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

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

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