Cinematographer Zachary Galler talked with us about shooting Mona Fastvold's debut drama "The Sleepwalker," which is screening at Sundance 2014. The film follows the relationship between two sisters when one suddenly appears in the others home with her fiancé. Galler has also worked on "She's Lost Control," which will premiere at Berlin later this year, as well as the horror film "The Confines."
What camera and lens did you use? We shot on the ARRI Alexa with Cooke 5/i lenses.
What was the most difficult shot on your movie, and how did you pull it off? We had some big night exteriors that I wasn't 100 percent sure
about how to light, and at lunch that day, I made a joke to our key grip
Bert Montanari about building a 12x12 booklight on a scissor lift
(which, for many reasons, was a completely ridiculous idea). We went back
to shooting inside and I forgot about our conversation. When we went
outside to start setting up, and figuring out how we would light the
scene, there it was. A marvel of grip engineering. It worked
beautifully, and enabled us to shoot wider, faster, and get more angles
than I had anticipated.
What's the best film school for an aspiring cinematographer? I dropped out of film school and started on the back of a lighting truck. I think everybody learns differently and there are no right or wrong ways to do anything. It does seem that some film schools are much more technical than others, and there are some awesome DPs coming out of all sorts of different places. For me, on set experience was the only way that I could have learned.
Do you think the shift from digital is good or bad? It's all just tools in a toolbox, certain ones are better for certain things. Lots of people have a lot to say about this subject and I am not one of them.
What's the best career advice you've received? I don't know if this counts as advice, because I did not receive it directly, but read it in an interview with the great cinematographer Darius Khondji: "...really understand your motivations, why you do something and not something else, and the direction you take in your work..." The quote may be slightly off and out of context, but that's one I've been thinking about a lot lately.
And the worst advice? I think it's bad in cinematography when anyone tells you that there is a right or a wrong way, or a formula to do a particular thing. There are definitely little tricks and shortcuts to getting to a certain place, but for most instances, there are a million different ways to get to where you want to be with an image.
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.