Cinematographer Brett Pawlak told us about filming Kat Candler's "Hellion," in U.S. Dramatic Competition at 2014 Sundance. "Hellion" is a Texas-set drama about a teenage troublemaker and his relationship with his father (played by Aaron Paul), who has been absent following the death of the kid's mother. Pawlak's previous shooting credits include "H+ Digital Series," "Short Term 12" and "I am not a Hipster."
What camera and lens did you use? We shot with the Arri Alexa, on Kowa Anamorphic lenses.
What was the most difficult shot in your movie, and how did you pull it off? There was no one specific shot in "Hellion" that was difficult. The production as a whole was difficult, given the shorter amount of shooting time we got with mainly our young cast, which led to a breakneck schedule. The director, Kat Candler and I spent a lot of time discussing and designing the aesthetic that worked to most importantly tell the story, but also how to be efficient and economical without compromising the integrity of the movie.
Who is your favorite cinematographer, and why? I have a lot of favorite cinematographers, never really can land on calling one my favorite. But I gravitate towards cinematographers who have a versatile style and let the story and characters of each film depict what the aesthetics will be. It's what I strive for in myself. Lance Acord, Matthew Libatique and Rodrigo Prieto are a few.
What's the best film school for an aspiring cinematographer? The best film school to me, is any opportunity an aspiring cinematographer has to shoot ANYTHING. Cinematography is something that, in my opinion, is best learned by doing. It's a personal journey in finding your voice. Just as much as a writer must write many drafts, a cinematographer must do the same, Allow yourself to make mistakes, and learn from them. Film school can be a great springboard that allows you to work with other motivated aspiring people, and with equipment you might not otherwise have the chance to work with. Film school these days is definitely NOT a necessity by any means. I went to the Los Angeles Film School and I'm glad I did because it gave me that opportunity.
Do you think the shift from digital is good or bad? The shift from film to digital for me, just is. I've tried to never get too caught up in that battle, I just try to keep focus on what is best for the story I'm trying to tell. Whether it's film or digital, the aesthetics in storytelling is the same for me.
What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? Sundance is always a gamble, and I have been lucky enough to attend with 3 projects I have shot,"Short Term 12" (the short), "I am not a Hipster," and "Hellion." There is no real advice I have for cinematographers who want to get into Sundance. I personally just shot as much as I could to build a reel, and was lucky enough for one of the projects to get into the shorts program.
What's the best career advice you've received? I've never received any specific career advice, but in this business, one saying always sticks with me, which is "other peoples successes, are not your failures."
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.