In just the first few weeks of 2018, Rachel Morrison went from being one of indie film’s best-kept secrets to becoming the first woman to receive an Oscar nomination for best cinematography and being known as the cinematographer behind Marvel’s record-setting “Black Panther.” While the wave of recognition is sudden, Morrison has slowly built her career over the last two decades, on a path to success that wasn’t always straight.
In a conversation with ARRI, for the camera company’s 100th anniversary, Morrison talked about how she originally went to NYU to study photography, but ended up falling in love cinematography. After graduating with a double major, Morrison worked in the New York documentary world until work started to dry up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “[I] started to get pulled into reality TV, which was the one thing that was paying the bills, but I could still be behind the camera,” said Morrison. “I got to a point where I said I was never going to do this again, all I really want to do is make narrative films, so I stopped shooting reality and never looked back.”
In the interview, Morrison talked about how lighting was a skill set she built later in her career and that the hours she put in as a nonfiction cameraperson deeply informed the type of cinematographer she is today. “[T]o come from documentary and learn how to instinctively, basically dance with the camera in response someone else’s emotion — it’s a strangely specific skill set [that] was really crucial to my journey as a DP,” said Morrison. “I feel like I developed the ability to read the emotion of the characters I was shooting and also how to tell a story with one camera, which I think little by little the industry has moved more toward more cameras, less days, which is kind of a bad habit.”
Morrison breaks down how this skill set was put to use in her first feature collaboration with director Ryan Coogler on “Fruitvale Station,” in which they wanted to embody aspects of older 16mm documentaries. The film became the Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival; five years later, they are two of Hollywood’s most sought-after filmmakers.
You can Watch ARRI’s “The Filmmaker’s View” with Rachel Morrison Below:
Editor’s Note: This feature is presented in partnership with ARRI, a leading designer, manufacturer and distributor of motion picture camera, digital intermediate (DI) and lighting equipment. Founded by two filmmakers 100 years ago, ARRI and its engineers have been recognized by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for contributions to the industry with 19 Scientific and Technical Awards. Click here for more about ARRI.