2013 Honorees and Honorable Mentions

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A collection of highlights from all of the 2013 honorees.

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Michael Berlucchi

140 Drams

Mike Berlucchi discovered cinematography making skate films in his native Michigan. When he realized he could make a living behind a camera, he got a job at a grocery store, bought a camera, and began shooting music videos for local acts. When the Michigan film incentive program launched, Berlucchi worked his way up through the set lighting department while operating on the side to eventually join the Guild.

Written and directed by Oksana Mirzoyan, 140 Drams, tells the story of a young Armenian boy, Edo, learning his place in society. Shot on location using the RED ONEMX, the short film chronicles the harsh realities of life in the Eastern European nation.

While scouting locations, Berlucchi noticed that many Armenian homes featured interior glass doors; their reflections factored into the storytelling. “Edo’s father sees himself reflected in his son, and we used many reflections - with peculiar, atypical framing - to echo that.”

Berlucchi relied as much as possible on natural light to create the stark environment. “I lean toward capturing reality as it is, while still making it feel cinematic,” he says. “Coming up through the lighting department and with the limitations of dwindling budgets, I learned to use everything I could to the best of my ability.”

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Eduardo Fierro

Eleven: Twelve

The first movie Eduardo Fierro ever saw was Apocolypse Now at a drive-in in the back of his father’s car in Caracas, Venezuela. “I fell asleep after the helicopter scene,” he remembers, “but I’ll never forget that intro. I still hear the music.”

When he was 12 years old, his mother gave him a Holga point-and-shoot and told him that if he ever needed to get more film printed to just go to the lobby store and give the cashier the family’s apartment number. After the first week he’d gotten two dozen 35 × 36−mm rolls double-printed! “She almost killed me,” Fierro laughs.

After attending the prestigious Macrisca Film School in Caracas, Fierro moved to the U.S., where he attended Full Sail University. He later worked as a Steadicam operator in Miami’s booming Latin music video and commercial industry.

Eleven: Twelve, directed by Juan Barros, tells the story about a guilt-ridden man who, after a tragic accident that results in the death of his wife, returns to the same city to reconcile his loss. Shot on a Canon 5D Mark II and a 7D (for slow-motion scenes) because of their affordability and small size, Eleven:Twelve was filmed in four nights in Lisbon, Portugal.

“Shooting there pushed my creativity in such a good way,” Fierro recalls. “But working all nights was challenging. By the end I think we were all hallucinating.”

They used existing source lighting and a few 500-watt and 1K China Balls, all the while pushing the Canon sensors to 3200 ISO (and once to 6400 ISO). Fierro also had the Flat Technicolor firmware, which, he adds, “helped a lot.”

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Kyle Klutz

1st Assistant

When Kyle Klütz enrolled in the Chapman University film program, he wasn’t sure what discipline to pursue. “After working on my first big student project as a focus puller, I realized that DPs had the best jobs they worked on more projects, gained more experience and got to play with all the cool toys,” Klütz laughs.

Vessel is his first sci-fi film. Shot with the RED ONE MX, the VFX-heavy short chronicles an airliner’s encounter with an alien craft. Klütz and director Clark Baker used Frame Forge previsualization software to understand how to work within the confines of an aircraft cabin, where most of the action occurs.

“I’m always conscious of when to move or not move the camera in order to convey the inner workings of the character,” Klütz explains. “It was incredibly helpful to be able to plan moves and coverage with the actual focal lengths and camera heights needed.”

Director and DP also watched films for reference on tone, mood, lighting and camerawork. Steven Spielberg and Vilmos Zsigmond’s (ASC) Close Encounters of the Third Kind and John Carpenter’s The Thing were major influences for both lighting and creature effects.

“My favorite sequence in Vessel is when the alien spacecraft abducts the airplane,” Klütz says. “We spent a lot of time trying to think of ways to believably pull this off, and it was both exciting and nerve-wracking. Seeing the smile on the director’s face once he called ‘cut!’ made it a favorite.”

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Michael Alden Lloyd

2nd Assistant
The Secret Number

“I often approach a situation with a simple precept,” Michael Alden Lloyd says. “What would Waylon Jennings do?” A former musician, Lloyd’s first paid gigs were regional commercials in Kentucky. He joined Local 600 two years ago while still in graduate school at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

“I trust my eyes and my instincts and try not to generalize any approach to cinematography,” Lloyd shares. “I do what makes me feel a certain way in the moment, and hope it translates to the screen. On The Secret Number, I feel like we were very ambitious and maximized our resources to best serve the story. I would probably go at it differently now, but that’s part of it. We learn from our failures.”

The film, co-written and directed by Colin Levy, focuses on higher math, obsession and a previously unknown integer. Lloyd’s favorite scene involves a psychiatrist listening to tapes from a patient’s session. Shot without dialog, it was captured with the REDMX and vintage Cooke zooms. “We did some pretty cinematic shot design in a very small space without making it feel forced,” Lloyd notes.

“These days I much prefer to embrace the digital format. I’m lighting entire pictures with improvised rigs and putting more money into the art department. It’s fantastic!” he says. “I just recently did some night work with one of the new digital cameras that wouldn’t have been possible without the sensitivity, given the low budget and limited resources.”

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VanNessa Manlunas

2nd Assistant
King of Norway

VanNessa Manlunas was born in Guam, and her family moved to a small town in Nevada when she was still a child and then to a tiny Alaskan island. She finally ended up in another small town in Southern California, and although she never attended a traditional film school, she describes all the movies she’s watched as inspiration.

“The notion of moviemaking was so wildly different and too exciting not to try,” she recounts. “That sense of adventure has always been there [in my life], and it translates into my filmmaking. Every new project is a new challenge and adventure that’s a constant source of motivation and excitement.”

King of Norway – loosely based on the true relationship between writer/director Sylvia Sether and her father – is about a young girl whose father’s accident leaves him unable to create new memories. As an adult, she learns that he’s dying, and she finds her way back to him only to discover that love is impossible to forget.

“In the grander scope,” explains Manlunas, “this story touches on the undeniable human connection we share and the effect we can have on each other’s lives. I knew we had to shoot this on film, as 16 mm was the right call for the story’s realism.’

“We wanted that hint of vibrance to match the rich performances,” adds Manlunas, who shot on Kodak 500T 7230, “and with enough texture to make the overall feel more vulnerable and ‘lived in’ from the beginning, since we’re only in the lives of these characters for a short, tough period of time.”

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Camrin Petramale

Memoirs of a Parapsychologist

Camrin Petramale needed an elective in high school, and he’d heard Photography 101 was easy. Little did the Chicago native know that from point on he’d rarely be seen without a camera. “As a child, movies were the only thing that could hold my attention,” Petramale states. “It wasn’t until my parents gave me the motivation and encouragement to enroll in Columbia College that I found my passion in cinematography.”

On a bet, a young gifted physics student in Memoirs of a Parapsychologist (written and directed by Andrew Papke) spends a week in a haunted farmhouse thinking it will win him easy tuition money. But when the farmhouse awakens the demons of his tortured childhood, the line between reality and the paranormal becomes blurs in this psychological thriller that explores the relationship between faith and science.

“From day one I knew that I was going to shoot Memoirs on 35 millimeter,” says Petramale, who opted for Kodak 5229, 5219 and 5213 stocks. “This story screams for the look of film. The natural, soft organic quality that film offers over digital and the added benefits of latitude, color gamut, grain and contrast are the reasons why I still feel it is the best storytelling medium and was a huge part of Memoirs’ visuals. Film creates a random array of silver crystals that create smooth, artifact-free texture, giving you an organic, non-repetitive grain structure; whereas digital formats never vary in their information, shape, position, or size, so the noise is repetitious and produces overly sharp edges.”

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Guy Skinner

Your Father’s Daughter

Skinner has always aspired to take on the rewarding challenges of cinematographer, fulfilling another channel for his cinematic passion. “There definitely came a time when, to keep it new and inventive, [becoming a] DP was my next step,” he reflects.

“We look at each setup differently, mixing it up, giving a director and editor many choices,” Skinner continues. “Always searching, finding captivating feelings and images. We might go with a different angle, composition, or lens, or a different overall camera movement. You have to be certain to get the shot in the way that lets the audience be involved, incorporating the bliss of both the film audience and the filmmaker having some fun.”

Skinner’s favorite scene from Your Father’s Daughter required plenty of creative camera movement. The daughter is packing her bags in a rush to leave home as her father enters to persuade her to stay. “[Director] Carlos Bernard and I wanted to shoot this scene handheld so we could capture the raw emotion and physicality of the standoff. We wanted to allow the actors maximum freedom of movement by crossing the line,” he recalls. “The compact handheld cameras gave everyone flexibility in a tight space.”

After decades in the business, Skinner says he’s still learning. “I feel that working as a crew is a wonderful reality in every film: Filmmaking becomes intensely collaborative. I am reminded of this continually! At first it’s: ‘How am I going to do this?’ But then I realize it is a shared, constantly evolving, and rediscovered mystery.”

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T.J. Williams

The Return

For T.J. Williams Jr., cinematography is the family business. His father is a Steadicam operator and DP in Seattle. T.J. started helping him in high school and landed his first solo gig at 19, as 1st AC for DP Sean Kirby on the indie film, Cthulhu.

The Return, directed by Jeremy Mackie and shot on Sony F3 and Zeiss MK3 Super Speeds, was part of the Seattle International Film Festival’s Fly Films program, which challenges local filmmakers to produce shorts with limited time and resources. That meant working with less equipment and a less-experienced crew.

“At first it was frustrating, but these guys put so much effort in that I couldn't be upset for long,” Williams says. “Mistakes were made, but some of them were happy mistakes. We came out with a great product, and I came away a little bit more patient.”

Though he’s shot mostly digital, film has strong appeal. “Beyond the beautiful look, the medium itself engenders much more respect for the process. There’s a different ethos on set when film’s burning through the camera. Everyone’s quieter, more alert and serious,” he says. “I also really enjoy working without the clarity of HD monitoring. Digital sets seem to always end up with the DP and gaffer in the DIT tent, and the rest of the keys at video village a certain amount of that collaboration is lost simply by not looking at the scene together from the camera with our own eyes. If I had a choice, I’d shoot much more film.”

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Honorable Mentions

Robert Givens

1st Assistant
The Ride

Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, Rob C. Givens was given his parents’ Pentax Spotmatic in middle school, which later led to shooting videos with friends and, ultimately, North Carolina School of the Arts for filmmaking. It was there that he realized (while sitting on the dolly next to the camera in the center of the madness making calm decisions about how to tell the story through the lens) he’d found his place.

The Ride, directed by Dallas Jenkins and shot on the Sony F3, is about a disengaged taxi driver who is forced to connect with his last passenger on Christmas Eve when he senses there is trouble. As the night progresses and the mystery deepens, the long ride changes both of them forever. 

“This film contained several elements that I’d not had a lot of practice with,” says Givens. “Like process trailer work and night exteriors with limited crew size. I saw these both as challenges going into the project, but they ended up being strong suits during production: The process trailer work, though a bit tedious, was pretty straightforward, and the small crew size enabled us to move quickly between locations.”

Because of the limited schedule and not being able to bring any camera assistants that Givens had worked with before, he chose to shoot with the Angenieux Optimo 15-40mm and 30-80mm lenses.

“I knew these two zooms would free us up from having to swing primes while on the process trailer and would ultimately speed things up. Also, with the light sensitivity of the F3, I knew I could get away with the slightly deeper stop. The zooms held up beautifully and cut nicely with the 85-millimeter and 135-millimeter Ultra Primes we carried for longer lens work out of the car.”

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Andrew Shulkind

Preview Assistant
South Down Orchard

Andrew Shulkind became interested in the psychology of images early in his days at New York University. Interest became passion when he was fortunate enough to work alongside some of the best DPs in the business. That expertise defines his work to this day. Working with Darius Khondji, ASC, to light scenes that seemed too dark to expose, helping to previs VFX sequences with Don Burgess, ASC, and deciding on printer lights with Janusz Kaminski are the incomparable experiences that launched his career.

Directed by Brian Leavell, South Down Orchard is a crime drama about a petty thief after a betrayal lands him in prison. The film is centered on the day that he will escape or die trying. Shulkind shot on the ALEXA with a set of old Super Baltars.

“I like how the lenses flare and wanted to soften up the Alexa’s sensor with some vintage glass to complement both the grittiness of the prison and the nostalgia of these intimate moments,” Shulkind says. He and the director used two nihilist movies in particular for much of their reference, A Prophet and Animal Kingdom, so the Swedish Easyrig was a natural choice to get the controlled handheld that they were after.  Shulkind’s artistry with naturalistic lighting and his proficiency in color correction rounded out the unique and stylized look of this dark film.

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