Cinematographer Alex Disenhof spoke to Indiewire about shooting "Fishing Without Nets," a U.S. Dramatic entry that premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and was directed by Cutter Hodierne. "Fishing Without Nets" chronicles the life of a Somali husband and father forced into piracy in order to provide for his family. Disenhof previously worked on "The We and the I," "Funeral Kings" and "Emoticon."
Which camera and lens did you use? We used the Red Epic and Red Scarlett cameras with Zeiss Super Speeds and Angenieux Optimo DP 16-42mm, and 30-80mm zooms.
What was the most difficult shot in your movie, and how did you pull it off? We had many difficult shots, as we often did ten minute long handheld takes looking 360 degrees. Possibly the most difficult of all was shooting handheld on a rickety wooden boat deep out at sea. I had to follow several 'pirates' as they grabbed their weapons and jumped overboard into small skiffs. We were almost 30 miles out in a very rough Indian Ocean, so it was extremely difficult to stay upright, especially with a camera on my shoulder. I was able to get all the angles I needed, bouncing off my gaffer and key grip as they pushed me one way and another to keep me on my feet as the boat swayed heavily from side to side. Additionally, my key grip had a body harness attached to me and tied me to the mast of the ship so that I wouldn't fall overboard! It was like shooting on a roller-coaster that never stopped!
Who is your favorite cinematographer, and why? I have so many! If I had to name one, recently, I've really enjoyed the work of Sean Bobbitt, BSC. His handheld camerawork and simple, straightforward approach to lighting is something I really admire. Every movie he does is an immersive, textured and energetic visual experience.
What's the best film school for an aspiring cinematographer? Working on set is the best film school! I went to Emerson College and thoroughly enjoyed my experience there, but the best way to learn cinematography is to shoot and watch other cinematographers shoot. Have an open mind, don't be afraid to admit you don't know something and always try something new.
Do you think the shift from digital is good or bad? I think the shift from film to digital isn't good or bad - it just is what it is, and it isn't going to stop. I'll use either when it is appropriate, and I enjoy shooting both for very different reasons. I think digital is a great tool, and should be treated as that - another tool in a filmmaker's tool belt.
What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? Seek out projects you believe in and find good collaborators. I wouldn't be at Sundance if it weren't for the people I worked with to make this project happen!
What's the best career advice you received? First and foremost: it's not a race. Enjoy the whole journey and be proud of yourself even when things aren't going your way. Not everybody has the courage to follow their dreams.
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.