Please Forget Me

I attended a holiday party at my day job not that long ago and one of the people attending was someone we interviewed. I say we, but I actually didn’t do the interviewing, my colleague did. I operated the camera.

licata_at_workAt this party I found myself beside the interviewee and we began chatting. It was clear she didn’t remember me as the person who hooked a lav on her, beamed hot lights on her.

I wasn’t offended by this at all. In fact, I took pride in not  being remembered. And here’s why —

I make no secret of the fact that I once had the privilege of shooting an interview with David Hockney for Roland Tec’s documentary, Thunder Every Day. Hockney was an important artist in my development; he was the first modern artist I really got and that opened a big intellectual, emotional, and artistic door. Yep, one door, those three things.

I was nervous as I set up, everyone in the room was nervous. Hockney entered the room and was spectacularly charming. He talked and smoked non-stop, was outrageous and cracked joke after joke. Early on in the interview after one of his quips I looked up from the monitor, smiled, and tried to suppress a laugh, and of course being the hyper observant artist he is, Hockney noticed that and he started playing to me in addition to Roland, who was doing the interviewing. And that’s not good. His eyes needed to be on the interviewer, not drifting over to me from time to time to see me cracking up. Me being the somewhat observant filmmaker that I am, noticed that and kept my head down and stared at the monitor for the rest of the interview. Hockney couldn’t see my face any longer and had to focus exclusively on Roland.

I think the results are better, when I as a cinematographer (and sound man, I do both at my day job) am unobtrusive and, frankly, boring. It’s not my job to entertain or engage the interviewees. I’m there to support the interviewer and make the interviewee comfortable. And capture decent images and sound.

So, you see, sometimes I don’t want to be remembered at all.

See also: The Tango Guy for a different take on being remembered.

How to Shoot an Interview, Father Roderick Style

A Life's Work by David Licata

As I was writing the How to Conduct an Interview posts (pt. 1 &  pt. 2), someone posted a link on a documentary listserv I belong to, a link with tips on how to shoot an interview.

The tips are from Father Roderick, a Dutch Catholic priest with an interest in media new and old. Father Roderick is a blogger and podcaster and not that familiar with digital video. What inspired him to write his how-to was a trip to Rome where he was interviewing some folks in front of a camera. So his post is really from the point of view of a novice. And that’s fine. Seasoned cinematographer’s won’t find anything of use in it, but if you’re picking up a camera and interviewing someone for the first time, or if you’re doing some kind of  project and want it to look “professional,” you might find some useful information here.

One of his tips brought a smile to my face.

Always look for depth in the image you are filming. Never place someone in front of a wall. Look for perspective. You want your images to have as much depth as possible.

Yes, this is what they tell you to do. But I happen to love the choice we (Wolfgang Held and I) made for the first on-camera interview with Paolo Soleri for A Life’s Work.

Paolo Soleri in A Life's Work

I love the background, the texture of the concrete, and the colors, all those browns and then Soleri’s white hair. I love that he seems to blend in with his structure, as if he and his building material of choice are inseparable. I couldn’t have planned a better looking shot.

And honestly, we didn’t. We wanted to shoot outside but many locations were too noisy or too trafficked. We settled for a bench near the amphitheater. We didn’t have much time and I had to make a quick  decision. If I had the time to think about it and if we had other options, I would have nixed this spot. All of the reasons I love the shot would have been the reasons not to shoot there, including the lack of depth of field.

But I doubt those other options would have said as much as Soleri against that background — “in front of a wall” — does.

I guess the moral of this post is all how-tos and tips are guidelines. Learn them, employ them, but don’t be afraid to deviate from them.

So endeth today’s reading.

Hello? Anyone out there want to share their “how to shoot an interview” tips?


On-Camera Interview with Jeff Stein in the Can

One of the reasons I keep blogging is it seems to lead A Life’s Work down roads it might not otherwise go down.

Case in point: Jeff Stein, AIA

In the summer of 2012 I had the idea of conducting an email interview with Jeff Stein, Paolo Soleri’s successor as President of the Cosanti Foundation, the umbrella organization that includes Arcosanti. I approached the kind folks at Arcosanti to see if Jeff would be amenable. He was.

I sent him my six questions and I promptly received six very thoughtful answers. (Read the mini interview.) During our email exchanges, the notion of an on-camera interview arose.

“Production is over!”

I’ve declared many times here and elsewhere. And yet…

When it became known that Jeff was coming to the Northeast, I had to take advantage of the opportunity. We struggled to find a date that worked for both of us. During that time, I had a sense that the interview might be a very important piece of the A Life’s Work puzzle. Stein was something like an heir. In a film about legacy, heirs can be very important.

After a little searching, we found a place to conduct the interview.

Meeting Jeff Stein

The night before and the morning of the 20th I was a little nervous  because I always am, but once Jeff arrived, whatever jitters I had disappeared. He came bearing gifts, including a book, which I had him sign immediately, along with the release. And within minutes, we got to work. Cinematographer Andy Bowley worked his magic while Jeff and I chatted for three hours about his work, Arcosanti, and Paolo Soleri.

I figured the interview wouldn’t go longer than two hours, because anything more than that and I get tired and the interviewee become tired. Focus is lost. But this interview went on for something like three and a half hours and it was all good. Jeff was articulate, thorough, funny and charming. Best of all the camera captured his enthusiasm for his work at Arcosanti.

That Was Easy!

It turned out to be probably the easiest interview I’ve ever done. The reasons for this?

  • I didn’t have to hop in a cab to JFK, go through security, sit on a plane for hours, drive a rental car somewhere. I took the subway to the location for a godsend 11 a.m. call time. Not even a transfer. When I was done I walked a couple of miles and was in my apartment.
  • I would ask Jeff one question and he would answer it and the next four questions on my list. The interview was more like a conversation. This makes my job very easy.
  • Jeff is very personable and open. He looked very comfortable under the lights and in front of the camera. If he was uncomfortable, he didn’t show it.
  • The supersecret shooting location was very  quiet. There was a small break while we waited for some street noise to abate, but otherwise, it was as quiet as you can get in NYC.
  • Andy shoots with all his own equipment and doesn’t let me touch his lights, stands, camera, or any gear. This means I don’t  lug anything or  set up or break down anything! Sweet!

Afterwards, Jeff, Andy, and I went out for an early dinner at a cozy Korean restaurant where we talked about the David Wright house, motorcycles, and Julius Shulman. It was a very good day.

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Believe? No. Know!

I saw Ridley Scott’s Prometheus the other day and in it there’s some talk of “belief.” What does scientist Shaw, the Noomi Rapace character, believe and what does she know? It reminded me of  an exchange I had with Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute at the Hat Creek Observatory, home to the Allen Telescope Array.

In the audio below, you’ll hear me stumbling to find my question. Thankfully, Tarter knew what I was getting at and rescued me from embarrassing myself completely.

With apologies to The X-Files.




Ask the Filmmaker: Turning the Tables

Dear Filmmaker,

Actually, this question didn’t start that way.

When I first sit down to interview someone for A Life’s Work,  I have a few things I mention before I ask the first question. One of those things is, “If you have a question for me, please ask it.”

When we spoke with David Milarch in his home in Copemish, MI, he took me up on that.