Interview with cinematographer Simon Denzler

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

People working as a cinematographer can have different helpful character traits, which specially defines their way of working – and their own work itself. There is no necessary but for myself I benefit from my calm nature, being able to communicate and express myself. My work always scares me but I try to keep my self-confidence, because a DP always act as a sort of a leader for the whole crew.

  • In terms of cinematographers, who do you like?

One of many cinematographers I admire is Robbie Ryan. The way he knows and uses natural light and how he moves the camera with the actors is just incredible, because it feels very real to me. He keeps cinematography at its basics, to tell and feel a story the way the director intended it.

  • What makes good cinematography?

Simplicity. Have a concept but don’t stick to it. Always ask for the sake of the story you want to tell. Trust yourself in what you are doing, knowing when to listen to other people and when not.

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

There is just the right or the wrong camera for a project. It depends of the story and the circumstances of the shooting. For me a camera has to be reliable. But there are a lot of criteria which leads to a certain camera in terms of the look of the film and the style of shooting, which also includes the budget. For feature films I prefer the ARRI Alexa because of its sensor quality and reliability.

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

Definitely. Today everyone is speaking of resolution, which is in my opinion only nonsense. Most of the time you don’t need to shoot in 4K. Digitally filmmaking takes away some control of the image from the DP, so you have to be even more aware of what you are doing. Otherwise today a lot more people have access to digital cameras on a budget, which should be seen as a chance and not as a pollution.

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

Yes of course, but I always frame for the big screen (it will work on computers too). The main thing to consider comes in terms of color grading. The TV screens at home always show your colors and contrast differently, so that it is nearly impossible to keep the look of your film. That’s why people should go to the cinema.

  • Which one is more important: light or shadow?

Where there is light, there will be shadow. For me, it is equally important. But I have a tendency to shadows. It’s more mysterious and especially today with all these digital sensors, a camera can capture a light in shadows where a human barely notice it.

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

First, the DP is the companion of the director. On the basis of the script, the cinematographer works as a translator of the written language to real images. The pre-production contains a lot of creative, organizational and technical work. Most important is to keep sure, that everyone is doing the same film. The production depends on your pre-production and should bring back your creative freedom on set. In terms of post-production, I like to make visits in the editing room and finish my work in the color grading.

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

Because I am still a student I have the great advantage having access to a very high standard of technical equipment. But outside from school, a DP does have a big involvement in the production budget. Normally the budget is small and the cameras and lights are expensive, so you always need a good reason, why to shoot on a certain camera or why you need a specific light for the project.

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

Be passionate. Take risks. Choose the good stories. If a director asks you for the second time to collaborate, you know you have done something right.