James Chressanthis has worked on numerous projects over the last several years as a cinematographer, including “The Watsons Go To Birmingham,” “The Makeover,” “The Music Man,” “Life With Judy Garland,” “Ghost Whisperer,” and “Hide.” His latest, “Cesar’s Last Fast,” directed by Richard Ray Perez & Lorena Parlee, is a documentary chronicling Cesar Chavez’s 36-day water-only fast in 1988. It is screening at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Which cameras and lens did you use? Betacam, Panavision Genesis, Canon C300 & 5D, Arri Alexa and Canon C300 with Super 8mm, Arri 416 and Panavision Genesis, Arri Super16 SR3, 35mm Panavision.
What was the most difficult shot in your movie and how did you pull it off? It was being unobtrusive and capturing the private moments, and the tremendous
sacrifice of Cesar Chavez. His breaking of his fast with Ethel Kennedy
was the most difficult moment: feeling the tremendous outpouring of
emotions while clearly rendering the event.
Who is your favorite cinematographer and why? Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC. For all the reasons you can think of.
What’s the best film school for an aspiring cinematographer? American Film Institute.
Do you think the shift from digital is good or bad? It’s different. I hope film retains a niche so our palette is not
limited. Ironically, as digital cameras improve, we follow more and more
the film-based working methods on set.
What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? Make great films from your heart with the very best cinematography you can bring to bear, and don’t worry about awards or money.
What’s the best career advice you’ve received? Vilmos Zsigmond told me, “Jim, nice guys finish first and when you are successful promise me that you will help the next person.”
And the worst advice? When someone says “it will be good enough.”
Editor’s Note: The “How I Shot That” series is part of the Indiewire and Canon U.S.A. partnership
at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where we celebrated
cinematography and photographed Sundance talent at Canon Craft Services on Main Street.