John Guleserian has previously shot films including “Like Crazy,” “Breathe In,” “About Time,” “Song One” and “Equals.” With “The Overnight,” he captures the intimacy and awkwardness of a family “playdate” in Los Angeles that gets increasingly weirder as the night progresses.
What camera and lens did you use? We shot with two Canon C500’s with Zeiss Superspeed Lenses, as well as a Canon 5D MKIII with a Lomography 80mm Petzval Lens, and a GoPro for some underwater shots.
This was the most difficult shot on my movie — and this is how I pulled it off: It’s hard to determine what the most difficult shot was on any movie. There is a montage in the middle of the movie where all four of our characters are in a swimming pool. We knew we wanted to have some underwater shots as part of this montage, but I was worried about the time and resources it would cost for us to put a camera and operator in the pool for just a couple of shots. I ended up having the idea to put a GoPro on an old $10 monopod and just dunking it in the water and following the action around. This was difficult because I couldn’t monitor the camera while shooting. I was just hoping for the best and luckily, it worked out great.
This is my favorite cinematographer, and why: Gordon Willis. The two movies that I have probably watched and reference most are “Annie Hall” and “All the President’s Men.” Both of those movies, although different in tone, have a visual simplicity to them that has always been very inspiring to me.
What’s the best film school for an aspiring cinematographer? Or is it necessary?) Everyone’s path is different, and there is no right or wrong way to get where you want to be and do what you want to do. Film school is a good place to make mistakes and figure out who you are as a filmmaker. Some people may choose to do that on their own. If you want to be a filmmaker you need to make films, take risks, and continue to learn from your failures and your successes.
Do you think the shift from film to digital is good? bad? (or just is?) I prefer to look forward because that is the direction we are moving. Innovations in digital technology are giving us new tools to tell our stories every day. In the end, I believe there are many more important choices that go into telling a visual story than emulsion vs. pixels.
What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? Don’t worry about getting to Sundance. Make movies that you are passionate about. Put your heart into your work, and never worry about how anyone else would do it. There is no right and wrong way to do this.
What’s the best career advice you’ve received? Be bold and take risks. Don’t be afraid to fail.
What’s the worst advice? Everyone always wants to tell you that there is right way to do things. (This is the way you light a night scene. This is the lens you use for a close up. This is the coverage you shoot in a car.) These are conventions. The way you choose to do it is the right way, and you shouldn’t feel obligated to follow conventions.
Editor’s Note: The “How I Shot That” series is part of the Indiewire and Canon U.S.A. partnership at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where we celebrate cinematography at Canon Creative Studio on Main Street. Read the entire series here.
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