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by Taylor Lindsay
January 22, 2014 10:33 AM
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How I Shot That: Going Hand-Held in Sundance Drama 'Low Down'

Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt's work shows up in a lot of recent projects, including "The Bling Ring," "Night Moves," "Meets Cutoff" and "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby." "Low Down" is Jeff Preiss' Sundance 2014 American drama (starring Elle Fanning) about jazz pianist Joe Albany and his daughter's tumultuous life in his world.

Which camera and lens did you use? Arri 416 Super 16mm, Hawk V-Lite Super 16mm Anamorphic lenses.

What was the most difficult shot on your movie, and how did you pull it off? We shot the whole movie hand-held and would try and choreograph the scenes with as few cuts as possible. We were taking Elle and Peter Dinklage down into "Alain's" (Peter's character) very makeshift basement. It became really hard to maintain a good composition without hitting the lights hanging from the ceiling or tripping over the steps and small openings. It's upsetting to blow a take while the performances right in front of you are so great. During these times, I turn to my crew and together, we figure out how to make it work.

So ultimately, with my key grip grabbing my foot over a step and my gaffer and 1st AC holding lamps while we went through it, we succeeded. It's a rewarding feeling to get things done as a team. I can't thank these friends enough for the accomplishments we've made together.

What's the best film school for an aspiring cinematographer? I personally did not go to film school, so I couldn't say which one is best. I will say that growing up on film sets and slowly moving up the ranks made me jealous of the kids that got to go to film school. I think it's a good place to get a well rounded theoretical understanding of techniques and artistic approaches to filmmaking. My particular path took me through the practicality of making films and learning more in-depth theory and appreciation of cinema from my mentors.

Do you think the shift from digital is good or bad? I think there are pros and cons to both film and digital these days, but the bottom line for me is to create an aesthetic that is tailor-made for each individual script and story.

I'm actually excited to see what great cinematographers are doing with the latest technology, and the abundance of recipes that give us more and more options to make our projects unique, whether it's film or digital. I like to do tons of tests and play with the options until we all say "that's the look" and go from there.

Who is your favorite cinematographer, and why? Can I just give you a small list? Conrad Hall, Gordon Willis, and Harris Savides will live as legends in my eyes forever. I respect and appreciate the choices they've made to create amazing bodies of work. I look up to them for inventing new aesthetics for every film and taking risks to help tell their stories. In recent years, I also admire Chivo and Hoyta Van Hoytema. These guys have a touch for creating looks that give their films so much depth and texture while maintaining a subtle hand on the images.

What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? I don't feel like I'm really in a position to give anyone advice, but my favorite advice has always been to take the projects you really feel in your heart, work hard, and be nice to people.

What's the best career advice you've received? "Don't let the technical S*@# get in your way." -- Chris Doyle

And the worst advice? "Don't let the technical S*@# get in your way." -- Chris Doyle


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.


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1 Comment

  • milt pietz | January 22, 2014 6:22 PMReply

    for what it's worth, the answers from chris. reminded me of myself, we did it the hard way, the old school of hard work and hard knocks: work hard and use some common sense. to date I have only seen one of his movies, but he will do well----good for you chris., and good luck.