the film 1984.
Even though The Dark Backward doesn’t look like that film,
it helped me to define the look. We called it poetic depression.
Its a film that is beautifully ugly. When we finished, Adam told
me it was exactly the way he had imagined it. That’s the best compliment
you can get.

MM: Tell me about the film that
Martin Scorsese executive produced.

JF: Naked in New York. I’d done a student
film with the director, Dan Algrant [see Algrant interview; MM
# 5-ed.] years before. Scorsese was never on the set, but he talked
with Dan every night and his devotion to the film was amazing.
As a DP, I really identified with his passion. For me, film helps
me connect with something larger than myself. Much the way religion
can for some people. That’s why I find a guy like Scorsese so impressive.

MM: You crossed paths with him again
on the BBC TV series,
Naked Hollywood, right?

JF: Yes, I did. I will never forget his interview.
Most of the other people we’d been shooting were agents, and they
were really into the business of filmmaking. Scorsese walks in
and proceeds to bring my entire crew to tears.

MM: Tears? How so?

JF: He was talking about The Last Temptation
of Christ
and how it had fallen apart several times. He said
that it was a blessing that it took so long to get going. It
gave him time to see where the film was coming from-the Italian
neo-realists-and to clarify his own connection to the film, which
was his religious background. I think filmmakers (like Scorsese)
who came out of the ’70s really believed movies could make a
difference. His words touched me.

MM: I’m curious about another mentor
in your life, your father. He’s an engineer by trade, but does
art photography on the side?

JF: My dad is a tinkering-genius-type guy.
And I’ve followed him down that path. He actually did photography
on the weekends to help support us. I was in the darkroom with
him since I was a kid. That was magic for me. Being with my father,
seeing these issues/35/images, is really where it all started. But, to answer
your question, my dad just had his very first gallery show this
year. At the age of 78! He got great reviews, too, by the way!

MM: Speaking of youthful, my lead
for this article talks about the gender-bias against female DPs
winding down. Do you think the next generation will have it easier
than the women on this list?

JF: You know, nine years ago I had a female
studio executive tell me I was crazy to pursue a career in camera.
They were simply not hiring women in that area. Period. It was
sobering because 12 years earlier, when I had entered film school,
I was told flat to my face that I would never shoot a movie. But
here I am, having just finished my 17th feature. I still don’t
get a lot of calls for studio movies. And honestly, if I were a
man, that area of my career might be a lot further along. But from
my perspective, the independent world is very open to women. I
don’t feel that I’m denied work because I’m a woman. At the same
time, I don’t really know for sure.

MM: It’s better in some ways, unchanged
in others?

JF: Listen, gender bias won’t be over until
the percentage of women shooting compared to men is much, much
closer than it is. I think if things have gotten better in recent
years, it’s because of women like Ellen Kuras. Ellen’s shot big-budget
movies which are standing alone, on their own merits. We haven’t
had someone like Ellen to point to for a long time. But now we
do.

MM: So we’re at the beginning of the end?

JF: Yes. There’s a whole new generation of
film­makers in the business-directors, producers, other DP’s-who
were raised with working mothers and, to them, gender’s not a big
deal. I don’t mean to downplay it, because the number of women
shooting films is not where it should be. In the past, the fear
of gender bias has kept some women from pursuing careers as DPs,
and there just aren’t enough of us. But we’re at the beginning
of the change.

MM: You’re close to the next generation.
A lot of them have worked on your movies as ACs. What’s your
sense-hope or fear?

JF: Equal measures of both. Although there
are more women working in camera than ever before, some of them
are discouraged about becoming DPs. I try to motivate these young
women to use the hurdles, real and imagined, as fuel for their
fire. You can change a lot of people’s perceptions in this business
and still have fun at the same time.

ELLEN KURAS, ASC

It’s really stupid to compare male and female
DPs. But, we’re going to do it anyway: Ellen Kuras is the Vittorio
Storaro of her gender. From her early work with New York downtown
icons Jim Jarmusch and Jill Godmillow, to her ground-breaking
indie masterpiece, Swoon, Kuras has shown an affinity for breaking
rules. Her ability to mingle documentary-like footage and narrative
marks an artist not content to sit back and make pretty pictures.
With this year’s landmark Summer of Sam, Kuras has moved
into a higher budget range without sacrificing a foot-candle
of creativity. Hmmm, didn’t that Italian DP move from quiet,
little, black-and-white films to big­time color epics on The
Conformist
?

MM: You probably have the most extensive
academic background of any DP on this list. Tell me about that.

Ellen Kuras (EK): I originally went to Brown
University to become an Egyptologist.

MM: Why?

EK: (laughs) Because I was interested in anthropology
and small-scale societies. Unfortunately, the professor who ran
the Egyptology department at Brown went on sabbatical, and I decided
I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a library anyway.
Around that same time I took a class at RISD (Rhode Island School
of Design) in photography. It changed my whole life.

MM: In what way?

EK: I became fascinated with the photographic
image and how it was used as propaganda to manipulate and persuade
the viewer, which is exactly what we do in film. I went to France
for a year to study the theoretical aspects of film. It was a lot
of seminars and we’d talk about decon­structing the image-color,
perception, movement, and how and why a person identifies with
an image.

MM: Sounds pretty intellectualized.

EK: It was. And, I was yearning to just go
out and start taking pictures. I went back to Brown and got a double
major in semiotics and anthropology. I got into ethnographic film
and documentaries. I’d go to the Margaret Mead film festivals where
there were 15 people in the audience, including the filmmakers!
Indie film was a whole lot different back then. What was interesting
about all this was that I had no clear career path. I just had
ideas and curiosity-pho­tography, anthropology, semiotics, etc.
Becoming a DP was a culmination of all my studies and interests,
but it was more like an accidental path to get there.

MM:  I love that term- ‘accidental
career.’ Filmmakers today are all about scoring a big career.
Making a name is everything.

EK: Well, my influences were mainly Super
8 experimental filmmakers Yvonne Rainer, Jonas Mekas, Michael Snow.
It’s a more personal kind of film­making, which explores conceptual
and artistic concerns, I think.

Summer of Sam (1999)

MM: Swoon was an art film. Yet it
created a reputation for your work within the mainstream film
industry which is still talked about today.

EK: Yes, that’s true. Some executives still
refer to me as that woman who shot Swoon! Of course, the
irony of Swoon is how little money we had to work with.
To get an overhead shot we had to build a mountain of apple boxes
with a high-hat. But, when I got up there, I couldn’t operate without
an extended viewfinder. Of course, we couldn’t afford that because
we were using my personal camera package, which only had two lenses!

MM: My guess is you had a bit more
cash on Spike’s film,
Summer of Sam?

EK: Of course, but that film was not without
its challenges. Spike likes seamless, fluid editing-it’s all about
the actors’ performance. The way he achieves that is by running
multiple cameras which are practi­cally looking at each other.

MM: For every shot?

EK: Just about. I had to be very careful with
where I put my instruments. Spike’s style is very clever because
it doesn’t force the actors into endless coverage. But if you’re
the DP, it can be tough. Remember, there were no sets on that film.
Everything was location. And some very small locations, I should
add.

MM: I have to ask you about
being a role model. You’ve managed to obliterate the gender question
and get props for the work alone.

EK: Well, I’m aware of how fortunate I’ve
been and I take that responsibility very seriously. I had very
few women role models when I came up. Also, for me, it’s not always
gender specific. Guys call me for advice, too. I think the frustra­tion
women have felt comes out when a bunch of us get together. We laugh
about the inevitable stuff that happens on a set and the perceptions
people have about female DP’s.

MM: So what kind of stuff happens?

EK: (laughs) I’ll have to get back to you
on that! MM

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