"Cinematography is kind of a hidden art, even though it's the most visible. It's mysterious," said film critic Eric Hynes in introducing Tribeca Talks Industry: Shooting the Film: An Exploration of Cinematography earlier this week. "You could attribute everything to cinematography...or nothing."
Hynes was gathered with a select group of cinematographers with films at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, including Nick Bentgen ("Ballet 422," "Teenage"), Zachary Heinzerling ("Cutie and the Boxer"), Luke Geissbühler ("Match," "Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary") and Ben Kutchins ("Lucky Them") to discuss and demystify the art of cinematography -- as well as the technical side. Relying on clips from each filmmaker's work, Hynes led a discussion that ranged from filmmakers' training to how they like to collaborate with directors.
Here are 4 highlights from the Masterclass:
1. So much of cinematography is about collaboration -- with the director, the actors and the crew.
"I love my job and each film is different and each director brings something different to the table and you don't know what they're going to need from you that day. I think of myself less as a technician and more as a filmmaker there to fulfill a certain need or a certain task." -- Ben Kutchins
"In my best relationships with directors, I stopped talking altogether, but there's a lot of communication going on through the monitor." -- Luke Geissbühler
2. You don't have to go to film school to become a cinematographer.
"I didn't go to film school. Cinematography was just learning how to make movies. I started out in documentary and it was much easier not having a film background to make a documentary." - Zachary Heinzerling
"I went to school and wasn't very good at writing papers or doing anything so I started skipping a lot of my classes to grip because I liked working with my hands so I learned about light. Then I tried to transition into shooting because that seemed like the logical next step. I was really bad at it and ended up ruining a lot of student's work. I'm sorry. Then I realized that maybe I needed to make a living so I started gripping and taking jobs for this web site called Pitchfork and worked with a couple of friends there who ended up being directors." - Nick Bentgen
3. We all make mistakes. That's how you learn. Seriously.
"The only way that you learn - and I think I was fortunate enough when I
was younger to think that I was really really good. I would just do
really stupid things. I'm really grateful now that I was able to have
that bravado and make a lot of mistakes. It's a blessing because now I
know. I have that to draw on." - Kutchins
4. It all comes down to storytelling.
"It's really about learning all the technical stuff so you can just forget about it…. I do think there's way too much of a focus on the technical aspects of cinematography. I don't think any of that stuff is important. The only thing that's important is the story. You can shoot it on your iPhone and have a movie and make the greatest movie ever made." - Kutchins
"I don't consider myself a cinematographer in the traditional sense. The films I want to make are more personal. Ideally, you have less crew and the cinematographer is telling the story with how they're positioning the camera. All of that was part of learning how to make a good movie." -- Heinzerling
Listen to a podcast of the event at WNYC.