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The Art of Television Cinematography with Jayson Crothers

Today on the show we have veteran cinematographer Jayson Crothers. Jayson had shot two dozen independent features before he joined the NBCUniversal hit show Chicago Fire in 2013.  After serving as the 2nd unit DoP for 38 episodes during seasons 2 & 3 he was asked to helm the show.  Serving as the sole DoP from seasons 4 to 6, he shot 74 episodes of the series for Dick Wolf. He also did additional photography for the backdoor pilot of Chicago Med.

In 2019 Jayson photographed three features – the World War 2 true story drama Axis Sally, directed by Michael Polish, starring Al Pacino and Mitch Pileggi, the romantic comedy The Thing About Harry, directed by Peter Paige, and the hurricane action film Force of Nature, also directed by Michael Polish, starring Mel Gibson, Emile Hirsch, and Kate Bosworth.

In between these films he also shot additional photography for the Starz series P-Valley as well as 2nd Unit for the Netflix feature Malibu Rescue – The Next Wave.

In addition to his work being seen theatrically and on television, it’s also been seen across the festival circuit at SXSW, Tribeca, and Camerimage to name a few. Jayson also served as the Technical Editor for the acclaimed book on cinematography and lighting, A Shot In The Dark.

In this episode, we discuss his career, how to get the most out of low budget cinematography, and how COVID-19 is affected things behind the camera.

Enjoy my conversation with Jayson Crothers.

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Alex Ferrari 0:04
Now guys, today on the show, we have veteran cinematographer Jason Crothers. Now I want to Jason on the show, because he has been dipping now for decades not to make them sound old, but for a while. And during his time he has been lighting shows like Chicago Fire, where he was the cinematographer of 74 episodes dealing with fire on a daily basis, and has worked with huge stars like alpa Chino and Mel Gibson who stars in his new movie, force of nature, directed by friend of the show, Michael polish, and much, much more now wanted to really dig deep into how he used his low budget cinematography techniques, not only in his early years shooting those dozens of independent films, but also what he was able to bring to his bigger budget projects and how those techniques still work for him, even to this day. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Jason Crothers. I like to welcome the show Jason Crothers, man. How you doing, brother?

Jason Crothers 4:02
I'm wonderful. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 4:03
Oh, I'm, I'm living the quarantine life. My friend. Live in that quarantine life.

Jason Crothers 4:09
You,You need some shaving like I just gave up on shaving. So

Alex Ferrari 4:13
I shaved my head. I shaved my head. I gave up. I've had longer hair for about two and a half, three years and I just said I looked at my wife and she's like, why don't you just shave it off? I'm like, really? She's like, yeah, just shave it off. Like you're not gonna see a barber anytime soon. So even if you just let it grow out by the time it's grown back,

Jason Crothers 4:36
Well you should feel you should feel privileged. I've actually you know, I've been living in like gym shorts for weeks. I've actually got pants on today which is weird to put jeans on.

Alex Ferrari 4:43
I appreciate that. Well this is this is this is my formal wear. Currently here at the indie film hustle for people not why not watching this. I have a hustle t shirt and a hat. What's below.

Jason Crothers 4:58
I am wearing pants like this. Like backgrounds You Can I can I can attest to that

Alex Ferrari 5:02
I can neither confirm nor deny what's happening below the waist. Anyway, let's move on. So, Jason, um, thank you for being on the show. We've been trying to do this for a year now. Yeah, we met a while ago and, and through a good friend of ours, Austin ordell, who's my dp on my last film on the corner of ego desire, and we've been trying to get you on because you are fat, you have a fascinating story about how you became a dp. You have way a wide range of experiences from low budget to, you know, a really complicated network show that we will discuss the complexities of shooting that show and all that but before we get into it, man, how did you get into the film business?

Jason Crothers 5:48
Um, that's a really good question. Um, so I I got my start. I went to Scottsdale Community College, which is in Scottsdale, Arizona. Now, they have like a respectable program. They have like a couple of small sound stages and equipment and whatnot. When I went there, like the film room was literally a closet that the marching band department and given them were just efficient because all the equipment they had fit into a closet. Like we didn't even have movie lights until like, I think like my third semester, like we're shooting like 1k scoops that we'd stolen from the theater department and like soldered baby spuds on to so I got my start there, which is great. You know, like my first like, my first day of class. like two hours into the class they were showing me a super eight camera in our hands and like, All right, great, came up with three other students go outside and shoot something. That's kind of how I got my start. I think like a lot of people like, you know, I grew up loving movies being fascinated by movies. I've told this story before like my dad. I grew up in Alaska as a kid amongst a lot of other places that my dad was like a projectionist, part time projectionist at a theater in Alaska. So like, I remember watching Gremlins, like when it first came out, but I remember I saw Gremlins dozens of times without sound because the speaker in the projection Booth was busted. So I didn't actually see that. That was the first movie. I remember seeing and seeing it dozens of times as you know, as a little kid, and understand that like oh, this is all make believe because I'm sitting right next to the projector. So I was fascinated by movies side note didn't actually see remnant from sound until I was a junior in high school,

Alex Ferrari 7:25
and then it terrified you and then it terrified that

Jason Crothers 7:27
I was like, I was like, holy shit. These people have names and voices. I mean, there was a time I could tell you every edit of that movie by heart. I remember in high school being like this is like seeing it for the first time all over again. So I always loved movies and fascinated by them obviously didn't understand. I think like most people, you're starting off with the director of director and cinematographer. What so I was fortunate that when I started to film school, I had a teacher that recognized like, oh, you're really interested in camera and lighting. That's what you're interested in your strong suit is, and very politely was like, maybe you should consider cinematography. And then when I picked up it's I mean, it sounds kind of hokey, but like, I picked up a light meter and you know, shot my first like, real thing. And I was like, Oh, this just clicked and made sense. So after that, you have to Scottsdale I went to a move to Chicago, from Columbia College in Chicago, intern for Penn division intern on the film, Barbara, the first barbershop movie for MGM, kicked around for a while went to a phi. And I again, it's a little weird now because now there's so much information like this, you know, there's like so much information available. When I was starting out, like there's basically two online forums. And then otherwise, it was like going to the library and like stealing books in the library to learn about cinematography. And also, you know, I started an interesting time to when the industry was transitioning from film into you know, HD, which then became a full digital cinema. So I started learning on film, and by the time I got out of school, it was making a hard transition into digital so I was like attending school and learning how to enter this industry while it was in the middle of upheaval, and it's a lot of change. I yeah, I mean, I just kind of fell into like, this is something I really love to do, and I think ignorance and a lot of luck and I just kind of kept stumbling forward and finding people that can ask me to shoot things and you know, here I am, I started at 18 and I'm 41 now and people are still foolishly hiring me to shoot things so yeah, eventually someone will catch on.

Alex Ferrari 9:39
Yeah, you and I both are of similar vintages. So that's a very nice way of putting it over itself similar vintages so when you're saying that it's exactly when I grew, I mean, I'm a little bit older than you but not by much. And I was exact same thing. I started off with film, and I learned, you know, in film school, I learned online editing and Film Editing. And there was like this nonlinear computer running Windows 311 in the corner called the montage, which never worked. And then I got out into the workforce and they're like, avid is the thing, and you have to learn an avid and 24 P and all this, you know that it was just a weird thing, because a lot of stuff I learned in school was pretty much obsolete by the time I got into the workforce. So it was it all sounds very, very familiar.

Jason Crothers 10:29
But it's also weird, because like, we were learning, you know, because I was always I took a lot of editing classes today, I learned very early on, I was like, oh, a big part of cinematography is editing. Like, it doesn't matter how you light and shoot if you don't understand editing, as well. So actually, I took a lot of editing courses a lot, you know, in conjunction all the cinematography course I was taking. And for me, it was always fascinating, like, I'm learning, you know, on Monday, I'm learning and getting experienced cutting on flatbed. And on Tuesday, I'm learning how to get avid certified. So I'm like, this is such, it's such a weird time and like years of transition of like, here's how to shoot 35 millimeter. But also, here's something you know, here's the F 900. And you're like, what, what,what is it?

Alex Ferrari 11:09
No, it's funny because I learned, I learned nonlinear then online, like the CMS 3600 Grass Valley. And then I went to flatbed. And when I cut a flatbed, I look literally looked at the teacher. I'm like, this is barbaric. You mean you want me to cut with a razor blade, the Edit? And if I like it, I tape it. But if I really like it, I use glue. What is this? What are we the Flintstones like what is this? It was we should have gone the other way. In hindsight, they should have started you there and moved you up to more advanced technology. But it was it was it was

Jason Crothers 11:50
I I told us in the past, I would did a show a couple years ago and we're doing our camera loadout you know, got a camera truck. And some of the other ACS were laughing they're like, oh, ask Jason. So I had a very young member, my camera department was like, Hey, we just they won't tell me they think it's funny. what's the what's that closet for? I was like, Oh, the dark room. They're like, yeah, the dark room. I was like, No, that's what it's called the dark room. They're like, yeah, the room. It's it's all blackout. It's dark. There's no light. There's like, yeah, that's called a dark room and not explained to them. Like you're actually young enough that you've never worked with film and you don't understand what a darkroom is, as I'm explaining, like, Oh, you go in there and you'd load your film. You don't love your film. They're looking at me like I'm a crazy person. I wait, you can't see anything you've done. And no one can see what they're doing and they're doing a bike feel like this is how you used to make movie. They're looking at me like I'm insane. Yes, I'm describing like a like a godless world like some kind of Mad Max apocalyptic world of filmmaking. I'm like, like, look up until a couple years ago. That's how it was done.

Alex Ferrari 12:58
Oh, no, wait a minute. You had a dark room? That's like the lap of luxury. You didn't? Did you tell them about the bag? Because there was the there was the tent. There was like the changing tent. It was like if you if there's a changing tent, which is like the next level down from the dark room, and then if you're ghetto,it's the bag,

Jason Crothers 13:16
it's the bag. And then after that it's you lock yourself in the bathroom and taping garbage bags over the window and hoping you don't bump into the light.

Alex Ferrari 13:23
Oh, is it we usually you look back and we were like we were savages. I mean, it was it was really it was really barbaric. You know, different the process. I mean, and it's so funny cuz I mean, I shot my first commercial all my commercials were shot on 35 when I was coming up, and I did my demo reel and stuff, I shot 35 and did the transfer and I've still remember the smell the smell of film is this that if something about the smell of it just takes me back. But I remember shooting one of my first commercials. And it was I was shooting at 125 frames a second. And it was terrifying. Because you hear that film going like flying through the the mag and you're like if it's not money, you're like

Jason Crothers 14:14
Every time you turn it on, you're like that's not a fan of film rolling. That's the sound of like dollars just flying out of my pocket.

Alex Ferrari 14:20
And I was just like don't break don't break don't break don't break. Does that does that does that snap? Oh, so it was in there but you go back and we talking about it? It was it was savatree it was savatree sir it was it was absolutely sabarish always Yeah, and it was worth shooting. Doing that whole process was very more artisinal in the way it was like you felt the film and there was like you really needed to know what you were doing. You needed to know lighting you needed to know exposure need to know film stock there was a level of education that you needed to have where now you know a read or an Alexa you know you You should have down the middle somewhat, you can save it in post and like if you could, you know, and it's still not going to be great, but it's acceptable. And unfortunately, it's become more acceptable now. And now in the corona COVID-19 world. This is what we're doing right here. So is fantastically acceptable right now for network television. Obviously, it's this this was a HD camera, I'm fine. It's good enough. It's, it's, it's fine. It's, I'm sure, cinematographers they have no problem with it. And it was funny that you're saying you were an edit, you edit it too. There was always that joke is like what would happen if the DP edited a film and it would just be long crane shots, non cut, no cut long crane shots, long Dolly shots, I would just basically the whole movie would be seven shots, the whole thing.

Jason Crothers 15:47
That's why in school I learned really early on. I was like, oh, like so much a story so much as tog Rafi is it's not just shots and angles and lighting. It's how those shots are going to go together. Because the power you know, like one shot by itself is one thing. But it gave the shot you know, shot a games, a lot more power and story significance when it's juxtaposed to the shot being rejected, shot, see, instead of you're like, Oh, this one image is powerful. But these three images together create something altogether different. And I learned very quickly, I was like, oh, if you don't understand editing, not only are you kind of cutting off, you're removing some of the storytelling tools you have. But also if you don't understand editing, you're shooting this stuff, handing it to an editor, and then later on going well, this just doesn't work like well, it's not beginner's fault. You didn't give them coverage of the material that cut well together. Right? I in school, like I never want to be an editor. I've never edited professionally, but I took a lot of editing classes and spent a lot of time studying editing. So I was like, Oh, that's I mean, at the end of the day, like, you know, cinematography is one thing. The way it's presented to an audience is through editing. If you don't understand editing, I think you are, you're, you're, I think cinematography, and editing shoot very differently than those that do.

Alex Ferrari 17:06
Right? Because you're giving you know, I came up as an editor. So when I'm directing, I edit in my head on set, so I'll be like, no, we're gonna need this angle here. And I'm already thinking about editing. So same thing goes for cinematographer, if you're not getting the coverage that you need, that's going to cut well together because it might be a great looking shot. But if it doesn't come with the rest of the stuff that's useless.

Jason Crothers 17:27
Or even even even if sometimes you go like, Oh, no, we can do the scene, you know, in one shot. Because the scene before this, you know, this is how we shot it. It's like it's it's, it's both within the scene, but also the film overall, like, what's the tempo, what's the pace be and you start getting like network to studios, you're like, oh, also, you know, great this movie, you know, I know, they're gonna chop this movie down to 85 minutes, you're also shooting something going, alright, I get that, you know, I'm in love with the directors love with it. But I know it's never going to this is never going to make it to air like this is going to get chopped down. So we have to shoot things play just practically this can't play out that long. So there's also it depends very much to like, there's a world of difference in terms of I think feature in television in terms of, you're shooting for an edit. And I think features got a little more freedom or especially with television, especially network television, you're going yeah, there's a different style and tempo. And the tempo is not just the language of the show. There's also practical things driving it like you know, commercial breaks. As you're like, you've got to think about some of those things too. And those are those have, those often drive the Edit far more than story does sometimes.

Alex Ferrari 18:34
Now, you you've been you've been you've got a lot of features under your belt, and you have television, but a bunch of television episodes under your belt as well. When you go into Let's go, let's start off with the feature world. You are approaching a low budget project. I'm not sure you're doing much of that now. But when you do, do kind of low budget, how do you approach it? Because I find that, you know, sometimes, especially with cinematographers, who are used to a certain box of tools, a toolbox with certain things that they need to get to do their job, as opposed to a cinematographers like, Look, we've got a iPhone, a light and an A dream, let's make it happen. And still able to do it. So how do you approach low budget cinematography, as opposed to more network or bigger budget?

Jason Crothers 19:28
Oh, yeah. I mean, I, I'm, I'm a very big fan of the idea that everything we do is scalable. So what you do on a $5,000 short, is scalable, you know, it's the same. It's the job you do and how you do it. At the end of the edits, core doesn't really change. So whether you're doing a $5,000 short, you know, a $50,000 micro budget, a $500,000 movie or you know, you're doing you know, a $5 million movie It's the same job. It's just a matter of like, what the expectations are, what the resources are that you and the production as a whole half. before I sign on to anything, you know, I asked some practical questions about what's the budget? What's the schedule? do those things track with what the script is? And what's everybody's expectation? So that in theory, by the time I sign on, I'm like, great. I, you know, I signed on to something, go for a cigar and say, like, Oh, it's a, you know, this is a $50,000. Movie. Okay, great. I, I know, you know, the script is reasonable for the resources that we have, and what everybody's expectations are, is reasonable for those resources. And then you, you know, you ask for you fight for the resources that you need to do those things. But yeah, if you're doing, you know, if I'm doing, you know, a $5,000, short for as a favor for a friend, the tools and the resources that I'm going to ask for and expect are wildly different than the, you know, than the $5 million movie, I'm going to go do you know, the week for you the month following? I mean, not every, I can't speak for anybody else. But I don't have like, you know, oh, here's like my, you know, these are the tools that I need. And that I always need. Because every project is different. And every year, I think every project, not only should it be different, but every project just practically it, you do, what I need on a $5 million movie is not necessarily what I need for, you know, a $500,000 movie. And vice versa. So it changes and I think you need to be open to that to your look and go like great. Okay, I would love to shoot on you know, I'd love to shoot on an Alexa. We can't afford that. And I can't get a favor for what we can afford. So what can we afford? Okay, that's great. That's sufficient, you know, what's more important in the camera? or glass? Well, I'll get this camera. So you have these lenses instead? And, you know, great, we'd love to have an 18k Well, obviously, that's not going to happen, can I get an 1800 watt HDMI, oh, I can probably swing that. Like, everything becomes scalable.

Alex Ferrari 22:03
Got it. And so when you're working with because I've worked with directors and DPS, who, you know, are unique in their style. And they're unique in their approach to the filmmaking process. How do you work with a director, as far as the collaborative art because there are, there are DPS who want to imprint their way of doing things on a younger director, or more inexperienced director sometimes, as opposed to a more collaborative way of working. So how do you like to approach working with director? Because I know there's so many different kinds of directors, there's the Martin Scorsese that's gonna tell you, I want the lens here. I want a 25 here, I want a dolly in here. Can we get this light over there? And that lead over there? And then there's the other guy that goes, just make it look pretty?

Jason Crothers 22:55
Yeah. I mean, and it's, I think, you know, it's funny, I think it's, I'm 41 now, and I've been, you know, shooting features and making a living since I was like, 25, right, like, I got, I got lucky getting an early start. I think the first few years when I started. I definitely, you know, the the the arrogance of youth, I was definitely like, Oh, I think I know better. So I definitely, the first couple years I was shooting, I definitely was like, No, no, no, I think needs to be this way, we should approach it this way. Because I thought like, oh my ways the best way. And after a few years that I was like, that's dumb. That's not true. I don't know, you know, I'm moderately okay at my job. And the real joy of collaborating with people is learning from other people. And I had a real big revelation. And it was in 2007. I did this, this very small movie called leaving Barstow is this, like 35 millimeter drama that we did for, like $370,000. And the director, the front of my name, Peter page was our first time working together. And Peter had a lot of experience as an actor. And so he'd worked with a lot of directors. And he was very collaborative, but very specific, and demanding in a good way, not like in an unreasonable way. But like he had high expectations and expected everyone around him to rise to those challenges. And that was kind of a revelation for me, because I was like, Oh, this is the director that that knows, at the very least as much as I do, but really probably knows a lot more than I do. And I learned a lot from him. And if anything, the biggest thing I learned was shutting my mouth and listening. Suddenly, I was like, Oh, no, am I learning a lot, but it's putting me in a better position, understanding what he wants, and puts me in a better position to going alright, if that's what's important to you, and that's what you want. then based on that, these are my ideas of how to get there. And that was a real kind of a rebirth and I think Ever since then, I have a big problem. When I come on board and a directors like, how do you like to work, I usually kind of throw it back at them and go, I'm happy. And I'm happy to work any way that my director wants to. If my director wants to come in and shortlist, the whole movie, once a storyboard the whole movie and go through with, you know, Artemis and figure out every shot every focal length, great, let's go do it that way, if that's the way they like to work, if I get a director who's like, you know what, let's just show up on the day, and we'll do a blocking with the actors, and we'll figure it out. Great, I'm happy to roll with that to every director is different. And part of the fun part of my job is every projects like oh, I get to flex a different muscle and work a different way. Because at the end of the day, my job fundamentally is, is to support my director. So if what they need to be comfortable is, you know, somebody, they can go, Hey, I want to be really specific about camera placement focal length, great, let's do that. And I'll focus my energies on lighting, if they go back, great. All I'll take care of, you know, the blocking and the coverage and everything else. Like every director is different. And it's, it's, I think, my job Our job is cinematographers to support that, whatever it is they however they they like to work. And with that, obviously kind of its own challenges. But you know, I think that's that's how to answer that question.

Alex Ferrari 26:16
Now, you got on the show Chicago Fire? And have you shot like at least two or three episodes of that? Two, three episodes. How about I mean, what did you do at? Like you were on that show, you shot a lot of episodes,

Jason Crothers 26:34
Somewhere around there, cuz I started on the show as their second unit dp in season two, and ended up shooting, I think two episodes that season. And then season three did second unit, and they ended up shooting, like another six or seven episodes. And they took over the show season four and then did it season four, or five and six. So I probably did between 70 or 80 episodes as the main dp and then probably another 30 or 40 episodes doing second unit for it.

Alex Ferrari 27:05
So I mean, that's a fairly large network show is a large network show that is a fairly large network show and also a fairly complicated show to shoot. It is not your normal police drama, which has its own, you know, car chases and fight sequences and things but you, you you the amount of practical effects on that show mixed in with I'm assuming visual effects, and I will ask about how

Jason Crothers 27:32
That's actually incorrect. Oh, a night, about 98% of what was on that show was real.

Alex Ferrari 27:37
So then it goes back to my first statement, but the amount of practical effects to shoot with. I mean, I remember watching, you know, I've never personally shot. I don't think I've ever directed fire. I don't think I've ever shot with fire before. Because that's the thing you don't do. It's not a thing fire bad. Fire bad. You know? So insurance don't like. So the I think the most experience I had was watching backdraft and then the behind the scenes of backdraft. And I think the Universal Studios, Florida backdraft. ride with a Wasn't that amazing how they showed you how they did and stuff? So that was my limited experience of, of doing that. How, how the hell did you shoot on a television schedule? Which I'm assuming is what how much per episode? Eight days per episode. So you're shooting eight days an hour of action content, basically, explosions fire everywhere, all the time, because I was you know, it was what I've seen some episodes of it, and I saw a bunch of your work. And I'm just going this hurts like this hurts. This hurts me watching this I can't imagine. And for the actors. I mean, the actors aren't, you know, in danger. I mean, they're not but they are like there's they've got gear on there's there's real it's real fire maybe be controlled, but it's still real. Yeah. How the hell did you do? How do you do something like that man?

Jason Crothers 29:11
Oh, that's a really good question. I mean, the real answer is the success of that show is 100%. On on the crew. Yeah, like the whole practice app, like you got from the top down producers that are really supportive. When you go like, hey, these are the tools that we need. This is the time we need these are the resources we need. They they get it and you get the tools and the resources that you need. To just every department It was one of the it was one of the shows that I think the success of that show is is just by kind of dumb luck, like a perfect mixture of the right people all came together at the right time. So you've got there's no weak links on that entire production, like every department is is firing on all cylinders at all times. And so that's the only way that kind of stuff can happen because also keep in mind that the show specific to like my role to dp when I was on even now, they didn't we didn't have rotating DPS. So as you know, 22 or 23 episodes every season, it wasn't like, Oh, you know, you're doing Audrey Eve and you're doing every episode so my prep was also basically a day was like a tech scout day and

Alex Ferrari 30:24
Sure Why not?

Jason Crothers 30:25
Why not? Or, like, you know, you're in between setups on one set, you know, the director for the neck come down, it's like, oh, in between setups, like, Hey, here's the blueprint for the burn stage. And here's what we're gonna put these like 30 flame bars, can we get your eyes on this here like spotting it really quick in between other setups, like, okay, hold that thought I have to roll in this scene cut. Okay, let's move on, run back, give some notes like, the prep is very much squeezed in between other things. To do the show, really, what it comes down to is it's just a lot of trust. And everybody else like it's the production designer, was a gentleman named Craig Jackson, who was fucking brilliant. Probably shouldn't curse. Too late. Too late. And was brilliant. Yeah, and also was great at not only designing sets that just looked amazing, but we're also very shoot, like very shootable and very friendly to lighting and camera placement in fire. And he thought about, he put a lot of thought into like, what, what looked good on camera. You know, so if you come by and show me his plans for setting his building, I was like, Okay, I have no notes, like very brief notes. The effects department run by john pneumonic. Him and His whole department, same thing, like they were just great about how do we how do we create a sense of danger? But do it obviously in a safe way? How do we give people options? Very rarely do I ever hear anybody go? No, usually like we can it'll take X amount of time and you're like, Alright, how important is it but it's really just trusting everybody to be on point and showing up and going great, everybody everybody is doing your job incredibly well. So when you show up you're like great all the elements are there. You just have to not screw it up at that point. But all that stuff is any Yeah, like 98% of what you see on that show was real like the only visual effects really was you know obviously like wire removal for sure, sure. But in terms of like all the fire and explosions The only time there's ever any visual effects are either if there's a safety concern more to the point like if one of our actors is running down a hallway on that show, they're wearing like real firefighter gear like they're completely insulated are completely protected but if they're getting like a victim out like you know victims usually like you know always in my bedroom, my apartment on fire so they're wearing you know, like t shirt and pajama pants, so they don't have the same kind of protection, but they're still running down the hallway that's engulfed in fire. So the crew has got firefighter gear on and the dollar grips and everyone else is suited up except for that one day player actor he's just wearing

Alex Ferrari 33:07
The one the red shirt the red shirt as we say the red the red shirt,

Jason Crothers 33:10
That's always a stunt person but they'll you know they'll put them up with burn gel but there's also like a limit so sometimes they all right great well they're running down the hall the victim maybe instead of the fire being you know at an 11 year old dial it down like a six just on one side of the hallway that you know that day players near and then they'll just do a little embellishment to make it match the bigger size before or if like there's a lot of wind because obvious shooting Chicago especially during the winter like a lot of the bad wind would make fire and explosion go off but the wind would physically push the fire down like visual effects might embellish it a little bit. But

Alex Ferrari 33:44
but there was a practice that was a practical basis

Jason Crothers 33:46
oh nine like said it's literally any firework is is minor embellishment 98% of what you saw on that show was done in camera for real.

Alex Ferrari 33:55
So the funny thing is that Chicago Fire set is arguably the safest set to be in in Hollywood right now because it kills Coronavirus quite quickly.

Jason Crothers 34:06
I hadn't thought about that. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 34:07
I mean the heat alone, I'm assuming the heat coming off with that show

Jason Crothers 34:11
And everywhere. Everybody we're wearing like a relic freighters and full bodysuit actually, you know maybe Chicago Fire will come back it'll just be nothing but 42 straight minutes of fires.

Alex Ferrari 34:20
I mean it's just everybody's wearing other gear all the time even when there's a love scene gears on surrounded by fire surrounded by fire at all times to make sure the virus is going you can't get dick Wolf and pitch this to him please I'm sure effects depart will hunt you down. Exactly. Kisses I've never shot fire. Really I'm curious about it. You're talking about fire bars. I'm familiar with what these things are. But you're literally just dialing fire up and down on a board essentially. And you have completely control of the fire and very different places where it is. So it looks like it's out have control, but it really isn't. And then the set itself is treated with multi anti flammable, you know, agents that even if the fire does move or something like that it doesn't catch fire right away or something along those lines.

Jason Crothers 35:12
Yeah, so the effects department, you know, a flame bar for me doesn't know is literally, you know, a two or three or four foot bar bass holes in it hooked up to propane. And they're just pumping propane into it, and you ignite it. And then so depending on the amount of propane you're releasing, you can control the size and the intensity of that fire. And then you just hide them around the set, often the sets were built, so you can put them in, you know, like into the floorboards like the floorboards are actually built. So, you know, when you look at it, it looks like it's just a normal floorboard, if you stand directly next to the wall, you realize there's like a, like a two inch gap. So you can put a flame bar in there. So it looks like the walls on fire. reality, it's just a flame bar hidden by part of the set dressing to the set were designed for these flame bars to be hidden in built into the set. And yeah, it's it's every I mean, shooting fun, it's funny shooting that show. You know, under normal circumstances, we might do 50 6070 plus setups a day, you get into fire scenes, and you get into like 10, maybe 12 setups, because suddenly everything takes 45 minutes or an hour or more depending on should you get into like a room, you're like, great, here's this room. Okay, great. So there's, for a sake of argument, say there's nine flame bars, you know, it's like a relatively small fire. So first, it clears the set effects departments already rigged up, and they're going to recheck the safety because they rigged it the night before, but they're going to recheck every single pipe every single flame bar, make sure there's no leaks, make sure it's all working, then the bring back on the set and you start doing you start setting levels for each individual flame bar. And then when you set individual levels, then you start turning them on in groups because obviously you know fire is competing for fuel, which is not just the propane, but also oxygen. So what worked individually some you start printing groups of two or three or four might change how the fires reacting, and then you see the whole room going and from there, you start determining, oh, well that fire is taking oxygen from that one. So we have to make adjustments or you start having safety concerns of this side of the room getting too hot that fire is getting too big. And everybody's you know in there, you know myself effects stunts, there's fighting a real firemen in there, the actors get involved and everyone's talking about what's happening, how it's happening, what's going to go on. What's funny is you have a shot at like one person running down the hallway. In reality, what's chasing that person is the operator. A Dolly grip spotting them affects people on set to keep an eye on fire. Real firefighters literally standing by with hoses. You got somebody you know on the controls of the propane. So if anything goes wrong at any point, anybody has a concern kill switch. Yeah, they turn everything off instantaneously. It's it's interesting for all of the like the chaos and the danger. There were so many safety nets in place, that during the five years I was on the show, nobody there's not there wasn't a single injury related anything because safety was obviously of paramount importance and there's so many safety nets in place. I remember talking to somebody once we had a day player operator whose concern I was like, totally valid and I kind of walking through it. I was like, look for something to go wrong. You'd literally have to have like seven people fail at their job. tediously in the most colossal way for anything to go wrong.

Alex Ferrari 38:37
It's it's fascinating that a show like that where the danger is that like the ultimate, I mean, it's literally really high and every shot, that mistakes could happen. And nothing happens but then yet alone on some, you know some other show or independent film or even studio film, a stunt goes wrong and someone and their moves a major accident or something like that. It's fascinating.

Jason Crothers 39:00
I think on that is different with flight to like i think you know, everyday we worked in the birthdays, you know, the ad is always had the same speech, which was usually started with I know we've done this a 1000s of times, we're going to do this again. And nobody gets complacent because the minute you get complacent and assume is when something goes wrong. So I think a big part of the safety of that show and again, the reason we're able to do those things is because nobody ever got complacent. Nobody ever cut corners. Anybody was like, Oh, it's not a big deal. It's like no, there's a there's a routine for a reason. Like we'd go through these steps every single time. Because we're not we're not doing them because we were doing them to make sure that the thing that you assume is not you know, maybe it's been that way for the 999 times we did it before and here we are in time 1000 and now there's a new variable that you just missed like we make we they made a point of going through step by step by step so that people don't get complacent cuz I think people get hurt on stunts. When you know, it's accidents, you know, it's like it's a future human. It's usually some kind of human error.

Alex Ferrari 40:06
Now this there is so much fire on set. I'm assuming there's a ventilation system that pulls all that smoke out, because I'm just a lighting standpoint. This does give off smoke. Am I wrong?

Jason Crothers 40:19
Although not, not as much smoke as you might think. I mean, actually, all this food, all the smoke on the show was was us adding artificial atmosphere. But yeah, the sets are the individual sets were vented. So after you set everything up, the groups would come in and literally, the ceiling pieces were built in such a way you could adjust ceiling pieces to vent heat, because obviously heat rises. So if you've got you know, a hallway, it's one temperature but when you've got that much fire going literally within seconds, the temperature is going to jump, you know, 100 some odd degrees within seconds, so they invent the ceiling to let heat out. And then stage is built with special ventilation as well to start trying to pull up you know, actual smoke and whatnot. Yeah, the whole set the burn save is literally the only thing to be shot. There were things that were on fire, I mean, basically a specially modified soundstage to handle all the interior burns up.

Alex Ferrari 41:13
So I have to ask, did you lose any Did you lose any lenses? Did you learn? Did you lose a camera ever?

Jason Crothers 41:19
Oh, I could eat a real testament to a real testament aeroflex we never had a single camera problem in five years. You show me the classic Alexa, like the original one.

Alex Ferrari 41:33
But it's I mean, there is still heat there. Like you're dealing It's hot. It's

Jason Crothers 41:37
A shitload of, heat there I mean, there's you but also getting a shitload of heat. But then you know, the next day you're going to go outside, you know, in Chicago in the winter with like, 25 below zero. You have both extremes, you know, where sometimes you start outside and come back in diverse states you're like, layered up for like 25 below zero and you come to the Bernie stage and like you're peeling down to like jeans and a T shirt because you're just, you know, it's like 150 degrees. We never had the closest we ever came was we did a locked off shot with the camera on a ladder like a 12 foot ladder for this high angle shot. And even I was looking at my key grip. I was like, oh man, there's a lot of fire in here that he's It's hot. Just putting the camera up there. This might be a bad idea, but we did it anyways. And the closer that happened is a little warning popped up in the camera. He was like, Oh, the camera body got really hot. We were like, oh, did we just screw up the camera. We let it cool down eventually took it down off the ladder. 30 minutes later cool down data was totally in the car was totally fine. So

Alex Ferrari 42:36
but lenses, no lenses,

Jason Crothers 42:37
no lens issues. Now we never actually like sorry, we lost I think it was in season three. We did a sequence where we flipped a firetruck. And I think we lost we lost a five we you know we put we put something like 14 or 15 cameras on it cuz you're only going to flip a firetruck once you know so we had a bunch of like five DS as crash cameras and I think lost like two lenses on five DS

Alex Ferrari 43:04
But that wasn't a crash that wasn't on a burn.

Jason Crothers 43:07
Correct? Yeah, but in a burn now we ever lost no damage any equipment, no damage any cameras or lenses?

Alex Ferrari 43:12
Now I want to ask you, I want to ask you this question because I have a lot of experience with this and I would love to hear your technique on shooting haze, or smoke in his scene is brutal how Tony Scott did it for every single movie he ever made, and made it look flawless. I have no idea or Ridley bolt and Scott brothers. They were master at the haze but Tony like you watch True Romance and like that scene between walk in and hopper and there's just this gorgeous haze with shafts of light coming in. I'm like this makes no sense. But it looks awesome. It looks amazing. So I've shot haze, multiple projects, I mean just a ton of them and so and I remember the difference between smoke and haze there's a huge difference between smoke and haze. But what is your technique if I said okay, Jason, we're gonna shoot this scene. I want a nice haze here. I want that I want the Tony Scott vibe I want Blade Runner how do you set it up prep it and shoot?

Jason Crothers 44:16
So to answer that I'd say cuz I don't think Chicago Fire is a good example because then they're like you're doing it is supposed to be simulate

Alex Ferrari 44:23
Sure Sure Sure.

Jason Crothers 44:24
Because in reality doesn't match up with interest because the reality is in a building on fire like that. The smoke is what I said that you can't see more than a couple inches in front of you. Right? We spent some time it like the the actual firefighter Academy like the the drill that they run people on and they're literally just shipping containers they'd like I said together to make like a maze. And you get in there you're like oh wait once you put the smoke and you literally you're you can see like two inches in front of you. So our fire advisors like he's like look it's not real cuz it was really be making a radio show. So you're trying to get like heavy levels of smoke to get the impression of what an interior burn would look like. But in that case, it's never about maintaining the levels it because you're you're not trying to you're not trying to do haze in terms of trying to light it like you're shooting that kind of smoke. Because now it becomes part of its ambience

Alex Ferrari 45:17
Its ambience versus practical.

Jason Crothers 45:19
Yeah. So what you're talking about it and it's funny, because like, you know, I left Chicago Fire 2018. And last year 2019 I get three movies basically back to back. And two of them were with Michael polish.

Alex Ferrari 45:34
Oh, he, you work with Michael. Yeah, he's my friend. Good friend of the show.

Jason Crothers 45:39
Yeah, I've done three movies with Michael. Oh, my good friend and one of my favorite collaborators. So I did two movies with Michael last year. And Michael loves his atmosphere. Yeah, like Michael loves atmosphere. So like a good example. The reason I bring this up is is like a better example is like Kenai did this world war two drama with with Al Pacino. I think it was last I think we should did that January through March 2019. And that had like a very kind of big classic approach. It was you know, a lot of big wide shots, and lots of hard shafts of light. And we basically add atmosphere in every single damn set for every single setup. In general, maintaining atmosphere is I use a technique of using a spot meter. So once I find a level that like, you know, I'll make I've got a technique I use where base I stand on the same spot on set, I take a reading of the same spot on the wall. And that time may end up checking that in between every setup, and that helps me maintain a certain level of consistency. Okay. Okay, yeah. The the real I think the real way to maintain that kind of level of haze and really work with it. is you need to have really candid conversations with the director like I always with the director in the ad and go, look, we can do this. I'm happy to do it. atmosphere looks great. Big Shots of light. It's all wonderful. But it is going to slow us down. slow us down because you have to maintain it seemed like shot to shot yes to take. But it's not just maintaining, its maintaining, but also, you know, it's not enough. Just like Okay, oh, it's a little thin. Let's wait, let's you know, blast them. We're in there. Like Okay, hold on everybody's wait a few minutes cuz now we have to let it settle because there's nothing worse than shooting and then like, seeing the smoke swirl.

Alex Ferrari 47:37
Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Jason Crothers 47:39
So more than anything, like there's a lot of like tricks and techniques to maintain consistency. But the real thing for me always is whenever that comes up, I'm like, great. Everybody needs to understand that we're going to work at like half the speed for the scene to maintain this consistency. Like the first movie, Michael I did. That was a big thing. And it was Yeah, we'd be set up and go great. We're going to add atmosphere. Okay, and everyone just sitting around like sitting on the dolly waiting for it to settle and going. And no, not yet. Not yet. Yeah, not that night. Okay, now roll. Okay, cut. Okay, let's add more atmosphere.

Alex Ferrari 48:15
Oh, it's brutal. It's brutal, is absurd.

Jason Crothers 48:19
I mean, unfortunate. The secret to it is time. Like if you want to do it? Well, you just you have everyone has to be understanding that you're going to have to be retouching and basically every single take, and you can't just pump it in, you have to pump it in and then let it settle and be right. And you know, when you start rushing it is when it starts looking like crap.

Alex Ferrari 48:37
The funny thing is, is that there's two on a post Sandpoint with Hayes is Hey, shots, because I've I've colored many films that had haze as well as my own projects. And there's two things one in consistencies within the cuts. At a certain point, I just let it go. Like you know what, yeah. Done. It's fine. You can't you can't find it. You can't find it. Yeah. And too, you can't really dig into the neg, the negative when you're in color. It's it's that haze that screws up the color. So like, I can't dig in the contrast. I can't wait.

Jason Crothers 49:12
It's interesting.

Alex Ferrari 49:13
Weird.

Jason Crothers 49:14
It depends on it depends on the look of the movie. It depends on

Alex Ferrari 49:19
the exposure.

Jason Crothers 49:21
Yeah. And I mean, so it's like, like the first movie with Michael like, we had like, every day it looked like the set was on fire. And we had so much Dan Hayes. But we also when we've done we've done test before him, we knew that the final grade was going to have a very heavy, a very heavy gray that added a lot of contrast. So we learned, you know, during testing, I was like, Oh, we have to pump in a shit ton of haze. Because what we're going to do in post is going to make most of the haze disappear, get all that contrast back and so on set. You know when you look at the set, you're like, This is absurd. You can't Yeah, it looks like the whole house is on fire. But once you got the grade and add all that contrast, did you go like, Oh no, this looks natural with that kind of nice, you know, the shaft light coming in. The one we did last January was interesting cuz that was also, for schedule reasons we had multiple cameras. So that became an interesting challenge of look, you know, like, if you want the wide shot with the big shots, like we can't do, you know, became or can't do this shot over here, you know, or we can run both cameras at the same time, but then we're just gonna have a very light hazy look to contest with, you know, cut to cut like, Oh, this shot doesn't quite match there.

Alex Ferrari 50:34
Yeah, it all depends, like what you're talking about makes absolutely perfect sense because you've actually given thought to the haze. And you've given thought to the entire workflow that the projects that I was working on and post a lot of times did not have that foresight. So they just there's different levels of haze I'm trying to match haze and Match Color and like if one super heavy and one super light, it was very difficult. And also the just the exposure, the camera Nana if I'm am I shooting at this a 1080 p machine to get a 4k is that a red is an Alexa, there's a lot of variables involved.

Jason Crothers 51:11
And a lot of that just comes from experience of Yeah, you can look at something Oh, oh, that totally. You know, you can look at my eye and go oh, that totally looks like the same level from the shot. I just did. Yeah, you get tired, but your eyes get tricked. And it's not until I think as a dp. When you see it all cut together. You're like, Oh, shit, this doesn't work at all. And I you know, I'm a big fan of like you, you learn your best lessons from your failures. Like, nobody really learns much from your successes. But you get spanked hard and you're like, well, that's a lesson I'm never gonna forget.

Alex Ferrari 51:39
So let's talk a little bit about COVID. And, ya know, cuz God knows, we don't there's not enough information about that. There's not enough discussion, if there's not enough discussion about COVID-19. The the world of production has come to a pretty much of a halt in the US. There are other countries that are starting to ramp back up a little bit. In Australia, I heard that you like you were saying earlier and off air that there is a production I didn't stop. And that whole process, how do you see production moving forward? In the next coming year? And what's your feeling? I know, you're no one knows. And there's no way that anyone could figure out what the hell's gonna happen. But in your opinion, how do you think we move forward?

Jason Crothers 52:28
I mean, look, I think first and foremost, there needs to be a better understanding. I again, I say this is like, I'm just a dp, you know, like, I'm not a doctor, I, I am, I am woefully unqualified to render an opinion. But I think first we need to get better understanding of, of, of the virus. So we actually we all can agree on what we're actually talking about. And I think there's so many other factors between, you know, insurance companies between it and sad and DGA. And there's so many factors that have to come together to all agree. I mean, look, if we're back at working by if I'm back on set, by the end of this year, I'm going to consider that a big victory. And I really hope both for my sake, because you know, I'm kind of bored, we don't want I love my I'm loving all this time off and hobbies and spend time My wife is wonderful, but you know, I'm a junkie for the work and I love being on set and I'm not on set. So I'm missing that. And then just the practicalities of you know, we all have to make a living. So yeah, I I hope I'm wrong. I hope I mindset, you know, August or September this year. That'd be wonderful. I will not be entirely shocked if I'm you know, I'm not back on set until next year. But I also think, I think right now anybody that says you know, oh well this is going to this is probably what's going to happen is wishful thinking because there's still so many variables that i think it's it's I think it's impossible to really make an accurate assessment because there's still too many variables.

Alex Ferrari 54:07
If history serves us correctly, when sag the DGA I IATSE all get together, they work very well together with unions and producers and should be coming we should be coming together very soon with this.

Jason Crothers 54:24
Issues like there's there's too many moving parts, people there's some there's so many moving parts and so many different people that all have to come together and agree on something.

Alex Ferrari 54:36
As you said it out loud. I'm saying 2022 I'm just thinking 2022 as you just said that out loud. It's just like In what world does the Teamsters DGA sag every other union that needs to be involved insurance companies studios Producers all come together.

Jason Crothers 55:02
You also get into like, I think moral issues too, like oh, yeah, like Yeah. Are you putting someone in risk or like a producer, a director going? Do I feel comfortable asking people to do to come back to this production? And can I create a safe environment for them? And for crew members going? Great, you know, everybody said, it's okay to do this. Do I feel safe and comfortable doing this and then weighing out like, you know, is my discomfort with it? versus like, I need to pay my rent. So I'll take that risk, like there are there 100 variables that I'll need to come together and we still don't fully understand the virus. So I think me look I'm glad that there's a lot of people talking about how do we get us back you know, how do we get production backup running? I'm glad that that everybody's talking about it, it's on everybody's mind and he's working towards it. I also, you know, hear and read all so many different different pitches and ways of approaching it. I think right now it's there's still just so many variables, I think, in my opinion, I think it's it's right now it's still too premature to really be able to say with any kind of certainty what may happen

Alex Ferrari 56:14
Well, the good news is that Hollywood is not a fearful industry and loves change and loves to adapt to change very fast very not risk averse and very fast moving with adopting change so I think we're in good shape

Jason Crothers 56:33
With that said, I think production is by their very nature are me look we work in an industry that's that's by its very nature is nomadic, like we you know, we're carnies. We're

Alex Ferrari 56:46
we're carnies. We're carnies. carnies,

Jason Crothers 56:48
we're high tech carnies.

Alex Ferrari 56:49
Absolutely

Jason Crothers 56:50
To a certain extent. I would also I can make the counter argument that we're an industry that's incredibly well equipped to try to figure out like, oh, adapt to this. Absolutely. So despite all the many hurdles, I also look and go, okay, but this is an industry that our specialty is like, Oh, these are curveballs. Okay, well, we're all paid. We're basically paid to deal with curveballs on a monthly basis. Like, that's what we're all paid to really do. So I'm wondering, I can make the argument. On the other hand, go Yeah, I'm a little I'm optimistic, because this is what our industry really, really thrives that is going, oh, here's a new problem that's never popped up before.

Alex Ferrari 57:31
How do we all collectively get together to solve it? And this is something that it's the whole industry trying to solve it? It's not like it's not, it's not like distribution, or like, oh, what are we gonna do with this streaming platformer? How are we dealing with film versus digital, or, like, it's not a pocket of the industry. It's the entire industry focused on one problem, which I really haven't seen in the history of our industry. It's never happened before where every aspect of the industry is trying to figure out the answer to one problem. Kind of like the world is trying to figure out the cure.

Jason Crothers 58:04
For this, it's interesting, it also impacts you know, it's everybody that works, you know, in the office of the production, the physical crew and everything post production and, you know, large budget studio films and independent film like every every one of our industry, YouTube, YouTubers, YouTubers, like content creators, so you suddenly have the literally the entire entertainment industry going, oh, we're literally all in the same ship together.

Alex Ferrari 58:31
Yeah, and that's never happened before. So it's unprecedented times without without question. Now, I want to ask you one question, that I'd love to hear your answer to this. What are the top five films to study for cinematography?

Jason Crothers 58:49
Oh my head Shogun you're like which? Which you which?

Alex Ferrari 58:56
You just five that come to mind today won't be on your gravestone.

Jason Crothers 58:59
Oh, oh, I wish I had a lot of time to think about that one. Um That's such a hard it's it's I don't know. Three, three. I can tell you I mean, like look, I the movie that got me into cinematography was was seven Um, so Oh, God, like I I remember seeing that movie. And literally, like staring at the screen and going I don't know what the hell's happening. But I was I was smart enough to recognize I was like, the way this movie looks like this is before I even really understood what the majority was like, the way this movie looks. It has a certain kind of texture that is every bit as important as the storytelling as the acting as the editing as the story like, the way this movie looks. is part of that movie. If you took that in the hands of a difference photographer a different approach visually, I think that movie would be completely different. That's a movie that I still go back to to this day. Sometimes I need inspiration. I'll just go back to that and go like, okay, yeah, no, that's inspiring.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:11
So can we can we geek out for a second? Because I studied serving heavily. I had one of my good friends who worked on seven. So I heard a bunch of the behind the scenes stuff that Fincher did have a lot to do with that look, with with the DP like they weren't, they weren't. Fincher is one of those directors who's just, he's on it. He's one of the most technical.

Jason Crothers 1:00:30
And it's also like, it's darious canggih. Who, by the way, if for anybody who's listening, like there's highenergy like Yo, like his hit, you had a heyday like the 90s. Yeah. But also recently, has been doing some mind blowing stuff like the lost city of z. Oh, yeah, Grant, like, both those movies are stunningly sharp. Like I watched both of them, I was like, I should just retire now. Come on.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:54
But I remember seven, because I had the laser disc, I had the Criterion Collection laser disc of it. And they actually, it was the first DVD The first laser disc that actually had the settings how to set your TV settings. The the contrast to set it so you can actually get the full experience of it. And Fincher he was doing something very unique with the negative, which was he was going below the toe, the below the toe of the black. So he was pushing it far beyond where it normally is. And I think he they added. Now they didn't add more silver to it. But I think they did.

Jason Crothers 1:01:30
They were Yeah, they were doing a silver retention process to it.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:33
They were so but the but but then the fun part about it is if you saw it in theater, there was a handful of full prints with the silver in it.

Jason Crothers 1:01:46
Yeah, there were the there were like yeah, like 50 show prints. Right. Have you had the process then to to those prints? Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:53
Yeah, it was it was just too expensive to do for all the prints, but Oh, yeah. No, he just got it to that one. So funny. Side note, I was in college, and seven comes out. And I go see it. And I'm My mind is I'm like, What did I just see? And I walk out and I for whatever reason I looked into the garbage can that was right, by the, the, the the I exit, and I see film in it. And I'm like, What is that film? And my buddy's like, do you want to take it like it's in the garbage? Why couldn't we take it? So I start pulling because we're like, Are you kidding me? For 35 millimeter. I'm like, What is 35? Like? I'm like it's like the holy grail I found right. I'm pulling it out. It's the trailer for seven. Well, it's the trailer for seven so I yank the whole thing out. I pull out the garbage is an empty get bag inside of it. I pulled that and this is back in the 90s guys it's a different time. It's a pull that out I've put it in and took it home with me. I still have it. It's in my closet right now. I still have it. It's wrapped up.

Jason Crothers 1:02:57
I'm really taking this story is like the first time I saw seven I was rooting through the trash.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:04
So I actually took I threw it in the tub to clean it from the coke and the gum that was on its side cleansed it and I put it up to the light man and it's the frickin trailer a 35 millimeter print trailer amazing seven. And it's it's it's one of my favorite. That is by club are two of my favorite films of all time. Okay, yeah, but the only the other two or three films I would throw on that list Blade Runner. Of course that's a gimme. Yeah. Blade Runner is just one of those when I first saw blade runner was just like, What is going on? lesser known one searching for Bobby Fischer. Oh, that's fantastic searching for for the subtlety of how he did it. And then I did research on it how he was bouncing light off of mirrors.

Jason Crothers 1:03:57
Yeah. Or he would do things like your little light and put it on the pin like full spot and like you just aim it at somebody's waist off camera and like let the residual light come up. And that's what he was exposing from.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:07
I mean, it's just it was he was on a completely different.

Jason Crothers 1:04:12
I would also say this is the movie that very few people have ever heard of birth.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:17
Which one I'm sorry, say that again?

Jason Crothers 1:04:19
Birth. Birth have you seen birth?

Alex Ferrari 1:04:22
No, I haven't seen birth please.

Jason Crothers 1:04:23
Oh, you're in for a treat. So it was shot by Harrison. aetas. Okay, I passed away a few years. I don't actually don't want to do anything about it. But it's, it's, uh Yeah, I don't want to say anything. Visually, it's interesting because you see it now and obviously, you know, like, one complaint I have is is you know, when they do streaming or go to blu ray a lot of times they'll they'll do some cleanup for the noise. But I saw a print. And that movie is Harrison. He was down for massive underexposure Like you get movies like the game where it's like you have the right. Look. Yeah. But his most of his work was, you know, like elephant or like last days or he did a lot of really beautiful work that was very underexposed. That movie was so dark, so dark, but he just kind of masterfully rode that like that razor thin edge of just a couple of foot candles the wrong way and there's nothing there and had just enough that it was so grainy and so murky, but intentionally done. It's traditionally you'd say it's not a well photographed movie. It's not a pretty movie. But I would argue it's some of the most beautiful like lighting and underexposure I've ever seen. Like, I still watch that movie. I'm like, I still like my brain hurts trying to wrap my head around. I'm like, I understand what he's doing. Well, I mean, I just don't understand how I could ever possibly do it myself.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:58
Well um, if you want to if you want to start going into underexpose you need to talk about the prince of darkness. I mean, Gordon Willis. So yeah, I mean, if you look at you look at Godfather Part Two, and you just like, I still remember what's his name? Oh, God, the producer, the famous producer who fought with Coppola, aka, the kid stays in the picture. And they were both doing brain farts. Yeah, but you know, I'm talking about I see his face right in my head. He saw the dailies so like, what is this if I can't see anything and that was film and you know like it's all about how it's developed how the the timing is in the in the in the lab he was on even talk about Razor's Edge cheese's it's it's it's stunning man.

Jason Crothers 1:06:42
But I think also you take you know I think all if you go back to my other classes you get things like you like the conformance Yeah, of course. Yeah. That's Yeah, people are like Apocalypse Now. Like it's funny. There are movies that nowadays are thing like the Godfather. Do you think good fight, you know, godfather Apocalypse Now Blade Runner, there's those aesthetics, it becomes such a part of modern movie, it doesn't even look impressive. But when you go back and look and go, Oh, wait until this movie. Nobody was really doing that until came up on that hadn't happened. I mean, I would argue seem like like Citizen Kane. I know. It's like a cliche, but Citizen Kane is an OK, story. That's just me.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:23
No, no, I agree with you. 100% I can't I can't But personally, I can't watch it.

Jason Crothers 1:07:27
Watch it. Like that movie. Is that movies entirely done in the visuals? Oh, yeah. And you watch the movie now and go. Oh, and also, by the way, if you watch a movie like that, and go, you know, they're doing that with like, you know, as a like, 25 like you're watching that going? that's those are cinematographers. Those are people that have a complete mastery of craft. Yours nowadays are going like, Oh, my camera can only go up to 800 ISO, how am I possibly going to light this? Like, Oh, God,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:55
There was, there is one director and then we'll stop geeking out because I'm just geeking out with you. Now at this point. There is one director that's considered probably one of the greatest non cinematographers even though he wasn't officially the cinematographers of his films. Let's see if you can guess what it is. He's a legendary director, who was not officially the cinematographer, but has given obscene amounts of credit for the lighting and the look of their films. They could apply to a lot of directors. No, but this one's like he did things that no one had ever done. He had lenses designed for himself. Oh, Kubrick. Exactly. I gave it to you that one. Yeah, I mean, you look at Barry London. I just Barry Lyndon and you just just like what was the ASE? Like how,

Jason Crothers 1:08:44
But you know, it's the same thing with like, you know, it's the same thing if you take somebody like like Ridley Scott, I think it's awful to you like there's a reason Ridley Scott has worked with a shitload of different DPS. He's movies all have a certain kind of similar sensibility. Like I think there's very few directors you go, you know what, they work with a dp by choice. But if they want to shoot it themselves, they probably could.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:08
David Fincher Michael Bay. Tony Scott, they have such unique styles that they easily could have kept just, you know, I mean, like, you look at Michael Bay's movies from bad boys, the rock Armageddon to the Transformers films. That's a Michael Bay movie.

Jason Crothers 1:09:27
Yeah, it's just it's that there's not a conversation, different DPS, but a very similar sensibility.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:32
Yeah, and really interesting to me, Tony, I mean, I mean, Tony's were I mean Days of Thunder Top Gun. I remember topcon showed up top gun was like, everyone's like, what is this like he brought, he was kind of like I know really. He was the big boy but I think Tony I got I miss Tony too. With with top gun he brought this commercial sensibility, real heavy commercial sensibility to to the art form. And then it was just a very different energy as opposed to like Ridley who did alien Of course and Blade Runner. He brought that same kind of commercial thing, but it was just different. He was a slower hand where Tony was more, a little bit more positioning actually.

Jason Crothers 1:10:15
Yeah, there's a lot more there's a kind of a frenetic energy to it versus like really, Scott's always had a much more kind of classical approach to think of like, incredibly compose incredibly well lit return. He's got his movies look amazing, but definitely have a more of a commercial vibe to them. I mean, like, you take something like man on fire. Well, that was that

Alex Ferrari 1:10:36
He was in his experimental stage. At that point. He was doing crazy stuff I love

Jason Crothers 1:10:40
But I think that's my point. It's like you look and go that still has it seemed kind of frenetic energy, but a completely different aesthetic, I think largely part too often to the DP.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:48
Right, exactly. So even his last movie unstoppable. I mean, you watch that and that that last series, I think men and black amendment black man and a man on fire was the first kind of I mean, he was playing with no Domino. I think Domino was he went crazy. And Domino. Yeah. Domino, like the DP. I remember watching the DP what they were doing, they were just shooting reversal stock. They were they were doing bleach bypass and Oh, God, it was just like, they were going crazy with that. Cross processing. Yeah, that was a cross process act double exposing it. Yeah. And he's like, okay, now open, open mag, open the mag a second, or open the open the lens to just a little bit of lights come in. I mean, and this was a student, these are studio projects. I mean, when you look at something like even unstoppable, right before he passed, it looks like a 27 year old did it? Yeah, you know, it was it was amazing. It was really, really amazing to watch. We could keep geeking out for hours, sir. But I'm gonna ask you a few questions that ask my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Jason Crothers 1:11:52
Oh, um, it's a great question. Um, I would say, I'm kind of, I'm always trying to make it very concise. And there's a term like a 20 minute diatribe. I think coming into business today, you have to have absolute certainty. That's what you want to do. I think somebody somebody gave me really good advice, which was, if you can see yourself doing anything to make a living and being happy with it, you should go do that. But if you can't see yourself doing anything else, stick with this. So I think you have to really be committed to this. Understand that, you know, making a career takes a lifetime. I think I find a lot of people especially nowadays, you know, it's like, Oh, am I film school? If I'm not, you know, making a living as a dp, you know, in five years, you know, I have I failed somehow, like, that's just not the way things work. Like, there's a reason, there's outliers are outliers for a reason, like, they're the exception, not the norm. For the other 99% of us, like it takes a long time, and a lot of work. And if anything, I'd say that maybe the best advice is, is humility. Like, you know, you're going to work hard. And you're not especially you're starting off, you're not going to be recognized, you're not going to be compensated for your work properly. Like, you're going to work really hard. And you have to learn your craft and learn to respect the process of making things. And just be respectful to people actually, I usually give the same advice, which is, it's just good life advice. Don't be a dick. Like,

Alex Ferrari 1:13:28
a great t shirt. It's a great t shirt,

Jason Crothers 1:13:30
I keep saying I'm gonna make a T shirt says Don't be a dick, because that's actually the best advice I can ever give to anybody. I'm like, look like when I'm hiring people. If I've got two people, like one person who's got an amazing resume, and is enormously talented, but isn't the best human being versus somebody who's young and eager, and it seems really cool. I'll go with the young cool. Absolutely every single time because for me, I'm like, I don't want to spend like I don't like spending 10 minutes with somebody who's unpleasant, let alone 12 hours a day for you know, four weeks or nine months. So

Alex Ferrari 1:14:04
yeah, no question. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Jason Crothers 1:14:10
Oh, I'm still work in progress. I don't know. I wouldn't say necessarily the longest time to learn. But I do. I do think especially estimator ographers. It's very, I mean, look, cinematography is obviously a key component to any film, like you take a camera out of the equation, you have a radio show. So cinematography is absolutely important. In cinematographers our jobs are very, you know, I don't say this to like, you know, like, toot our own horn. But I think practically speaking cinematographers have some of the hardest jobs on set in terms of, you know, writing the line between technical and craft and also schedule and budget and a lot of politics and have a lot of influence and a lot of control over Most. Especially if you're doing a TV show, like you often are running the set more than then like a director will. And that's not for a place of ego. Let's replace it like, Alright, they're here for one episode. But you're here for 22 episodes. So you end up kind of being a guardian of the show, and helping guide a director who's like, you've been doing this for years. This is my first time here. What do you think? So I think it's very easy for cinematographers to, to get wrapped up in that, and not understand that, like, yes, photography is important. But there are a lot of aspects to every production. And I think it's important to also step back and go cool. We're all gears in a bigger machine. Now is this photographer, I might be a very big gear. I'm not the biggest gear, and I'm not the most important gear. So if anything, I think I've learned like, again, that's humility, like, yeah, I always say like, I hopefully I don't have any ego and whatever ego I have is what shows up on screen like, I want the work to speak for itself.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:04
Can real quick, Can you discuss on set politics, and the importance of understanding onset politics, which is something they don't teach you in film school? And the only thing that you got to learn the hard way?

Jason Crothers 1:16:18
Yeah. Yeah, well, we could we could do an entire episode on on politics. Because Yeah, I think film schools, the thing film schools are lacking as they teach people about art and they teach people a craft. I don't think film schools do anything about career management, not especially when it comes to cinematographers. And understand that, like, you'll look at the seminar I prefer, if I get to, if I get to do lighting, and camera and visual storytelling, like 15 or 20% of my day, that's a good day for me, because the other 80% is spent with schedule and politics personalities. Yeah, yeah, everything that has nothing to do with lighting. Cuz that's you, you're a manager, like you're, you're an artist, and a manager and a crafts, crafts person at the same time. And depending on the production, your the project you're working on, and who you're working with, that will shift sometimes throughout the day, you're like, right, right now, I'm a manager right now, I'm an artist right now. I'm just a technician. In terms of politics, I mean, look, the easiest thing is, I've learned is like, keep your mouth shut and listen. Like, you know, very few people ever get in trouble by not speaking, you know, like, be quiet, keep your mouth shut until you are either ask your opinion, or you have a strong opinion that you think has value to it. But I think another thing also is, is again, going back to Don't be a dick. Like, I think a big part of politics is just being a polite, decent human being more, you should do it because it's just the right decent, decent human thing to do. Also, you don't always know who you're talking to. And you also don't know the person you know, the person you're talking to right now, you might be working craft service five years from now, they might be, you know, producing VP of a network that has a decision about whether or not you're hired. I told the story before one of the best movies experience ever had on the set, came about from a relationship I got called by a producer went in for an interview and went Greg got offered to do the movie. And at some point during prep, I was like, Hey, I never asked how'd you get my like, how'd you get my information? And they like like, Oh, my brother and he thought their brother's name. I was like, cool. I don't I have no idea who this person is. And so I had to go back. I was like, looking through my emails. And I discovered through serious conversations, I had done this terrible short film. And this kid was like 19 at the time had been the craft service pa wasn't even the craft service person was helping the craft service person

Alex Ferrari 1:19:01
On the on the totem on the totem pole of where you are on the set

Jason Crothers 1:19:05
Right. Yeah, helping the craft service person. And apparently had told his brother was like, Oh, yeah, I did this short. Yeah, no, it seemed like a good thing. Very good. But yeah, the DP was, you know, seemed to know they were doing and they were really cool to me and, and really nice. And like flash forward, like four or five years later, it was like, Oh, this guy was like, I'm doing this movie. And I remember my brother talking about you and then up, up, and I liked your work. And you came in and I was like, I got recommended for movie to end up being a great experience for me. Because I was polite to the craft service pa like you never know, where those relationships go, you know, come and go from so in terms of politics, if you're not sure, don't say anything. And just be polite to everybody. I mean, that's actually probably the easiest advice for set politics without getting into a whole other podcast about politics.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:56
So just basically Be quiet. Listen and And be nice.

Jason Crothers 1:20:01
Yeah, I've never gotten in trouble for not speaking usually what I got in trouble because I've opened my mouth and I was like, I should have just kept thinking to myself.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:11
Jason man, where can people find you? If they're if they're looking to hire a crack crack shot dp

Jason Crothers 1:20:17
To hire crack up? I get a website. It's just my name jasoncrothers.com. I tried a especially now with COVID. I stayed pretty active on Instagram and post a bunch of stuff up there. Yeah, my website, and Instagram.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:33
Very cool. Jason. It's been a pleasure. I'm sure we could talk for another four or five hours. Just on Kubrick alone, we can have an hour per director, we discussed the loan just going through their filmographies and just geeking out your

Jason Crothers 1:20:48
Michael Mann and David Fincher.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:51
Stop it. I'm gonna start talking again. Man, it was a pleasure having you on the show, man. Thank you. So I'm so glad we finally got to do this. So thanks again and stay safe out there.

Jason Crothers 1:20:59
Likewise, my pleasure to meet you, my friend.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:01
I want to thank Jason for coming on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe today. Thank you so much, Jason. And I want to give a big shout out to Austin Nord Dell, who was my amazing cinematographer on the corner of ego and desire. And Austin was the one that introduced both Jason and I so thank you so much, Austin. I appreciate it, brother. Now if you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, head over to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/418. And also take advantage of our ifH Academy cyber week sale for the course light and face the art of cinematography taught by sukima des kovitch. A sc. It is an amazing cinematography course, for beginners as well as professionals. Suki goes over everything from as simple as lighting a face with a bare bulb, all the way to much more complex setups like Blade Runner setups and classic Hollywood glam and so on. So, head over to ifhacademy.com for that. Thank you so much for listening, guys. As always keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. Stay safe out there, and I'll talk to you soon.


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