On Being Different
Whenever I DP a film, I try to bring something different
to the table that separates it from my previous work. Why do the
same thing twice? Sometimes it is drastic (The Blair Witch Project)
and sometimes it is subtle (Dreamers). For me, the choices
are based on the story of each particular film and the director’s
On Independent Film
My definition of a real independent film is one primarily
financed by the moviemaker with no distribution in place. The origins
of The Blair Witch Project fit into this definition perfectly.
Once the film was accepted to Sundance, those lines become very
blurred. Many people want to use The Blair Witch Project as
a model to how they can make a film, but I don’t think that is possible.
I also don’t think that’s a very smart decision. Every film is different
and follows its own path. No two films have the same life cycle.
On Film vs. Digital
For me as a cinematographer, I think there are more
exciting things happening today with film stocks and film cameras.
For me, video is a great learning tool, but not my favorite medium
for storytelling. With video you are essentially stuck with one
look. Kodak and Fuji now both have faster speed film stocks that
allow you to shoot under almost any lighting conditions and still
capture the superior resolution of film. And Aaton has introduced
a Super 16mm camera called an A-Minima that is the size of a mini-DV
camera. Film allows me to utilize the craft of cinematography.
On the Lifespan of Film
You can learn the basics of lighting and composition
from video but I would advise aspiring cinematographers to start
shooting film as soon as possible. Film is going to be around for
a very long time.
On the Director-Cinematographer Collaboration
Seek out directors who care about the look of a film
and who aspire to the same goals you have. I believe the director/DP
relationship is the foundation of any film.
On the Importance of People Skills
Work just as hard on your people skills as your technical
skills. As the DP you are not only responsible for the look of the
picture, you are also in constant communication with almost every
member of the crew. I get along well with people and I am sure that
characteristic helps me get jobs.
On the Philosophy of Lighting
My philosophy on how to light a particular scene first
comes from the screenplay. What is the director trying to say with
this scene? What kind on emotional sense is the director trying
to convey to the audience?
On Preference for Independents
Directors with original visions who want to tell personal
stories keep me in independent filmmaking-along with the fact that
I am usually allowed the creative freedom to experiment visually
as a Director of Photography.
For more information on Neal’s work,
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