Interview with cinematographer Aleksei Vanamois

  • What personality or character traits are necessary to excel in being a cinematographer/DP?

We call it the ‘eye’, a very strong sense of vision. The ability to pick out and see what’s wrong with the picture, an eye for detail. Having a very high special acuity, like myself, the ability to picture what the shot will
look like from the pages of a script, or from the other side of the the room, under the couch, next to the twitching insect on the floor.

  • In terms of cinematographers, who do you like?

Claudio Miranda ASC, a wonderful body of work that demonstrates immense technical knowledge and shot craft.

  • What makes good cinematography?

Good Lighting, great lenses! There’s so much texture and nuance that gets lost with ordinary glass.

  • What makes a good camera? And what has been your favorite camera to use?

I have recently tested the ARRI Alexa 35, the images are impressive. The new sensor is capable of 2.5+ more stops in dynamic range over the previous generation, and with a larger color gamut we are about to see
what true HDR can do. ARRI have built a camera that’s simple to use, and tough enough to withstand the rigors of just about any environment on the planet.

  • Do you think that cinematographer’s work has changed when movies went from film to digital?

Digital cinematography has completely revolutionized movie making. We no longer need to measure and set the cameras to specific settings and hope we were close enough for the film come out in the wash, the
developing bath. Film had to be treated with respect, it was expensive and unforgiving if it was handled poorly. Bad developing chemicals, x-rays, light leaks, scratches in the film gate or magazine, grain, jitter, FOCUS, and so on. All of these potential issues would give a cinematographer a sleepless night until the rushes came back for review. Sometimes everything was lost and projects would need to be reshot to the despair of all of the hard working talent and crew. Digital has allowed us to review the work live or on instant playback. Here, we can push the camera to it’s limits, push our lighting, execute complex camera movements, capture extraordinary performances, and have the reassurance that the magic has been realized forever.

  • Now that people watch films on TV, computers and even their phones, do you think about that end experience when you are shooting?

You always need to be mindful of the end result. We have more formats than ever to compose our framing and action. Sometimes we need to be able to block actors to perform in several aspects, leaving us
scratching our heads trying to work out if the frame will work in both 2.39 for cinema and 9×16 for Tik Tok. I do keep reminding people onset, that small monitor you’re using doesn’t really reflect what you would
experience on a 10m cinema screen. Does it have too much depth of field, are we too close to the actor, can I see the entire film set on the surface of a human eye ball, I’m not kidding, 6K & 8K images are

  • Which one is more important: light or shadow?

Yin and Yang (Light and Shadow), polar opposites yet they both complement each other equally!

  • What is the cinematographer’s involvement in pre-production, production and post-production?

They help realize the directors vision, keep the design and look consistent, and insulate the director from poorly considered suggestions!

  • What involvement in the production budget does the cinematographer/DP have?

The director has a desired number of shots. Here, the cinematographer will work out how to execute the shots within a certain budget, some may be more expensive, say, shooting with several cameras to capture a
stunt, or prioritizing certain pieces of equipment to produce a look that’s consistent with the script. Say, using rare vintage lenses on a period piece.

  • What is your most valuable advice for being a Cinematographer/DP?

Pick up a camera and shoot! The mistakes you make along the way will make you a better cinematographer.
Test, test, and test. Try out every piece of kit you can get your hands on. It will be too late if you discover issues on set that you can’t solve on the day.