Interview with cinematographer Daria Balanovskaya

Daria started her career in cinema in her early childhood: she would star and help out taking up different tasks on set in the most luscious locations: she grew up in Crimea. One time her mother took her along to one of the projects she worked for and Daria saw her first camerawoman, who was no less than filming in trenches with a 35mm camera. Knowing that she would definitely be in the film industry, Daria decided to become a DOP. And if she wasn’t a DOP, she would become a professional dancer. It could be precisely due to her good coordination, that she was once able to shoot sans tripod during a storm on a boat without safety. She promises never to do it again. Like many other cinematographers, she can’t pinpoint one favourite film, but in her own words she feels a certain numbness when she watches Tarkovsky’s «Nostalgia» or any film by Philippe Grandrieux. Daria sees advertising as quintessence where one must translate a big idea within a short period of time and find a special language to do so. Her dream is to live honestly as poets write and to work as hard as Van Gogh did.

Daria was born in Yalta in 1993. She took up painting and fine arts as a kid. When she was free of her studies, she would spend her time working on sets of feature films. She decided to become a DOP at age 14 and took up photography; at age 16 she became a member of the photography department at Minor Academy of Sciences in Crimea. After the school she enrolled at VGiK to study cinematography under Mikhail Agranovich. Her graduation film received the Vadim Yusov special prize of the Russian Guild of Cinematographers for Best Cinematography. Daria shoots music videos and special projects in collaboration with the independent musician Manizha. She filmed projects and global videos for the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. She is also successful in the field of fashion video, working with Vogue, GQ, Esquire. She shot a short fashion film for the Russian designer Asia Bareeva, which took part in the BE IN OPEN films festival in Moscow. Daria worked with such brands as Puma, Dove, Acuvue, NYX, LG, Estee Lauder, M-Video, Rosatom, Alfa Bank, etc.

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

I think first of all it’s a strong desire to shoot and tell stories. Followed by inner calmness, strong ability to concentrate and a lot of adventurism.

  • In terms of cinematographers, who do you like?

Roger Dickens has always been and still is my great inspirer. He has a very clear and structured vision, I’m always learning from him. Also recently I started to re-discover Emmanuel Lubezki, I am very impressed with his early works with Alfonso Cuarón.

  • What makes good cinematography?

The first and most important thing is the dialogue between you and the director. You should be completely synchronized and also complement each other, while immersing together in the atmosphere of the story you are telling. And pre-production is also very important. I always try to visualize the film on the storyboard phase, imagine the light, composition and camera movement. After that you can improvise on set.

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

I’ve always chosen Alexa Mini among digital cameras because I like its color, weight and built-in ND filters. But when it comes to film, I like to try different options. I also want to make a project with Alexa Mini LF, I was struck by the clarity of the image in «1917», dir. Sam Mendes.

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

It’s quite hard for me to compare, because my career started in the digital era. But what I know from elder professionals is that people on set are now less focused. But shooting opportunities and production accessibility have grown significantly. And now we have two different ways to shoot, both have their own limitations and possibilities. I think it’s beautiful how the industry evolves in digital technology and retains film process.

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

Only two criteria are important in this matter — color reproduction and screen size. So at the stage of color grading we check the image on different devices and monitors to see how the color looks.

  • Which one is more important: light or shadow?

Now it’s very hip to say that shadow is more important than light. But we still have both. I like to observe how light works in nature –  to study how it reflects from different surfaces and behaves in all possible conditions – in different humidity, smoke, air temperature.

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

Probably, you take a break only at the stage of editing, but I don’t do that, since I often edit myself or participate in editing. I guess, you can call it a hobby of mine.  I’m that type of person who likes to go through every detail in pre-production, though I often do it in the old-fashioned way – by hand sketches. I always strive to have everything figured out with the team on pre-prod, so that on set you can works as an orchestra, where everyone is involved and knows their part well. It’s important for me to establish  main concepts of how the entire visual will be built with the director at pre-pro. And it’s important to keep the final result in mind on set – but at the same time to listen to reality, because it always finds a way to show itself. At post-production the cinematographer is responsible for the final result and it’s important to control the image quality and achieve the desired color.

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

I think it depends on a specific project and your personal capabilities. For me it seems really cool when you can invest in creative projects that you believe in.

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

I’m still seeking for great advice myself and still learning. But if you ask me I think the greatest gift is to be and stay true to what you do. In image most of all I value sincerity.