I have found over the years that cinematography is one of the biggest technical issues in independent film. Someone borrows a friend’s RED Camera or Arri Alexa and thinks that’s all you need. Cinematography is not only a mystical art but imperative in today’s gluttony of indie films in the marketplace.
Just because you own or have access to a RED Camera or Arri Alexa does not make you a cinematographer. Many first time directors get fooled by this time and time again.
Good cinematography can really make your independent film project rise out of the gluttony of poorly produced indie films. Today on the show I interviewed Suki Medencevic ASC (American Society of Cinematographers).
Cinematography over Espresso
I’ve known Suki Medencevic for many years and I loved talking shop with him over an espresso at Starbucks on the Westside of Los Angeles. I wanted to bring that experience to the Indie Film Hustle Tribe.
He’s a wealth of knowledge when it comes to cinematography, lights, cameras, lenses, and so on. He also is shooting on film, yes 35mm film on the hit FX Show America Horror Story: Hotel.
He works alongside the show’s lead cinematographer Michael Goi, ASC, a legend in the business. He also has a new Walt Disney film “Invisible Sister” coming out Oct 9th, 2015. He’s a busy guy! Prepare to be enlightened in the art of cinematography.
Alex Ferrari 0:02
Guys so this this week, we have an amazing guest. He's a longtime friend of mine, Suki. Now please forgive me Suki Suki Medencevic. Suki is an ASC cinematographer. If you don't know what an ASE cinematographer is, you will learn after the show what an AC villain photographer is. He's been a cinematographer for decades now. Not to make them feel old or anything but I've known him for over a decade as well. Suki is a really good friend of mine and I he teaches over at USC at New York Film Academy and a few other places as well. And I thought he'd be an amazing guest to talk about cinematography, the artists in photography, and also working on his new show American Horror Story. Now one thing he did not discuss, or we didn't get a chance to discuss, or I forgot to ask for him to tell this amazing story that he had with Steve Jobs. I always call Suki, the most interesting man in the world. He is a very worldly, he shot all over the world. His stories are legendary, to say the least. And he has this one story with Steve Jobs. He was shooting a documentary for Pixar and Steve Jobs. He was going to shoot an interview with Steve Jobs. The late great Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs came in and started being Steve Jobs. You know, he's like, Hey, you know, I want to move this here. I want to move this there that and Suki coming from Bosnia. I guess the more European vibe of of who is Suki. He just didn't care who Steve Jobs was. And he just like, no, this is how we're going to shoot it. And this is why this is we're going to move this here. We're going to put the lights here and we're going to put the camera here and Steve, Steve from what Suki Tommy Steve basically just looked at him and he goes explained to me why are you doing it? And Suki explained to him the purposes of why he was doing and he goes Okay, no problem. But when Suki said no to Steve Jobs, the entire crew, the director, everyone you could feel a pin drop. And he the director came up afterwards like what did you do? What did you say? And he goes Look, Mr. Jobs might know how to make iPhones but he doesn't know how to light a scene I do. He has no idea about lenses or cameras or anything like that. I do. That's my specialty. I'm not going to go into his place and tell them how to make an iPhone. So that is who you're dealing with here with Suki. And that's why I love him so much. He is very honest, very straightforward. And extremely funny guy. And he's just an amazing amazing not only a talent as a cinematographer, but a great person. So without further ado, here is the world famous Suki. Suki thank you so much for joining us on the on the indie film hustle podcast where we are grateful for you coming on to the show.
Suki Medencevic ASC 3:29
Well, I'm very happy to be part of the show.
Alex Ferrari 3:32
So for you guys who don't know Suki and I are good friends, we go way back. We met over oh god over. It's getting close to almost 1314 years ago now. Something like that. And we've been friends ever since even from my days in Florida. We always stayed in touch. And he always told me to move out to LA as soon as possible. And what was the thing you told me about moving out to LA?
Suki Medencevic ASC 3:55
Well, there's regret the regret of Well, no, the main thing was, I guess if you want to make it in Hollywood, you have to be in Hollywood, California, not in Hollywood, Florida. So that's the
And that the only thing I would regret not moving to LA is I didn't do it sooner. Right? And in many ways you were correct, sir, but I'm out here and I've been out here for a while now. So thank you for that. So let's get into it. Um, so Suki. One thing I you know, when we work together, I you told me about your film school experience, which was very unique film school experience as opposed to film school experiences here in America. Can you tell us a little bit about your school where you went to school and how is it different from American film school?
Well, the school I went I actually went to film schools. My very first film school was in Yugoslavia in Belgrade, which was a capital of Yugoslavia. And it's a school of Dramatic Arts that pretty much covers theater, film, television, and acting tool. So cinematography is one of the one of the just departments there. Unlike schools, United States or most schools in other states, that particular school basically has a program master program for every department that you actually major in right away. And you're studying for four years, your field and you're basically whatever you choose editing, cinematography, directing, that's what you get massively beautiful thing about the school is that's free. And like most of the schools in Europe, but the biggest challenge is to get in the school because the school is very limited, they take only five students a year per cow, per department. Yes, so that's kind of competition is huge. And it's like,
It's like fame.
It is, you know, because it's so you know, the, it's very expensive school, so therefore, they cannot have like 2030 students of cinematography and also the program is scheduled. And structured, the whole curriculum is structured in a way that graduates from the School can immediately get a job in industry or in production. So they will be not like unemployed cinematographers or directors, basically, there is a certain guarantee that you will be employed right after school. But one thing I did was kind of a little bit unusual. As I was already in a third year, in school in Belgrade, I went to Prague to visit a friend who at the time was at a very famous one of the most famous film schools in the world, pharmo, which was a National Film School in Czechoslovakia back then. And I came to visit my friend over at Prague film school. And I instantly fell in love in school with a city with all white with all energy, and basically decided to drop out from the Belgrade school, even though I had only one more year left to get my degree, go to Prague, start from the beginning, and basically repeat my school for another four years, four and a half years. And it was kind of crazy at the time, nobody believed that there was any logic in it. And to me, it was just kind of a gamble because I felt if I go to if I ever get accepted in that school, that school will get me far better preparation. And and really, you know, make me ready for for my career as a cinematographer, which proved to be true.
Now cannot Can you tell me that story? You told me this years ago? I don't know if you remember it or not? How they prepare you for? Like the kind of questions they asked on a test about the girl with a bra in the by the lake, like, how long do you have between the time she takes off the bra to shoot a scene? Yeah, yeah, explain that. Because I found that fascinating. When you told it to me years ago,
One of the questions that you will have in the written test if you're filming the girl, by the lake and in the morning, and how, how much earlier, she has to be ready for the scene to be shot properly. And of course, you have to think about all these details on the light composition. But also detail about the wardrobe because if she's very tight outfit, and if she's very bright, if she takes it off too soon, there will be there will be marks like Rama is of course, yeah, Brian marks and then of course it takes about please well in an hour for Brad marks to kind of fade out so you have a nice smooth skin that you can photograph. And these are kind of important things you have to, as a cinematographer, think about so it's not always about lighting and composition and movement, and it's much more much more kind of like comprehensive approach to cinematography.
Now, I know a lot of you're you're an ASC member. And I know a lot of people, especially in the indie film hustle community might not know what ASC stands for or what it is or how even you get in into this kind of exclusive club. Can you explain a little bit about that?
Well, ASC stands for American cinematographer society. And it's the organization founded in 1919 by a group at a time, Hollywood, cinematographers with a goal to preserve the artistry and integrity of cinematographers profession. So it's also support club that creates the community of highly respected professionals. Were in very friendly and relaxed environment. We can exchange all our ideas get advices complain about to get a drink, you know, things like that to be it's a fraternity almost it's kind of fraternity. It's kind of like place where you have like safe haven and and it's been also place which really nurtures nurtures artists of cinematography and keeps the level of our craft and our art to the highest standards. And based on American cinematographer society's structure, many other countries have formed the same organizations basically modeled of the American civil society. And, and I think it's a great way to keep keep cinematographers especially nowadays, when everything so global, keep us all together and keep exchange of ideas and information to the maximum. So how do you become there? Well, who become a member of American Cemetery for society, it's the organization that is by invitation only. So, you cannot apply for it that there is no application form, you have to be invited by at least three members, three active members of the ASC they have to invite you and then they have to write a letter of recommendation to the membership board, American cinematographer, society is very active in many aspects. They have education, board, science and technology board, which is one of the very, very important groups also has educational, reach out international dinners, you know, we have our dinners when we have movies and discussions and so there's a lot of a lot of sub committees within the American Astronomical Society. So one of the subcommittee's for the members, the group which is open and any member of American cinematography belongs to that group basically, everybody has a right to interview and ask questions any prospective candidate and find out if the candidate meets standards and requirements of the ASC not only based on on their work, but you know, you have to share certain certain values which are common among amongst cinematographers and and if the committee finds your suitable candidate The board has to approve but then it goes to all the members of the FCC to finally give agreement. If there is one. If there is one, basically you have to be alone unanimously accepted. If there is one objection, you will not be able to Wow, really? Yes. And that has to do with if you if you treat it down the line in your career at some point if you treated your crew members or somebody unfairly, unprofessionally, you never know when this can come back to you and haunt you, and maybe a very high price. So professional integrity is one of the highest values that Americans have our society holds. Very cool.
So I was always I always fascinated how you got in and what the process was. So thank you for sharing that. Now, when you're working with a director, what do you look for in in a director, indie filmmaker, or indie director or just regular director?
Well, either we'd really like it varies like I I'm looking always, with every director, I'm looking for a partner or somebody who can speak the same language, I do visually, cinematically, somebody who is passionate about what they do somebody who is who is able to challenge me and I will say probably the most successful collaborations I had came from directors who who would challenge me in like, in a way that as a cinematographer, I will have to come up with a with a with a solution to the ideas that director might have. And my job as a cinematographer is to facilitate this idea into facility division. And, but also I like to challenge director also if if I see the director sometime is going very safe, safe path in process of filmmaking. You know, playing it safe, it's never a good option never gets you anywhere. So you have to be able to find, find your own identity, find your own language, find your own way to to express yourself, but be slightly different. And that's when you look at all these great directors, why they are who they are, is because they have a recognizable style and that ever played it safe.
Very cool. Now when you're when you're choosing a camera for your project, what how do you choose a camera for your project? Is it budget is it look what's what are the factors?
Well, it's really interesting how things have changed. When it comes down to the position of cinematographer an older practice it used to be not long time ago that cinematographer is the one who decides what camera will be used. What this what of him stock, water lab, water processing, water finishing, basically cinematographers will completely in control of all visual and technology aspect of the filmmaking with arrival of digital technology and an arrival of the new category called owner operator basically, market gets flooded with people who were able to afford and purchase equipment, equipment cameras, they became much more affordable and much more accessible. So the choice of the tools for your for your work became something that sometimes would be already decided before cinematographer gets hired. And especially during the read craze, about 10 years ago when everybody was really trying to jump on a bandwagon and buy the most amazing digital camera that can provide you with 4k whatever resolution for is
25k now 25k
There is going to be no more k the better picture
Of course you don't even need a cinematographer revenue for
The character we have this new cameras which doesn't even need a light so
I've seen those cameras to actually quite incredible
Like today's cinematographer, you just press the button and make sure you have fresh battery but going back to the ask for how you chose your equipment I still decide I still on I was fortunate to most of my project to to insist that we use particular camera or particular lens or particular approach or process or post production workflow because it is part of what I do as a cinematographer so how the image is captured in many ways defines how the final look after the post production and color manipulation color correction we will how the image is going to look like so yes I always try to brings my expertise and my knowledge of course within the budget and and very often people specially production they think if you are asking for some higher end piece of equipment that's out of price range which is not true You will be surprised that sometimes much easier you will be able to afford something that is really high and it's something that everybody wants so the only advice I could give to any filmmaker is to think about the story think about what you really need and then take it from there I remember somebody recently some of my colleagues from from the SEC talk about shooting a film on Super 16 very very good budget this budget but decided to go super 16 for aesthetic reasons wow and and it made perfect sense to go super 16 because they want to get this kind of like old grainy kind of like the wrestler yeah like the wrestler for instance. This one is particularly talking it's called the paper boy
Yeah, I've heard of it. Oh yeah,
Yeah, yeah shot by Roberto shaper. So I mean, it should be your aesthetic, aesthetic creative choice and like currently I'm working on American Horror Story as additional tandem units cinematographer with amazing Michael going a see cinematographer who was Emmy nominated and also used to be president of the ANC So Michael goy created actually style for the film for this particular TV show is by shooting on film on 35 millimeter and and we are actually shooting on 35 millimeter film is already the the the TV series is already in its fifth season being shot on polyhedral cameras 35 millimeter quarter film, and
It was one of the few shows that is being shot on film right?
Yes, one of the few not wanting to shoot on 35 millimeter Kodak they shoot on black and white 35 they shoot on color reversal. 16 separate you name it. It's been all used on the Trump
Nice very nice. Yep. Now can you explain the difference between prime and zoom lenses for our audience?
Oh, well. The basic basic difference between prime and zoom lenses is that with a zoom lens you can change the viewing angle without taking lens of from from the camera buddy and zoom lenses well without going too much into history. zoom lens is really our tool of the television from the 50s and 60s when Israel's like Yeah, so the news reels when you need it to be able to get from same vantage point tight shots as well as wide wide shots and that's when really a lot of zooms for 16 millimeter cameras were developed. And then obviously technology unable to, to do the same thing for the motion picture. And as we all know back from 60s and 70s, every movie you see has to start from the zooming in or zooming out, like every piece of equipment that gets overused and becomes kind of like a cliche. So the zoom basically is just more flexible tool to get precise composition, precise framing. And prime lenses, as the name said, they're actually lenses which have set for collect. So if you actually do on 18 or 21 or 2527 32 by 40, or any focal length, you know that you shop will have specific perspective and specific viewing angle and therefore, you have to as a filmmaker, you have to understand right away in your mind before you even put a lens on a camera, what it means to put 21 millimeter or to put 14 millimeter or put the 10 millimeter lens what is the look what is the what's going to happen with the image. If you choose layers or another what's going to happen with the closer if you shoot it on 27 or if you shoot it on an 85 or maybe who showed it on 100 millimeter, what will be relation between your foreground elements and background elements. there's a there's a whole like aesthetic to each of these lenses and that's subject to whole different podcasts about aesthetics of wide or long lenses sure, but it's a known fact that many directors they have their own favorite lenses or something like for instance Roman Polanski did a movie called Rosemary's Baby pretty much with two lenses with 18 and I think 14 millimeter lens and everything's just that way in between
Now the there is some downfalls to using zoom lenses obviously you need more light depending on the scenario because you got more glass that light has to go through. So there is a kind of give and take and obviously primes give you just very different look but there is a little bit of a downside to zoom lens can you explain the data without negatives are
Basically you know basically a zoom lenses just by by its nature they have in order to accommodate a wide range of different viewing angles. The construction and design of an optical elements is much more complex than design of the prime lenses so therefore there is a certain inherent light loss that if there is something you can do about it because light travels through 20 something pieces of glass and only when it leaves the lens and goes to your sensor it might lose half or more of its initial amount of elimination so you just have to that's that's kind of trade off and also because of the large amount of glass that everyone minds has it's very easy to introduce certain mistakes that no matter what lens will do something they don't want the storage room certain level of flaring or loss of contrast or the breathing you know there's a lot of elements elements that can affect affect the quality of of sudden and so, only the highest as most expensive zoom lenses the call can go easily up to $100,000 apiece are very much free of many of these typical mistakes you will have with his own so if I can suggest anything to to filmmakers, especially aspiring filmmakers I suggest to stick with prime lenses and and develop understanding what is basically aesthetic of 18 millimeter and what is that equal 50 millimeter lens and you will figure it out very soon that you do not need 50 lenses in your package that you can actually make very interesting projects with very few lenses as long as you understand how to properly use them
And there are options nowadays before to get a prime set of lenses used the cost you know 3040 50,000 or more to have a full prime set where now there are other options like the rokinon sets which are very affordable for under $2,000 you can get five prime lenses mind you they're not going to be the same quality as as ICER as a slicer or Canon or what the other one the other one besides size which is the other big guy I
Chose the other one oh Sumi Crohns summicron lights like like like Chrome yeah
Those guys so but but this is another affordable way for at least a learning tool and you can get some pretty images out of them and they're not they're not bad horrible lenses but I mean I want to set myself in the second I put it up against some Zeiss. I'm like, oh, or cooks cooks I was the other one or set of cooks. I'm like, oh well there's a difference. But it's a great learning tool. And for someone starting out it's I think a good way to experiment with with products. do great
Oh yes, yes, absolutely I agree and one one thing that you will have to always ask yourself okay, when you're doing a project are you doing it for the big screen of course you always have a vision when whenever you're shooting something well, you want to, you want to end on a big screen. So you have to set your standard as high as possible. Because if you're doing something small and you're just not caring too much about what's going to be the final outcome and you're doing something interesting something for the to be viewed on iPad or or iPhone or some other portable device. Well shooting with the full genomes or some high end, Leica whatever. Hey way overkill and you really don't need it. But if your project ends up being picked up and released, and somebody can see it on the big screen, everything looks great on iPad, and the moment you started the moment you started going past 26 inch mark all of a sudden, all the all the mistakes of the lenses are starting to be more and more obvious. So yes, you can get the decent image from rockin arms or some co wires or some other one interesting thing that happened lately is that a lot of cinematographers are discovering old lenses like oh, all the Bausch and Long's and some other old old lenses some bell towers. Now the bell towers Yeah, yes, but there's always was made like 50 years ago and the reason why these lenses are now kind of popular, you know, as well as the old panavision lenses which they just get to reintroduce is that through the history of technology that was basically trying to get as sharp as possible as contrast the as color accurate image, because of the analog nature of the film, lasers have to be really sharp really light contrast and get to get the performance to the absorb the highest specs. Because dealing with the film, which is analog medium, when the light hits. film grain, no matter how sharp your lens is there certain diffusion, certain loss of sharpness and contrast and quality that that is, you know, inevitable just by the nature of the film. But with the with the sensors with the digital sensors, you don't have that you have very specific precise photosite on your audio chip that is always going to be in the same place and always capture the photons which are coming through the lens. So all the sudden you have all these lenses, when you put them on the digital sensors, they become super sharp. But they're basically over compensated for what Sanders needs. So what we do now well, we have to put some filters, some you know, softening all types of subsidy filters to kind of take away this digital to digital electronic lock or, or you just
Fix it in post.
Order you know or just par by yourself if you're lucky on eBay, you can still find some you know old ball towels and have somebody who can who can actually retrofit it for you then you will be lucky and you will get you will get a true nice set of old lenses. That will work really well. So I mean, yes, I agree that you can get very decent results. But you know, obviously, with a cheaper lenses, you have less forgiveness, which might be actually a good way to train yourself because when you go with cheaper lenses, the moment you start going with a higher contrast we do get flaring in the lens, well you have to take care of it. There is no like high quality coating the globe eliminate any kind of flare that you might get by having highlighted picture so it's really I think it's always good way to start. Okay.
Very cool. Now, I know you get asked you t chat, which will do t chat right now.
USC Yeah, Medical School of Cinematic Arts.
Okay. And I know a lot of you have a lot of cinematography students as well. I know one of the questions they ask you all the time is how do you get started in cinema? Like how do you start a cinematography career? So what would be your advice?
Well, that was kind of question I asked. I asked myself when I came to the United States, back in early 90s. There are basically two ways how you how you break in business and how you start your career. The old Hollywood traditional way would be that you would somehow get a job in a camera department or in any department for that matter and somehow make your way to camera department as camera intern and maybe loader and then second assistant and first assistant maybe operator and then by the age you're about to retire you might get transferred to shoot the movie as a dp or not. It's kind of that's kind of how it is that's kind of how it was and nothing wrong with that. You know, by the time by the time you are actually dp. I mean, if you're really good, you can actually make this transition much quicker. But you had trends at least to observe other DPS or other professionals do their job and learn well and learn properly.
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Alex Ferrari 30:24
But still doesn't mean doesn't mean that you might make the transition, you may end up being discouraged operator and never make transition. Another way of becoming cinematographer in Hollywood is very interesting is starting with the light working as a gaffer or in electric department. And basically just being the technician who deals with the lights and creates lights and works closely with the DP, you sharpen your skills, you learn your craft, and eventually you get the break. To make transition from being referred and becoming the DP. There are many great DPS in Hollywood actually took that route and became very successful, successful cinematographers. And the third way, which is more and more and more popular, especially in last decade, is basically going to the school. And depending on the school, that you go, you might get really good education, or you might get really well prepared. And and then basically coming out of the school, you decide, okay, well, if you're a cinematographer, is that what you do, and you start by small projects and gradually create your resume and portfolio and eventually start shooting bigger projects. But my, my, my path was, when I came to LA was basically I had to make these choices. And I simply decided not to do any of that previous of the dimension of being taking traditional gradual way because I felt coming from the school, I was already well prepared to start as a cinematographer, but the problem is, nobody can trust you. When you come from the school, nobody will trust you with their money that you can actually deliver a motion picture or whatever budget it is. And you just have to be persistent. And and basically, just keep going until your opportunity arises. And then eventually you get to feature film, after your first feature film, then things go much, much easier. Because from this point on, you're not anymore. First time cinematographer.
And it's also it's also a long game. It's not a short game, this is not something that's going to happen in a year or two. This is something that could happen over a decade or more.
Suki Medencevic ASC 32:39
No, it does have to be over a decade. But you know, to get chance to get your first feature film, it took me three years, which I think it's normal. It's normal for somebody who comes into town and just start from pretty much
Alex Ferrari 32:48
Which, which if I may, if I may interject, it is your your cinematography debut here in America is one of my favorite films growing up. For obvious reasons. You remember that movie, I'm assuming, but of course, it is called embrace of the vampire, starring the lovely and very naked, Alyssa Milano. So yeah, as a growing up teenage boy, I thank you.
Suki Medencevic ASC 33:15
Yes, I'm happy to provide beautiful images that can stay in our minds for a long, long time. Yes. And also Jennifer Tilly was part of this project as well as Martin camp. But that was kind of this situation, when you get a chance to do your first feature film, you don't ask what it is, you're right, this is your chance. You have 12 days, you have to make it and you did that in 12 days in 12 days. Yes. And that
Alex Ferrari 33:39
Was back in the night. Those eight eight.
Suki Medencevic ASC 33:41
That was 9393 93 or 94. I think it's about it was something
Alex Ferrari 33:45
Like that. And that back then was that's an obscene pace nowadays. That's what indie filmmakers do all the time. They got a movie in five or 12 days. But
Suki Medencevic ASC 33:55
Yeah, that was shot on 35 with two cameras up to full production packages. And that was one beauty. beautiful thing about being in Well, in this town and in this business that no matter how big budget you are, you can still get the top notch equipment, the best things best cameras, best lenses as you're in town. Yeah, I mean, you get to Boulder. We shot this in Minnesota, but still.
Alex Ferrari 34:18
And then and then you followed up with one of my other favorites. Poison Ivy? Yes.
Suki Medencevic ASC 34:23
So the actually the secret to original Poison Ivy and that was also with Alyssa Milano. Yes, it was. Yes. And that was Yeah, that was interesting, interesting project. But what happened after this, I did another couple couple films. of this. I would say medium, medium, over budget, or under 5 million. And then I did a film in in LA. I'm very proud of not many people have seen it, but we've had amazing cast, including Burt Reynolds Keith Carradine, Pat kingo
Alex Ferrari 35:00
Yeah I forgot to
Suki Medencevic ASC 35:01
Call the the hunters mon
Alex Ferrari 35:04
Oh yeah sir that was beautiful. I remember seeing that on your reel back in the day
Suki Medencevic ASC 35:09
Was gorgeous that was a nice nice film that we shot all around LA and I was very very proud of this film Unfortunately, it didn't get wide release but it was definitely one of the films that I was very very very proud of. And then industry changed obviously later on with with the rise of tentpole movies and yeah, this appearance of medium budget films are so as we all now pretty much we all have either a lower budget under three four or 5 million and then 50 million and up in that is very rare you'll find any project that is in the range between five and 15 million so because of the market and the way the formula works
Alex Ferrari 35:52
Now as since you started out you know doing low budget films What can you can you give advice to filmmakers on a low budget to make their films look high budget, what can they do? Are there any tricks in the cinematography and possibly in posts with color grading? What can they do any tips that they can like take their film up a notch look wise
Suki Medencevic ASC 36:16
So how to make your film not is not up how you can do this there really there's only one way you have to put yourself 110% there's really no you cannot cheat one thing about cinematography you cannot cheat you cannot. You cannot really I mean you either know, or if you don't, I mean it's obvious it will show on the screen immediately. And you just have to trust yourself trust your gut. And the key thing I think it will be to be able to develop trust between you and director you have to make sure that director trust you and that you trust director so that you have full support and full backup that you are free to do whatever creatively you want to do and not to be afraid to try to do things and because this is how you This is how you make your mark if you if you try to play it safe Well it might not get you where you want to be so you have to be able but again it all comes from constantly working on your skill if you're just waiting from film to film to sharpen up your skill and and and raise the level of your professional experience it's going to be very slow process. I always suggest to my students and my friends though as a cinematographer your your 24 hours a day except when you sleep you're a cinematographer, you have to observe things you have to look at the things you have to have a camera all the time take pictures of something that is that is intriguing or interesting to you that's the key thing so you have to have your eyes constantly working remember images remember images and when you when you show up on the site you can say oh I remember when I saw that looked really cool let's try this or let's try that let me do this. But again, you have to have a trust how to make something look bigger than it is doesn't depend only on you depends on many other people I think your cooperation with other departments the production designer and the costume designers is a crucial that you can get support if you don't have a set that can support your your idea of having a bigger one yes, then you will not be able to if you have a director who doesn't understand that staging scene just in the corner will make film look very claustrophobic in very small versus taking it away from the wall and making opening up and giving the depth Give me the space you know that's all part of the process so you can just do your part and then hope the rest will follow.
Alex Ferrari 38:54
Now another question I know your students ask you is how do you prepare and conduct yourself in a job interview as a cinematographer?
Suki Medencevic ASC 39:03
Um, people think that Hollywood or I don't like to was born Hollywood but let's say industry is very careful. He Yes, it is casual on one way but also it is very judgmental in many, many ways. My experience for most of the time going for the interviews was when you go for interview quite often depends again, who are you talking to? And depends what they're expecting from you. Quite often you will be actually more asked and you will be interviewed for the reasons not to hire you then reasons to hire you. And they will just talk to you and find out the reason why you are not the right person for the movie. So it's a system of elimination basically. So you cannot or try not to give the record producer, whoever else is interviewing you not to give them trends to eliminate you, you have to be prepared to show that you have integrity that you have artistic vision, that you also have managerial and leadership skill. Because in deposition, you are a leader of the group. So you have to be able to communicate, you can have great idea, but if you cannot communicate, that's not going to help anybody, right? Everything, everything is important. I've done interviews where I was prepared to the maximum, bringing all kinds of elements, visual reference, total analysis of the script, total analysis, breakdown of the visual, creating more books, doing all kinds of stuff, because some directors really expect that you do your homework. And that can leave very, very strong impression and I've been in a situation that you know, I would get the job just because they were impressed by my preparedness and my willingness and my enthusiasm to put to work and really show that I care and I'm really enthusiastic about the project. And I think enthusiasm is I think the key element that you have to show you don't have to necessarily hit all the points when you are presenting the visual concept for the film there might be sometimes even completely different than what the director had in mind. But if they're smart enough he or she might realize well, at least I'm dealing somebody who understands or who has a visual culture so maybe we can do something we can come up with something interesting. I've been also to interviews where I'm simply to sitting and listening to what the director or producer have to tell me how they want this film to be photographed and what they expected for me to deliver got it there is no wrong or right but you have to be as a cinematographer when you offer interview you have to pay attention to everything you have to present yourself because your this is your as you know there is no second transfer first impression you have to leave as best impression as you can and even if you don't get the job if you do well on your interview believe me they will remember you and and they might call you for some other project some other time or at least if you've already gained for the interview they will remember you and so you can keep your standards up
Alex Ferrari 42:22
Yeah and I think a lot of that advice works as well for directors going for a directing assignment or directing jobs as well. Even if it's a small indie project that they're going into direct drive to get a job for or larger ones that's a I think a lot of that stuff transfers over pretty pretty easily and seamlessly
Suki Medencevic ASC 42:40
Yeah, we'll have stuff it's you know a lot of stuff it's very much common sense and you can you know like how conduct the interview I mean you can even read a tips there are a bunch of books written on this on the subject how to conduct yourself how to prepare yourself for the interview, any corporate job or any other office job that you go for interview well of course if you're going for an interview you don't want to show up in flip flops and T shirt Alice This is your style and this is what you're going for which is nothing wrong with that right but you might be a little bit more on you know torn down now until you get a chance to show your your your eccentricity and but at the end it's really all about your work. But think about it when you go to the interview that means people get in people are intrigued by you by your work that's how they get your resume and they'll look at your resume and say oh yeah I want to meet with this person and now it's all that you have to do the what's what's necessary to get the job
Alex Ferrari 43:41
Got it. So let me ask you a question. Well how do you feel about and I know this is a question that will we can go on for a whole podcasts about but how do you feel about digital taking over film?
Suki Medencevic ASC 43:53
Well, you know, obviously this is a subject that is being discussed. ad nauseum like in the last whatever few
Alex Ferrari 44:00
Years and a few minutes a few minutes a few minute like kind of wrap up of what your your feeling is because I know we can go on for hours on this topic alone.
Suki Medencevic ASC 44:07
Well, my feeling is my feeling is the same way that television didn't kill radio and cinema is still around even though everybody has home theater. I'm seeing the digital as a just a great tool that expedites the process of filmmaking makes it far more efficient, which is true but doesn't mean necessarily just saves you money or saves you time. There are pros and cons in one or another. What field has that digital labor network never has it never will have a feel has a level of excitement. film has a level of mystery and magic. That if you really care, that's the only way I really you can have it. The quality that film has is something that generations So filmmakers are raised on and they using film as a benchmark as the as the point of reference for everything else. Even digital camera makers manufacturers are using film and performance of the film to design their chip so the chip can make look of the film are not by servers. So I believe, I believe and thanks to efforts of many important directors, including Tarantino and JJ Abrams, Chris Nolan, that as long as there are people of that caliber in Hollywood who can actually who have power to say and make decisions Phil will be around and and valuable valuable tool for just yet another tool for cinematographers the show I'm working on which I mentioned earlier it's been shot on film and I'm sure it will be short film as the film does exist because it is such a part of identity on the show and switching to digital would take the whole the feeling and the flavor and the magic that that has and it's been it's never five years ago
Alex Ferrari 46:15
Very interesting so there is still a place for film and filmmaking
Suki Medencevic ASC 46:19
I truly I truly believe the only unfortunate thing is that because of the very sharp decrease in the demand that we are all witnessing you don't have any more you know lab around the recorder that's pretty much like in one lab now maybe two labs one in East Coast one here and that's it so I think if you're shooting something you better make sure that you have plays that you feel can be processed and prepared for for scanning and so it is it is it is adding additional logistical challenge which you know earlier we never had to think about
Alex Ferrari 46:59
Now what is your favorite camera to shoot with and why
Suki Medencevic ASC 47:04
You know, I like different cameras for different reasons. I like depending again on type of the project if I'm shooting punch shooting on film my favorite camera would be every every cam because it just it just amazing camera and it's pretty much what comes out to the design of the film camera this is like as best as it can be and I simply could not see what else could be improved to make any camera better than ericom unfortunately nobody's making any film cameras anymore panavision always had amazing cameras which are known for its reliability and beautiful design and precision and to me I think more than camera it's really lenses because lens is what creates your images lens is what what makes the picture and then cameras adjust in digital in a digital world cameras adjust computer that has actually some image capturing device which is your sensor and everything else is just the like electronics how you process the information created by your sensor and what you make out of it it's your your algorithm and your workflow and I mean yes I could I could say as far as the digital cameras My favorite is array aerial XL or, or any of the Eri digital cameras why because they made it right, they made it from the very beginning they made the camera that is very much made for cinematographers that the image that creates is very much even digital but very much in its feeling and texture very close to the sensibility of people who are used to working with the film and and you know when you're dealing with cameras which are made by a camera manufacturer that's been doing this for decades, then you can rest assure that they know how to get it right first time.
Alex Ferrari 49:04
The very cool now what do you have any fun stories of working abroad? Because I know you do a lot of filming overseas.
Suki Medencevic ASC 49:14
Oh my god, I could write a book about about as you should my experiences different countries different places. Well, you know, I think I think that the the key element I think the key element for anybody working in different places if that's also applicable even to working in United States and I've shot all over United States. Don't assume that if you go to different places that everything will be as it is in LA No, it's not. There is a lot of things that people do differently and if you try to change it and and force them to do it your way. Yeah, well, you're gonna have a problem there. Because are you talking about?
Alex Ferrari 49:58
Are you talking about crew or just Have you ever
Suki Medencevic ASC 50:01
Thought about the Chrome and how you're gonna handle the CRO how you're going to handle the equipment how you're going to deal with production? There is a lot of a lot of, I would say cultural differences between places between countries. I could maybe just mentioned one, one story that kind of comes to my mind. And it's earlier on, I was working on my second feature film in Taiwan. And that, that film particularly was interesting, because I went to do the movie, literally, from the set of bow of my embrace of the vampire. As we are filming last last night, and the night we're finishing early in the morning, and I got to get in the car, went to the airport and flew to Taiwan, to do my other movie. That particular experience was very, very unique, because here we are on 12. They super fast pace completely on adrenaline, no sleep, no nothing, you go to a place where you have a film, leisurely scheduled to be shot over like 50 days, we still managed to finish it on, I think 37 shooting days, we still had so much time that we didn't need all this time. But the challenge was working with a crew that I learned that nobody speaks English. And nobody speaks English, except I had one assistant who spoke English, and he was my only liaison who can help me to kind of, you know, let me know what's going on. I was given just the storyline what the film is about. And I will be picked up every morning in a hotel without knowing where I'm going, what I'm doing. And then when I show up on the set, they will tell me Oh, this is where we do the dinner scene. And then we will do the dinner scene, I had no idea what is about who's doing what, who's talking what, but somehow I will use the sign language somehow figured out how to how to light it. And one moment, which I remember was we were supposed to do the scene where one of the characters sets several cars on fire. And, you know, we did it on a backlog of the studio in Taipei. And we are just about to roll. We're just about to turn on the camera. I asked about the cars. How did they? How did they get discouraged? They're just casual question like, how did you? How did you get cars here? This is all we draw them in and park them. And I okay, and did you drain the fuel? And they asked me why. And I just looked and I told him Well, you're telling me that now. All the tanks are full of the fuel. Mike said yes. And I said on that note, thank you guys very much. I'm going out to my hotel would night. It was first of all the time I walked away from the set. Because basically I said you know there is no no film that is worth anybody dying or being injured, just because of the no somebodies negligence basically, and I told them that you know, I will be back when the fuel is drain and they have studied by fire truck, with fire extinguisher and everything so we can actually properly because, you know, I'm very safety conscious. And of course next day, everything was there, they told me Okay, now we can go we can assure that the fuel is drained. And wow. And they I asked Okay, so where is the fire truck, they told me you know, we don't need it. We have hand extinguishers. And I said well, I'll see you later. I said let's try to but I have seen on this monitor on the camera and walk away because because I don't want to be even nearby because I know how the cars burn. And of course set cars on fire. And of course, shortly after cars are all full of blaze we cut but you could not actually extinguish the fires because they had just couple of hand extinguishers which could do nothing. And at some point somebody I think from the neighborhood or whatever actually call 911 and they send the real fire trucks and and eventually real fire trucks came but I think what happened is production really didn't want to spend money on real fire trucks. So they realize it's they want to come anyway. So let us go. So yes, we didn't get the shots. Nobody fortunately got injured. But that was the lesson I learned and it was something that I remember.
Alex Ferrari 54:45
So I'm gonna put you on the spot a little bit with the last two questions. Who is the best photographer of all time and why?
Suki Medencevic ASC 54:54
Well, that's very tough question. I know it's really tough question because every cinema Before you ask, will tell you different, different story and the reason why. Ah, yeah, I mean depends how far you want to go if you want to go in the days of old Hollywood Yeah, Greg talan comes to mind like, like legendary cinematographer, from his collaboration with Orson Welles and some other directors. You know, obviously, there's some amazing cinematographers from the time of, you know, golden era of Hollywood from you know, golden Technicolor,
Alex Ferrari 55:28
Let's say, let's the current era,
Suki Medencevic ASC 55:30
Well, I would say probably, maybe not the greatest, but probably the most influential would be probably Vittorio storaro, who actually had a chance to meet recently, although I've known his work since I was kid. And probably Vittorio storaro, because being the being European cinematographer who worked all over the world, he maintained his vitality or vitality from days, early days, a freebie from his first films to his latest film that he just finished in Iran, which I was able to literally see at the special screening last week. When you look at his work, he's always innovative, he's always pushing blame it, he's never the same, he always does things differently. And, but not only that, he does things differently. He sets the bar very high to everybody else. He He has incredible visual culture, he has incredible visual aesthetics that he he knows how to apply and incorporate in every film that he does. And everything from performance last time or in Paris, one from the heart. Apocalypse Now. Bulworth? I mean even tissue is doing that he did about 10 years ago, and some small films in Europe that nobody has ever seen, and including this film from Iran about Prophet Mohammed, which was just big epic film that he did, just, of course, amazing, masterful job. So to me, this is somebody that's what cinematographer should be always fresh, always innovative. always pushing the limit. So yeah, I would say single handedly probably storaro would be my choice of the most not the greatest, but probably the most influential photographers
Alex Ferrari 57:24
Now this is a question I asked all of my guests and it's always a tough question so just do the best you can What are your top three films of all time? Not in any order?
Suki Medencevic ASC 57:35
Oh, top three films probably would be a blade runner Yep. Lawrence of Arabia okay. And the third film would be abyss the Abyss
Alex Ferrari 57:50
Really the fish you put that on your top three
Suki Medencevic ASC 57:54
That's my top three and I have personal reasons for this because Tommy oh well. Lawrence of Arabia is a film that I saw as a child and also have a fourth film also Enter the Dragon
Alex Ferrari 58:06
Wow wow you really wow
Suki Medencevic ASC 58:06
These are the films which made important important important impact on me in different phases of my life Enter the Dragon was probably the film that going this way was a film that I don't think any other film made such a such impact on me that made me really believe that I'm I'm invincible like Bruce Lee I watched the movie he can do it I can do it I completely identify myself but has nothing to do with cinematography or anything but it just the the power of cinema the way as a kid I experienced Enter the Dragon. To me that was unbelievable. So yes, I'm not ashamed to say it was important in my childhood. Absolutely. Second important film was Lawrence of Arabia. I've seen it also as a kid. And no other film that I've seen so far had such a strong ability to transform and really transform me and my whole experience and made me really believe that I'd right there in the desert. With with Lauren cinema, Sharif and all these other characters and just experiencing it in of course, later on, I realized Well, it's because of the just amazing cinematic work of everybody. Of course, it was pretty young as a cinematographer. The third film was the blade runner and blue Thunder came came at a time in my life when I was deciding, okay, what should I do? What's my path? I was in my teenage, teenage phase and very much interested in photography. And then when I saw this film, I realize that just how photography in this particular film was so powerful and left and played such an important role. In a storytelling and overall feeling of the movie I felt that's something that I would like to do I would be able to I wish I could be able to do to create images that are so so powerful in storytelling that you can watch more without even listening to dialogue and then fourth film production for film so this list is the best came in my in my life when I was finishing my school or I was about to finish my film school and I know it was very controversial but maybe there was a point but I was just in special particular mode to watch something like this to get this underwater adventure Space Odyssey underwater and just whole experience of what's happening under the water and the world underwater and the end and you know, just all this drama that was happening. It was to me just amazing. And but what what really hit me was the fact that there was probably a moment of realization that I will never be able to make movies like this that I just wasted four years of my life and and I'm really now in trouble because I have no choice now you have to stick to it because there's no way back.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:15
So basically had the opposite effect that entered the dragon.
Suki Medencevic ASC 1:01:19
Yes, very. Like it was. As much as I loved the movie is also like wake up call for me realizing that I'm on the wrong path.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:29
Interesting how film works with people. My Blade Runner story is I actually I'm shameful to say that I finally sat down and watched Blade Runner for the first time about eight years ago. And before that, I always seen clips of it here and there and when I was working in a video store, when I was in high school it's just one of those I just never got around to it was always one of those I got to watch I got to watch it. But when I saw it, it was it is mesmerizing, in a way that I never it like jumped to the top three of the top five list of all time for me instantly just the cinematography the story, the world that Ridley Scott put together it was just every frame was a painting. It was gorgeous grid I'd never seen a film so gorgeous. It's just stunning. Like it was just amazing how that how Ridley was able to do that. And the cinematographer remind me who the cinematographer was Jordan
Suki Medencevic ASC 1:02:23
Alex Ferrari 1:02:24
Yes, I remember I think it was you that told me that you saw his reel once and his reel was just the titles of the movies he did
Suki Medencevic ASC 1:02:34
Well you know when you reach a certain point in your career you do not need a reel however you know you might get in a situation that sometimes especially with some young cinematographer, young young directors they would write simply asked for reel of our w or you know like
Alex Ferrari 1:02:52
Yeah like and it's funny to say but the but the he his response to that was oh, I did Blade Runner. here's the here's the titles for you guys. Just found it funny.
Suki Medencevic ASC 1:03:02
I have interesting interesting with it. I think it has to do with our daddy but basically I think the anecdote is about very experienced cinematographer who is not like other 50 something films and he was working with some very young gun first time were very enthusiastic director. So they came to the set he came to the set, he put his cane and just stood there resting on his cane and director was going all over the place with his viewfinder checking on the strength and going here and there and at some point came to him where he was standing at he said oh actually I think the camera will be here and I'm disappointed yes that's why I put my cane here.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:44
There is something to say about experience
Suki Medencevic ASC 1:03:46
Yesterday and for all the young filmmakers if you ever have opportunity to work with people that are more experienced use it to your advantage because there's always something we can learn and and I have people to contribute Don't be afraid I remember one of the directors I worked with on several occasions told me interesting data from his career he told me that when he started as as Director He always needed to leave impression that he knows what he's talking about and you know then security authority that nobody is questioning him which is fine. And then it reached the point when he was on his fifth film that he realized that actually it's perfectly okay to show up and say that you know I don't know what we want to do here but let's come up with something and nobody will take it personally.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:39
Right it's it's insecurity it when you're first starting out.
Suki Medencevic ASC 1:04:42
Yeah, it's this eagerness to show that you are absolutely in control. You are absolutely dominating and.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:48
But that's but that's for any young person.
Suki Medencevic ASC 1:04:52
Yeah, no. So it comes it comes with when it comes with the territory. I think you know, as the director and the level of pressure and responsibility. You need to don't convince yourself that you know what you're doing even though quite often you're clueless. But you know, but if you're smart as some famous director said once like the key, the key to success of, of directory surround to surround himself with talented people and let them do their job.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:22
Correct. Absolutely correct. Suki I won't take up any more of your time. Thank you so, so much for being on the show. You were a lot of great gems and nuggets of information in this in this episode. I think a lot of people get a lot of use out of it. So is there anything else you want to say?
Suki Medencevic ASC 1:05:38
Just go ahead and shoot something.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:41
Never better said my friend. We'll talk soon my friend. Thanks again for being on the show. Thank you. I hope you guys got a lot out of that episode. I know I did. I know cinematography is almost kind of like a black art to a lot of filmmakers. They don't understand what it takes to actually make a good image. And that's one of the problems with a lot of independent films is they just grab a camera and they go shoot something sometimes. And they don't take the time to hire a good dp or understand what good lighting is. And I hope this episode kind of shined a light no pun intended on the importance of cinematography, the art of cinematography and what what it really takes to create amazing, amazing images. So don't forget to head over to filmfestivaltips.com that's FilmFestivaltips.com to get my six secrets on how to get into film festivals for cheap or free. These six secrets help me get into over 500 international film festivals for cheap or free. And please head over to iTunes and give the podcast a honest review. It helps us out dramatically in getting more exposure for the show. And we really appreciate you guys doing that for us. It does help us out dramatically with the rankings on iTunes and help us get more listeners and get the word out on the indie film hustle movement. So thanks again guys. We will be bringing you a great new show next week. Stay tuned, we got some amazing guests coming up. And some couple other things I might be doing in the future with our podcast that you guys might be excited about. So stay tuned and remember keep that hustle going never stopped following your dreams. Talk to you soon.
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- Suki Medencevic – IMDB
- Suki Medencevic – Official Site
- ASC – American Society of Cinematographers
- Kodak Film Company
- American Horror Story
- This is Meg – Feature Film