Cinematographer Richard Henkels’ experience in feature films is diverse, going from horror (“Condemned”) to action-adventure (“Mall”) to PBS “American Masters.”
“Author: The JT LeRoy Story” is one of two documentaries Henkels has at Sundance this year (the other is “American Epic”). It tells the story of Laura Albert, the 40-year-old punk rocker and phone sex operator who was the Cyrano de Bergerac behind literary wunderkind JT LeRoy, the same JT LeRoy who, in 2005, was revealed to not really exist.
What camera and lens did you use? 80% of “Author” was shot on the Canon C500 with the Aja Box recorded at 4K, set at 320ASA with the Zeiss T1.5 Compact Primes. The rest was on the Canon 1DC at 4K, 320ASA with older Nikkor Lenses that had the NovaFlex adaptor.
Why was this the right camera kit for the job? The director, Jeff Feuerzeig, and I really like how Canon sensor records color and contrast! Both cameras match perfectly in look. It was extremely convenient to have the 1DC on hand when we weren’t all crewed up. It s a simple but powerful DSLR that records internally at 4K. This allowed us to do pick ups with out a full camera package.
What was the biggest challenge in shooting this movie? How did you pull it off? We had to pull off extremely slow but designed moves on the study of how Laura Albert — AKA “JT Leroy” lived. We went with an extremely simple motion control system that my Key Grip Jerry Giacalone designed (The Original Slider). Then the next challenge was speed versus quality. Usually when you work with motion control, the schedule permits only a few set ups a day. On “Author,” we were averaging 12 to 15 set ups a day with great success.
Of all your training and schooling, what one experience made you the cinematographer you are today? No one experience made me what I am today. As with any craft, wisdom comes with experience and time in the field. It’s fairly easy to become comfortable with the equipment, but honing the craft of negotiating situations and working with people in all sorts of conditions only comes with experience.
What advice would you give to an aspiring cinematographer? Is film school a good place to start? The best advice is just go shoot. You’ll only learn through trial and error. When working with anybody, listen before you speak. Observing is a very important tool in learning how to navigate through the business.
Who is your favorite cinematographer, and why? Jordan Cronenweth, Vittorio Storaro, Roger Deakins and Christopher Doyle are all huge influences in my work. They all tend to not over-light and are big fans of the indirect source lighting.
What new piece of equipment are you most excited about using in 2016? I am very excited for the Arri Mini 4:3 sensor. I’m dying to shoot a film with the Mini on the Arri Master Anamorphic.
[Editor’s Note: The “How I Shot That” series is part of the Indiewire and Canon U.S.A. partnership at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where we celebrated cinematography and photographed Sundance talent at the Canon Creative Studio on Main Street.]