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How I Shot That: Going Hand-Held in Sundance Drama ‘Low Down’

How I Shot That: Going Hand-Held in Sundance Drama 'Low Down'

Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt’s work shows up in a lot of recent projects, including “The Bling Ring,” “Night Moves,” “Meets Cutoff” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” “Low Down” is Jeff PreissSundance 2014 American drama (starring Elle Fanning) about jazz pianist Joe Albany and his daughter’s tumultuous life in his world.

Which camera and lens did you use? Arri 416 Super 16mm, Hawk V-Lite Super 16mm Anamorphic lenses.

What was the most difficult shot on your movie, and how did you pull it off? We shot the whole movie hand-held and would try and choreograph the
scenes with as few cuts as possible. We were taking Elle and Peter
Dinklage down into “Alain’s” (Peter’s character) very makeshift
basement. It became really hard to maintain a good composition without
hitting the lights hanging from the ceiling or tripping over the steps
and small openings. It’s upsetting to blow a take while the
performances right in front of you are so great. During these times, I turn to my crew and together, we figure out how to make it work.

So ultimately, with my key grip grabbing my foot over a step and my
gaffer and 1st AC holding lamps while we went through it, we succeeded.
It’s a rewarding feeling to get things done as a team. I can’t thank
these friends enough for the accomplishments we’ve made together.

What’s the best film school for an aspiring cinematographer? I personally did not go to film school, so I couldn’t say which one is best. I will say that growing up on film sets and slowly moving up the ranks
made me jealous of the kids that got to go to film school. I think it’s a
good place to get a well rounded theoretical understanding of
techniques and artistic approaches to filmmaking. My particular path
took me through the practicality of making films and learning more in-depth theory and appreciation of cinema from my mentors.

Do you think the shift from digital is good or bad? I think there are pros and cons to both film and digital these days,
but the bottom line for me is to create an aesthetic that is tailor-made
for each individual script and story.

I’m actually excited to see what great cinematographers are doing with
the latest technology, and the abundance of recipes that give us more
and more options to make our projects unique, whether it’s film or
digital. I like to do tons of tests and play with the options until we all say “that’s the look” and go from there.

Who is your favorite cinematographer, and why? Can I just give you a small list? Conrad Hall, Gordon Willis, and Harris Savides will live as legends in my eyes forever. I respect and appreciate the choices they’ve made to create amazing
bodies of work. I look up to them for inventing new aesthetics for every
film and taking risks to help tell their stories. In recent years, I also admire Chivo and Hoyta Van Hoytema. These guys have a touch for
creating looks that give their films so much depth and texture while
maintaining a subtle hand on the images.

What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? I don’t feel like I’m really in a position to give anyone advice, but my
favorite advice has always been to take the projects you really feel in
your heart, work hard, and be nice to people.

What’s the best career advice you’ve received? “Don’t let the technical S*@# get in your way.” — Chris Doyle

And the worst advice? “Don’t let the technical S*@# get in your way.” — Chris Doyle

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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