Cinematographer Sean Porter, whose recent credits include films “It Felt Like Love,” “Eden” and “Bass Ackwards” spoke to Indiewire about shooting “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter,” which is screening at Sundance 2014. “Kumiko” follows a Japanese woman who obsesses over an American film and comes to America to try to find the buried briefcase from the movie.
What camera and lens did you use? I used the Arri Alexa 4:3 plus, Cooke Speed Panchros, JDC Cooke Xtal Anamorphics and Cooke Cine Varotal 25-250mm Zoom.
What was the most difficult shot in your movie, and how did you pull it off? There were lots of difficult shooting situations – from crowded Japanese subway stations to sub-zero temps on frozen lakes to rigging off ski lifts. Many were hard to pull off, but one that sticks out was a fun shot in Japan where a frustrated Kumiko leaves the dry cleaners and eventually exits the frame for a minute before returning to trash the clothes. We loved the look of the street, but the way the shot was designed we were basically looking straight into a wall of glass. My great Japanese crew came up with the idea to build a giant black frame rigged to the dolly, enveloping the camera with only a small hole for the lens. We then pushed this big black cloud down the street and you could never see us directly behind her in the reflection.
Who is your favorite cinematographer and why? This is always a hard one, and changes frequently. Certainly Roger Deakins has always been a big influence, as well as Lance Accord and the late Harris Savides. But I’m super impressed by Greg Fraser’s recent films and Mihai Malaimare Jr’s work on “The Master.”
What’s the best school for an aspiring cinematographer? Another tough question. It’s not for everybody. Some will do better just getting on set and learning all they can. I studied some film theory and experimental video but really got my education from crewing and shooting whenever people would let me!
Do you think the shift from digital is good or bad? Sort of just is. I feel grateful I got in early enough to spend a good amount of time learning and shooting on film. You work on set differently, in a good way, I think, most of the time. It’s valuable to still be able to light by eye or a meter rather than the monitor, although digital certainly has its benefits. For the most part I’ve been happy shooting my last few projects on digital, although I keep getting surprised once in a while by the odd 35mm job – keeps me on my toes!
What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? Be picky. A lot of aspiring DP’s want that first feature after doing lots of shorts, music videos and commercials. And it will come. But if you want to be involved with films that move people, you have to really trust your gut on the script and the filmmakers – is it a great or unique story? Can the director, producer and cast pull it off?
What’s the best career advice you received? Don’t ever be late. And, once an inspiring DP and good friend told me something like “you can learn a lot of tricks from watching others, but you can’t learn your style until you try on your own.”
And the worst advice? I don’t think there is any necessarily bad advice out there, but have a good sense of self and know when something’s not for you.
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.