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How I Shot That: Filming Sundance Family Drama ‘Infinitely Polar Bear’

How I Shot That: Filming Sundance Family Drama 'Infinitely Polar Bear'

With an impressive list of credits already to his name including “The Messenger” and “Arlington Road,” cinematographer Bobby Bukowski comes to Sundance with another acclaimed film and discusses the many challenges of pulling off “Infinitely Polar Bear,” a family drama directed by Maya Forbes and starring Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana, in which a bipolar father struggles with taking care of his daughters.

Which camera and lens did you use? Alexa. Angenieux Optimo Lightweight zooms.

What was the most difficult shot on your movie, and how did you pull it off? Pretty much the entire shoot was a
challenge. I had a small crew and very few days in which to shoot this
film. That all translates to not enough time or resources to set up. As a
result, night interiors are lit with carefully selected practical
lights. As for daylight interiors, I asked the production designer to
supply dark wooden shutters to modulate the light. I find blinds to be
the most versatile window-dressing when attempting to light with
available daylight. Not only can you have a completely open or
completely closed window, but you can modulate the amount of light
coming in with just a simple twist of the blinds. The darkness of the
wood helped me avoid overexposure on the blinds when direct sunlight hit
them. On a low-budget film with limited resources, I always find the
challenge to be in how to maintain the integrity of the lighting.

Who is your favorite cinematographer, and why? I must say that Harris Savides was always on the top for me. He
was a master with available and ambient light and was not afraid of
darkness. I could watch BIRTH over and over again and constantly marvel
at the mastery of his work. I am huge fan of Eric Gautier’s as well.

What’s the best film school for an aspiring cinematographer? I believe any school is a good school insofar as it is the
experience that you have there that matters. I went to NYU Tisch in the
early 80s and must say that it was my peers that inspired and drove me.
Any place where great numbers of artists convene, there is bound to be
great learning and work, which I suppose means that being on a set is a
great learning opportunity as well. Vigilance, openness and quiet
watchfulness are key when developing your skills as an artist.

Do you think the shift from digital is good or bad? I am not a Luddite. We live in a world in which technology
moves very quickly. Personally, anytime I find myself presented with new
technology I experience great learning and great growth. For this
reason alone, I embrace the digital medium.

What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? Find directors and producers who are passionate about their material on a deeply personal level.

What’s the best career advice you received? Not really advice, but something I have learned after working
for so long: get out of your own way. By that I mean existing on set
in a way where you become a conduit for creativity and ideas. Great
ideas come from disparate sources. If you are quiet and open and
watchful, great things will come.

And the worst advice? From my father: he told me to become a doctor.

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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