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Tag Archives: Film Academy

Women Cinematographers: A Look Behind Her Lens

When we look at the names of cinematographers working on commercial films, we will find it a difficult task to spot a woman credited as one. Women make up barely 2% of cinematographers in the industry. There haven’t been any female cinematographers who were nominated for an Academy Award. That’s not cool. In fact, the numbers are downright astonishing. These are surprising statistics that will, hopefully, motivate more women and girls to look into this creative field as a career and make some positive changes.

Is it hard to get it in the door? Of course it is. This is true especially for commercial films. Most female cinematographers (past and present) break into film work with documentaries. Many stay in that genre due to a genuine preference for it and, others, due to the amount of bias against women who move to work in other areas of filmmaking. And like any profession that has been, historically, bent to favor one social or gender group, it will be hard to change the numbers. But it’s not impossible to do it. And the great thing is you won’t have to start on a road where there is an absence of footprints. Fortunately, there are women who have already been hard at work paving the road for your arrival in the film world as a cinematographer.

Brianne MurphyBrianne Murphy, best known for the film Fatso and television series Highway to Heaven.

Although there are many men (and some women) in the industry who think of cinematography as a ‘man’s job’, Brianne Murphy did not let this bias stop her from pursuing her passion for working with cameras. Murphy got her start in the field working as a still photographer. From there, she graduated to numerous projects in television and film. Murphy’s work was so good it could not be overlooked by her male counterparts. In 1980, she became the first female member of The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC).

Ellen Kuras 2Ellen Kuras, A.S.C. – known for her critically acclaimed work on the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Other notable women have been hard at work clearing out brushes of bias and showing that cinematic cameras favor no gender, such as Ellen Kuras, best known for working with Spike Lee on He Got Game (1998) and Summer of Sam (1999). Her most critically acclaimed film is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

Amy VincentAmy Vincent. She is an ASC member and the cinematic talent behind such films as Hustle and Flow and Eve’s Bayou.

Amy Vincent was the cinematic talent behind Oscar-nominated film Hustle and Flow. She also worked her camera magic on the stunningly beautiful film Eve’s Bayou – a powerful film about an adulterous man seen through the eyes of his young daughter. It was also directed by a woman, Kasi Lemmons.

The above are just a few incredible visionaries who have worked and currently work as cinematographers on the small and big screen. It would be awesome to see more women follow in their footsteps and even go beyond what they have achieved. Life is about progress. And, who knows, maybe someone out there reading this article will be the first ever woman to win an Academy Award for cinematography in a motion picture. If it’s cameras and motion pictures you love, all you have to do is follow your heart’s passion.

To read more about the wonderful women mentioned in this article, click on the following:

Learn more about Brianne Murphy.
Learn more about Amy Vincent.
Learn more about Ellen Kuras.

If you would like to become a cinematographer, start your journey at Digital Film Academy. Visit https://www.digitalfilmacademy.edu or call (212) 333-4013.

by DFA Student & Blog Writer Mary Stokes.

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The Director Auteur

The entertainment industry has tons of creative energy flowing through it. The public may hear stories of how most people who get involved in it desire to work in an area they are not hired for (e.g. the actor who wishes to be a director, the gaffer who would like to be a cinematographer, the extra who would like to have a supporting or lead role, etc.). However, what if one position can maximize its creativity so that it becomes the dominant voice in (and over) all creative roles on the set? Would this be welcomed in the industry? Or shunned? Where you fall in this opinion may depend on who you are in the industry. If you’re a director who subscribes to the director auteur theory, you would most likely be an advocate for this singular dominance of creative expression on a project; however, if you’re a cinematographer who is used to being the creative voice on how the camera’s positioning and/or lighting needs to be to evoke ‘just the right’ mood, you may not be as comfortable with the idea of working with a director auteur who expects to have maximal (or close to maximal) input in all areas of film production, including specific ideas and instructions on how camera positions and lighting should be done.

TruffautFrançois Truffaut, 1955

That brings us to the question you’re probably asking yourself: What exactly is a Director Auteur? Auteur is the French word for “author”. The term “director auteur” was first used by François Truffaut, a French critic who became a celebrated filmmaker in the 1950s. Truffaut believed that, although a film has many components (and players) in its production, the true author of the work is the director. To Truffaut, a film’s vision (if executed well) should be dominated by the style of the director to such an extent that it minimizes any appearance of collaboration with others (including the cinematographer, set designers, etc.) who work on the film. Truffaut believed that when this is achieved it is the highest level of professional expression by a director.

TarantinoQuentin Tarantino, Photograph: www.LevonBiss.com

Is the director auteur theory at work in the film industry today? It is. In fact, presently, it is the dominant style of filmmaking. Many of the directors of the past several decades have been auteurs. We recognize their movies, not because of the cinematographer or screenwriter attached to the project, but because of the style of director. For example, Quentin Tarantino is one of the most famous modern auteurs in the industry. His films are instantly recognizable by both movie audiences and critics. And this is a fact in spite of Tarantino having used a few different cinematographers (such as Robert Richardson for Inglorious Bastards and Django: Unchained; Guillermo Navarro for Dusk to Dawn; and Andrzej Sekula for Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs) for his projects. Tarantino, as a director auteur, is able to stamp his movies with his own distinctive style that dominates the film.

AllenWoody Allen, 1977 at Coney Island, Brooklyn. Photograph: Brian Hamill/Getty Images

Although numerous directors with east coast backgrounds chronicle city life, many would agree that no one has achieved as much of a distinctive style in doing so than Woody Allen. His films count as another example of the work of a director auteur. His quirky, neurotic, humorous and character-driven movie style penetrates most of his work (e.g. Crimes and Misdemeanors, Deconstructing Harry, New York Stories, Hannah and Her Sisters) in such a way that when audiences and critics see it, it is undeniably a ‘Woody Allen’ production.

When you’re approaching your next project, consider whether or not you would like to approach it as a director auteur; and whether or not it’s a project you are allowed to exercise the authority of that position. For example, if your film is funded (and developed) by a well-known studio and you are a director who is not well-known, chances are you will have to collaborate with others who, at times, may (if they are big name actors or studio execs) have more influence than you in the overall style of the film. That means the best chance an up and coming director has to establish a distinctive voice with his films is in the independent world of filmmaking. There are less people above you to answer to and, as a consequence, it allows you more freedom to turn a script into a film that frames you (and your vision) as its primary author (or “auteur”).

Now go out and direct the next film that will have people discussing the newest director auteur in the business!

To learn more about the Auteur theory, click here.

To learn more about French director François Truffaut, click here.

by DFA Student & Blog Writer Mary Stokes.

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