Christina Ricci in Black Snake Moan
Christina Ricci stars in Craig Brewer’s Black Snake Moan. Photo: Paramount Vantage

Learn from others.
I was a camera loader, assistant and camera operator on crews with Bob Richardson, Bill Pope, John Lindley and Darius Wolski. All of them are master cinematographers. They were my mentors. I saw up close how they made decisions and dealt with the cast and crew. That was a big part of my education.

Be prepared.
Craig Brewer was extremely well prepared—and he expected the same from everybody else. He preferred limiting dialogue and song scenes to no more than two takes unless an actor or an actress asked to do something again. He said that artists don’t paint multiple canvases and decide which one they like best later; that stepped up everyone’s game. A lot of the energy you feel in this film comes from that.

Magic happens.
Craig rehearsed the actors in spaces that were the same dimensions as the sets where we were going to shoot. I watched how all of them reacted to each other and to the situations. Then I told the production designer where we needed wild walls, windows, doors and props on the sets to give us the flexibility we needed for lighting and camera movement. I anticipated where and how they were going to move, but I have learned that you always need to be ready to run and gun when they do unexpected things. Sometimes that’s when the magic happens.

You need a collaborative relationship with everyone.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that the camera operator is someone who just does what the cinematographer tells him or her to do. My operators are my second set of eyes. I ask for their opinions and always get honest and useful suggestions. On Black Snake Moan, Craig was usually next to the camera—in eye-to-eye contact with the actors instead of being in the video village. He would tell the assistant cameraman to subtly shift focus from Lazarus to Rae and then go back to Lazarus. He trusted them to get it right instead of watching it on a big monitor in the video village.

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