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How I Shot That: The Most Difficult Shot in Sundance Drama ‘Song One’

How I Shot That: The Most Difficult Shot in Sundance Drama 'Song One'

Cinematographer John Guleserian recently worked on “Like Crazy,” “Breathe In,” and “About Time.” His latest project is “Song One,” Kate Barker-Froyland’s melodic drama starring Anne Hathaway and Mary Steenburgen and screening at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

What camera and lens did you use? We shot primarily on Arri Alexa with Leica Summilux C Lenses. We also used the Canon C300 and GoPro Cameras.

What was the most difficult shot on your movie, and how did you pull it off? I find that the most difficult shots are not always the most
impressive shots. Often an insert will take massive amounts of time and
energy, while an intricate camera movement with several moving parts and
extras will just click, and happen naturally. On “Song One” the most
difficult shot to get was, in fact, an insert of a ticket stub that we
ended up re-shooting three times.

Who is your favorite cinematographer and why? Gordon Willis. Why? “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” and “All the President’s Men.”

What’s the best school for an aspiring cinematographer? Everyone’s path is different. I attended film school at the
American Film Institute and Columbia College. That was the right path
for me. But life experience and inspiration are the most important elements
to gain. Some people can achieve that in film school, and some people
can get it elsewhere. There are many paths, and there are no rules.

Do you think the shift from digital is good or bad? It’s great! Digital cinema tools are giving us new ways of telling
stories, and not taking any of the old ones away. Storytelling isn’t
about pixels and noise vs. emulsion and grain. It’s much bigger than

What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? Be a good collaborator, take risks, know your story, and don’t worry about what anyone will think.

What’s the best career advice you’ve received? If you want to be a cinematographer, start calling yourself a cinematographer.

And the worst advice? People often say to shoot anything you can. Although I agree with
that when you are starting out, I think at some point you need to only
choose projects you are passionate about.

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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