Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo spoke to Indiewire about shooting "Rich Hill," a U.S. Documentary entry at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival which he directed with Tracy Droz Tragos. The film goes through the lives of three kids growing up in Rich Hill, as they cope with the transitioning period between childhood and adolescence. Previous films Droz Palermo shot include "A Teacher," "You're Next," "V/H/S," "Black Metal" and "The Gathering Squall."
Which camera and lens did you use? I used a Red Scarlet with Canon zoom lenses.
What was the most difficult shot in your movie, and how did you pull it off? Rich Hill was a one-camera documentary and as a result, it was sometimes hard to be in the right place at the right time. Documentary cinematography requires intense focus and you have to be editing in your head to make sure you have all the pieces to make a good scene out of what just happened. But when you get a golden moment, and know you covered it properly, it's a wonderful feeling.
Who is your favorite cinematographer, and why? Roger Deakins' shot economy is really quite stunning. I absolutely love Emmanuel Lubezki's work with Terrence Malick. I'm also a big fan of younger DPs Autumn Durald and Bradford Young.
What's the best film school for an aspiring cinematographer? I didn't attend film school, so of course I feel like it isn't totally required. I studied graphic design and fine art. But I've always learned best on my own. Devouring films, literature, art and architecture is an absolute must. You have to have a strong foundation to work with.
Do you think the shift from digital is good or bad? I welcome it. Film is beautiful, and to this point, still unsurpassed. But I don't wanna be some old guy holding on to what was. It's important to learn, change and adapt. We shot over 450 hours of footage on "Rich Hill." With film this would have been tremendously expensive.
What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? Be prepared for the unexpected, particularly in documentary. Things will never go as you planned, and that's fine. Something is going to happen that is way better than you imagined because it's real life and raw. Just be on your toes and ready.
What's the best career advice you received? Don't quit your day job too soon. It's important to make sure you pick your projects and that you aren't getting in over your head financially with equipment. I waited tables in between films I was directing or shooting. I'd totally consider getting a job like that again before I took a script I hated just for money. Bad work sticks with you forever.
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.