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How I Shot That: Andrew Rossi on His Sundance Doc 'Ivory Tower'

Photo of Eric Eidelstein By Eric Eidelstein | Indiewire January 21, 2014 at 4:28PM

Before his latest documentary "Ivory Tower," Andrew Rossi's previously shot "Page One: Inside the New York Times," "Le Cirque: A Table In Heaven" and his first film "Eat This New York." "Ivory Tower" premiered in the U.S. Documentary section at Sundance.
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'Ivory Tower'

Cinematographer and director Andrew Rossi told us about filming "Ivory Tower," his U.S. Documentary entry at 2014 Sundance. "Ivory Tower" calls into question the worth of higher education in a time where education is becoming increasingly more expensive. Rossi previously shot "Page One: Inside the New York Times," "Le Cirque: A Table In Heaven" and his first film "Eat This New York."

Which camera and lens did you use? I used a Canon C-300; a Canon 5D Mark II with L Series 24-105mm, 24-70mm and with Zeiss 50mm and Zeiss 28mm as well.

What was the most difficult shot of your movie, and how did you pull it off? Shooting at the school Deep Springs, in the desert of Death Valley in California was most challenging. My fellow cinematographer Andrew Coffman and I were trying to get locked offed beauty shots, accurately exposed for the hot desert sun, while also staying nimble to move to over-the-shoulder verite shooting of the students working on the land and attending classes. The hardest shots were trying to remain stable in the back of pick up trucks and getting an aerial shot from the roof of a dorm without falling. Good communication and establishing a rhythm where we would switch off with subjects and settings is what made it possible (in addition to trying to maintain a center of gravity in our stomachs and knees so we were not thrown to our death).

Who's your favorite cinematographer, and why? Gordon Willis is my favorite because he expressed the vision of so many different auteurs and defined the era of 70's cinema just as much as the directors and writers who were part of that movement.

What's the best film school for an aspiring cinematographer? The best film school is the one in which you are out in the world shooting. Whether that opportunity comes from an institutionalized setting or a gig you found off Craigslist and Mandy.com or a fun project you are shooting with friends or family doesn't really matter, I think.

What's the best career advice you received? The best advice I've heard comes from a quote by the director Michelangelo Antonioni who said that it took him 10 years before he had any idea of what he was doing, and any success to match. You can't rush your career. You can only keep trying harder and harder and hope it all clicks at some point.

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.

This article is related to: Sundance, Ivory Tower, Documentary, How I Shot That, Andrew Rossi, Filmmaker Toolkit: Production