What’s next? Cinematography

In our series of interviews, Perspective Pictures have spoken to a number of budding creatives in the film industry. Just at the start of their career journey, these creatives reveal how they plan to get their foot in the door, juggling their art with everyday life. It’s a well known fact, that like almost all areas of the arts, the film industry is a tough one to really establish yourself in, but with grit, talent, and determination you’ll find your way somehow.

This week we speak to Michael, a 27-year-old cinematographer from London. Starting off a little later than most, Michael is entirely self-taught and over the past year has seen his career dream take a positive direction. “I’ve always loved photography and film equally”, he says, “But it wasn’t until I was about 22 that I had this idea about becoming a cinematographer. I felt so lost during my teens, it felt like everyone knew where they wanted to be in life and me, well, I was just this jack of all trades, master of none, sure I sort of knew I wanted to do something creative, but didn’t know what. So, by the time I’d reached my early 20’s I was getting so desperate and frustrated.”

Michael’s story speaks to many, especially to those of a creative mind. How many of you out there felt like a rabbit caught in the headlights during your late teens? With so many options open and so few ideas of what you wanted to do in life. Michael reveals that it was his skill as a photographer that would lead him to taking up cinematography.

“Like I say, photography and film were always my biggest passions. I started to read up about cinematography, how you could make a career of it and be creative etc. I’d been fascinated by photography since I was 8-years-old and was always taking photos, whether of family, friends, nature, cities, you name it! Once I’d got to grips with photography in its relation to cinema I was all set!”

After doing his research, the cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who worked on such films as ‘The Long Goodbye’ (1973) ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978) and ‘The Black Dahlia’ (2006), became an obsession for Michael. “Zsigmond is the king for me” he explains “I began to search for every interview he’d done and really try to understand how he viewed cinematography in relation to the overall effect of a film. It was reading one of his interviews that made me understand how good lighting is best for film, rather than natural light.”

The interview Michael is referring to is featured in Filmmaker Magazine, in which Zsigmond said: “You have to analyze the classics, the good movies. They all needed lighting because it’s like painting. What is good about the painting, you can do a picture in three hours, or you can do the same painting in 30 hours or 30 days, or 30 years. The more time you spend on it, the better probably it gets. In film it’s very important that everything has to be right.”

Getting advice wherever he could and learning via YouTube tutorials and short online courses, Michael began working student and short films across London, to help build his portfolio. “That was a brilliant learning curve, as I really got stuck into it, there would be some weeks where almost everyday I’d be working on a different project. It took me two years to feel confident enough to ask for money for what I was doing. In between working on these films I was doing gardening and other odd jobs to pay the bills.”

Michael’s dedication in understanding the finer points of cinematography and furthering his portfolio paid off, as in the past year he’s worked on several paid projects: “I was always worried at the beginning, because I hadn’t studied this at university I wouldn’t get anywhere, but it turns out that production companies etc actually appreciate more what you can offer, not if you have a degree. I would never say to anyone don’t bother going to university, but I would say don’t worry too much about it, because it’s your work that’s most important. You could spend years and countless amounts of money studying for something, but if you don’t have the right vision, the right amount of creativity you won’t go very far.”